The CNC Wood Router: How Does It Work?

A router creates a hole in a chosen material. The old word, rout, means to dig, so a router was originally a hand-held machine designed to rout or dig out material. Today’s routers come in small, hand-held devices for the home hobbyist, or giant industrial-sized machines intended to carve out patterns in material many feet across.

The CNC Wood Router

Photo by JR Laser Solutions.

The earliest routers were used in woodworking, although today they are used with metal, plastic, and numerous other materials as well.

What is CNC?

A CNC machine is one operated by Computer Numerical Control, a system for entering programmed movements based on a Cartesian coordinate system. X and Y-axis are used to instruct a CNC machine where to go, what cuts to make, and when and where to stop. Put a CNC system on a modern wood router and you have a CNC wood router, the preferred tool of large wood workshops and artisans alike. The CNC system allows a woodworker to program in the specific cuts he or she wants made, then let the machine execute the program.

What Does a CNC Wood Router Do?

A router consists of a cutting head or bit, a gantry, and a bed. The piece of wood to be cut (the workpiece) is secured to the bed, and the head moves along X and Y axis to execute the CNC Program.

How does it work?

The head moves along a Y axis (up and down), while the bed moves along an X axis. Thanks to the CNC module, quite complicated shapes and patterns can then be carved out of the wood. Some higher-end CNC wood routers come with true three-dimensional movement, with both the router head and the bed itself capable of X and Y movement. That’s the technical details behind the router; but what does the CNC wood router produce? Routers can be used to produce shallow bowls or spoons or other similar projects, but they excel in one particular area: relief carving.

Relief carving uses a flat plane of wood and carves out the negative space of what image is being produced; the wood that remains shows something in relief, standing out against the flat of the board. Relief carvings don’t stand freely, and can be either high- or medium-relief depending on how much they stand out against the board, i.e., how much material has been removed.

The CNC Wood Router - machine

Pros and Cons of a CNC Wood Router

Now that you’re up to speed, what are the pros and cons of owning a CNC wood router? What does it offer that other woodworking tools don’t?


– One of the few tools designed specifically for woodworking

– Routers began as woodworking tools, and CNC only expanded their abilities.

– Excels at detail work

– Intricate swirls on a carved rose or the loop in the tail of a pig; CNC routers are perfect for adding a depth of detail that would be nearly-impossible to do by hand.

– Easy to program

– You’ll need to program your CNC router. It uses a base language called g-code, which can be tricky to master. Fortunately, most new routers come with computer programs that vastly simplify the process, allowing you to design a carving on your computer and export it directly to the CNC machine.


– Programming can be complicated – For some items, you might find that much of the project is easier to do by hand. This is especially true for sectioning or any actual cuts that need to be made.

– Flat planes preferred

– Wood routers don’t handle taller 3D items particularly well; flat planes are preferred to statues.


A CNC wood router is a great addition to your workshop. You can maximize the use you get out of it by using it for detail work, but leaving the sectioning to other tools. For intricate, elaborate carvings and adding a whole new level of beauty and detail, you’ll find a CNC wood router to be an invaluable aid.

About the author

This article is provided by Holly Clark who is a freelance lifestyle writer. Her focus now is to help readers update their interior decor. Holly is currently writing for Land of Rugs.

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