What is the best CNC router in 2020?
A CNC router is one of those classic, essential tools that many makers have in their workshop. CNC routers can help you carve wood, cut out materials, engrave objects, and a lot more.
They used to be huge and expensive, but now there are plenty of entry-level, desktop CNC router systems for both the average Joe and hobbyists. You can find cheap CNC router kits or pre-assembled CNC routers.
The price drop, along with the DIY movement’s rising popularity (out with Ikea, in with I made ya), has made CNC routers a prized product.
We took a thorough look at the market to provide you with all the information you need to find the best CNC router for you. Walk through our hand-picked selection and read up on our CNC router buying guide further below!
We also have a useful guide on laser cutting and laser engraving machines. Come and visit!
What is a CNC router?
First things first, “CNC” stands for Computer Numerical Control. A CNC router is, hence, a computer numerically controlled router.
Basically, it’s a machine that can cut and carve through a wide range of materials such as wood, steel glass, plastics, and composites. It does this by making the router bit turn so fast that it erodes the material you’re working on.
The CNC router will follow the instructions provided by your computer. This means you need to prepare a file with specific software, which usually comes with the machine.
The best CNC routers available in 2020
|CNC routers||Work area||Price*||Buy|
|MYSWEETY CNC 1610-PRO||160 x 100 x 45 mm||$189||See offer|
|MYSWEETY CNC 3018-PRO||300 x 180 x 450 mm||$254||See offer|
|V1 Engineering LowRider2 CNC Kit||1220 x ∞ x 100 mm||$256||-|
|MillRight CNC M3 Kit Bundle||260 x 260 x 50 mm||$499||-|
|BobsCNC E3 CNC Router Engraver Kit||450 x 390 x 85 mm||$698||See offer|
|BobsCNC E4 CNC Router Engraver Kit||610 x 610 x 85 mm||$898|
|Carbide 3D Shapeoko Standard CNC Router Kit||406 x 406 x 76 mm||$1,249||See offer|
|Inventables X-Carve 500||300 x 300 x 65 mm||$1,303||See offer|
|Stepcraft D-300||210 x 300 x 80 mm||$1,399||-|
|CNC Piranha XL||305 x 610 x 102 mm||$2,499||See offer|
*Price: prices are subject to change over time and/or from one country to another.
Overview of the best CNC routers in 2020
Find all the basics you need to know for each product right here in this overview.
MYSWEETY CNC 1610-PRO
- Work area: 160 x 100 x 45 mm
- Price: $189
This cheap CNC router comes as a semi kit to be assembled, meaning that you only have to do a few, simple assembly steps. It also comes with an offline controller so you don’t have to keep your PC connected to the machine the whole time it’s working.
MYSWEETY recommends using the CNC 1610-PRO with plastic, wood, acrylic, PVC, and other “soft” materials. It won’t be very effective with hard materials such as stone or metal. The CNC router comes with GRBL software for Windows PCs.
MYSWEETY CNC 3018-PRO
- Work area: 300 x 180 x 450 mm
- Price: $254
Regarding materials, this machine is also compatible with plastics, wood, PVC, acrylic, and other materials of the same kind. The manufacturer notes that for this model, you can purchase a laser head for laser cutting and engraving.
Cheap DIY CNC kits do require some tweaking, so you should be prepared to spend a bit of time on the machine before getting results that meet your expectations. However, once your CNC 3018-PRO up and running, you’ll have yourself a sturdy little CNC machine.
V1 Engineering LowRider2 CNC Kit
- Work area: 1220 x ∞ x 100 mm
- Price: $256
This router’s work area will depend on your setup. You can choose any length, as long as the width of your table doesn’t go past 4 feet (about 122 cm). Note that this CNC router kit doesn’t come with software.
MillRight CNC M3 Kit Bundle
- Work area: 260 x 260 x 50 mm
- Price: $499
MillRight’s kit comes with everything you need to mill, apart from the software. The kit includes a DeWalt (famous, high-quality tooling brand) DWP611 router.
If you need absolute stability for more precise parts, you can go for the extra rigidity kit also available on MillRight’s website.
BobsCNC E3 CNC Router Engraver Kit
- Work area: 450 x 390 x 85 mm
- Price: $698
The E3 CNC router doesn’t come with software, but you can find three different software choices on their website. EstlCAM is the most basic one and comes at $59. Free trial downloads are available for those who want to try it out first.
In reviews, users have been very positive about the BobsCNC E3’s sturdy, laser-cut birch build as well as the end results it provides. Assembly is also relatively easy as long as you faithfully follow the provided instructions.
BobsCNC E4 CNC Router Engraver Kit
- Work area: 610 x 610 x 85 mm
- Price: $898
Other than that, they’re basically both the same machine. The E4 CNC router boasts the same 600W power and laser-cut birch frame.
If you’re looking for a DIY CNC project with responsive customer service to back you up, the BobsCNC E4 is a great option.
Carbide 3D Shapeoko Standard CNC Router Kit
- Work area: 406 x 406 x 76 mm
- Price: $1,249
The Carbide 3D Shapeoko CNC router kit comes with all the tools needed to assemble each part. This product is entirely made in the USA and you can count on MatterHackers’ excellent customer service before and after your purchase.
With this sturdy CNC workhorse you’ll be able to cut through various woods, plastics, and even soft metals like aluminum.
Inventables X-Carve 500
- Work area: 300 x 300 x 65 mm
- Price: $1,303
Both versions are equipped with a DeWalt 611 head, making them powerful and precise. Inventables advertise this machine as a carver, but no worries, it can still cut through your materials as long as they’re not overly thick.
Compatible materials include plastics, wood, and soft metals. Contact MatterHackers for more information.
- Work area: 210 x 300 x 80 mm
- Price: $1,399
If you’re up to the task, you can order one of their CNC router construction kits. Kits come at a lower price and help you get to know your machine inside and out. Otherwise, Stepcraft also ships pre-assembled, ready-to-run units for your convenience.
The Stepcraft D-300– along with other models from the same series– comes without accessories or software. This means you’ll have to order your router separately. You can also go for a spindle, mill, or other tools to make it an all-in-one CNC system.
CNC Piranha XL
- Work area: 305 x 610 x 102 mm
- Price: $2,499
What makes this CNC router stand out from the rest is the fact that it comes with a touchscreen controller. This makes it easier for you to choose and run your files.
You can also get your hands on the CNC Piranha FX, a smaller version of the tool that may be suitable for users looking for a more affordable unit.
Special mentions: Professional CNC routers (benchtop CNC)
We’ve added a few bonus models for those who need to take it to a professional level.
CNC Shark II
- Work area: 330 x 635 x 178 mm
- Price: $3,160
The machine is designed for extensive use and supports 3D. You will, however, have to buy the router head separately.
Axiom Precision AR4 Basic
- Work area: 610 x 610 x 152 mm
- Price: $4,499
It’s available in three footprint options and is quite easy to use, as there is no need to connect it to your computer. You can control your designs through the handheld controller with the help of a USB device.
CNC Shopbot Desktop
- Work area: 609 x 457 x 90 mm
- Price: $11,275
While it’s a great pick, remember that you will be handling a lot of weight – about 100 pounds without the spindle or router.
Made of aluminum, it is quite sturdy and offers a good cutting area. Plus, you can also buy additional items such as the desktop mini enclosure for improved safety and performance.
CNC router buying guide
Still not sure about which one to go for? Check out our buying guide for things to consider when buying a CNC router.
Dimensions and work area
One of the most important factors is the work area. It gets to decide the capabilities of the machine. The right option depends on why you need the router.
The area must be big enough to accommodate whatever material you want to use. Hence, consider the size of your projects when choosing your CNC router. If you’re planning to cut through thick materials, make sure that your machine can go that deep.
You also need to check if your workshop or work counter has enough space to accommodate your new machine.
Once again, consider your own use. Most small units can only cut wood and plastics, while higher-grade units can also cut soft metals like aluminum.
Kit or preassembled
If you like to tweak things and build stuff from scratch, a CNC router kit is the way to go. However, if you don’t have time or energy to spend on assembly, you should opt for a preassembled CNC system.
These machines can get expensive, so you might as well go with one that can handle other tools than router bits. Some manufacturers mention that their machines can also go with spindles or lasers. Even if you’ll have to install these extra tools yourself, it’s definitely something to take into account.
A few other things to consider include:
- ease of assembly (if any)
- software (if any)
- motor and drive systems
CNC router vs CNC machine
CNC machine is a generic term used to define all machines that offer computer numerically controlled functionality. This encompasses CNC routers, CNC mills, CNC plasma cutters, CNC laser engravers, 3D printers, and more.
Hence, a CNC router is a CNC machine, but a CNC machine isn’t necessarily a CNC router.
What can you do with a CNC router?
CNC routers are used in various industries, let’s check out some of their main applications.
Cabinet and Furniture Making
Wood CNC routers are used in the making of cabinets and other wooden items including doors, shelves, countertops, and drawers. They are suitable for both big and small projects.
It is common to use CNC routers to carve signs in different materials including bronze, plastic, wood, foam, and aluminum.
Based on the software and unit you have, you may be able to mimic the artisan’s skills seen in arches, corbels, columns, moldings, and carvings.
Plastic and Aluminum Machining
CNC routers are used to cut plastic and aluminum sheets. For aluminum CNC machining you’ll need a good-quality router.
All in all, you can use CNC routers to design a variety of elements.
CNC router vs CNC mill
The main difference lies in performance. CNC routers are designed to cut softer materials such as plastics, wood, and aluminum. They offer precision but cannot handle heavy-duty jobs.
On the other hand, CNC mills can cut even harder and thicker metals including titanium.
CNC router price
The cheapest model on our list is just under $200 while the most expensive one goes for over $8,000. While they both fundamentally do the same thing, they differ in terms of performance and output.
Expensive models are typically more durable, able to handle more materials and bigger sizes, and easier to use. However, thanks to the huge availability of options, you will have no difficulty in finding a unit in your budget.
How to build a CNC router?
It is possible to build a CNC router at home. You will need all the materials and a bit of time to do the job. Check out this Instructables article for a complete step-by-step guide.
How to assemble a CNC router?
This depends on the unit that you have. Some require heavy assembly including putting bolts in place. The whole process may take over a day if you are inexperienced. Pre-assembled CNC routers also exist if you don’t feel like going through the assembly process.
What can a CNC router do?
A CNC router can cut, carve, and engrave a variety of materials including steel, glass, foams, plastics, wood, and composites. The variety of compatible materials depends on the CNC router’s bits and power.
How much is a CNC router?
A CNC can cost anywhere from $189 to $8,000 and up. The price is higher for industrial CNC routers.