January 18, 2022

CNC Router vs Mill

What is a CNC router

A CNC router is a handheld router used for cutting multiple materials. It cuts through steel, wood, aluminum, plastic, and foam. It is similar to a CNC mill as they both use a computer numerical control to route tool paths that allow the machine to start performing the task.

 CNC routers decrease waste and increase production. They are fast and come in different sizes. Industrial CNC routers are big, and they use a large amount of space. However, there are desktop routers that use less space. 

They are smaller to the extent that they use a desk. The only disadvantage with the desktop router is that it is not as powerful as the industrial router. It is perfect for home use, and you connect it to your home computer. T uses the software on your computer and programs it to perform specific production functions. 


CNC routers are used for woodwork, crafting different materials, and making art pieces. Woodworkers use CNC routers to cut and shape multiple pieces of wood. At some point, I had to use the router to design my rocking chair for the balcony. 

It easily cuts through maple wood for a project. The CAD and CAM software helps you control and operate your router. You make cuts at the precise angles of your choice. You use bolts and screws to attach the pieces of wood as you make your item. 

CNC routers are for manufacturing centers and homes. I advise you to go for kits that are easy to assemble if you are using the router for private projects at home. With time, innovative routers lessen the burden for you.

What is a CNC mill

A CNC mill is a version of CNC machining that revolves around milling materials. Milling is almost similar to drilling or cutting. It uses a cylindrical cutting tool that rotates in multiple directions. A milling cutter moves along various axes and creates a wide range of shapes, holes, and slots. 

The mill moves in different directions for specific materials and shapes. CNC mills are separated by the number of axes on which they operate. An axis is named after a letter with the X and Y axes representing a horizontal movement of the mill’s workpiece. The Z-axis is the vertical movement. 

Standard CNC mills have three to five axes. There are technologically advanced CNC mills that use CAM programs for specific shapes. These shapes are hard to obtain using a manual tool. A fluid pump is one of the innovative features of the mill that pumps fluid to the cutting tool during the production process.

CNC mills excel in prototyping, complex parts, and precision parts. They manipulate materials in a precise manner. Mill machines cut metal and wood materials like CNC routers, but it is precise. 

That is the reason why it is popular in the industrial sector. The CNC mill makes shapes, slots, and holes on materials using a cutter.

Features of a CNC router

High speed

The CNC engraving wood machine also realizes high-speed milling for aluminum, copper, and steel. Wood engraving cutting machine is in seal making and company logo engraving.

Built-in windows

CNC routers have a built-in Windows©  compatible with networking features, monitors, and peripherals. They are operated locally through the shop’s network. 

CAD design program

The CAD design program is fed into the CAM software application. Then the CAM software calculates the tool paths for the manufacturing process. CNC routers have a minimum of 3 axes: X, Y, and Z, or a 3-dimensional tool travel path. Some have more, meaning the tool head, or spindle can rotate the router bit from one to three dimensions. 


It comes with water cooling and a base table. That is where the stock is secured. The spindle that holds the cutting bit moves left to right on the gantry’s overhead beam over the bed. It hangs down from the gantry to move to any x-y point, and the router bit moves up or down on the z-axis. 

Features of a CNC mill

Column and Base

The column has a base that supports all parts of the milling machine. It features an oil reservoir and a pump that lubricates the spindle and rests on the mill base. The base has a coolant reservoir and a pump used during machining operation that requires coolant.


It is a casting that supports the saddle and table and encloses all the gearing mechanisms. It is attached to the column by dovetail ways, supported, and adjusted by a vertical positioning screw. The screw adjusts the knee up and down by raising or lowering the lever using the hand or power feed.

 Saddle and Swivel Table

The saddle is on the knee and supports the table. It slides on a horizontal dovetail on the knee, which is parallel to the axis of the spindle. The swivel table is attached to the saddle revolved horizontally in any direction.

Power Feed Mechanism

It is the knee that comes with the power feed mechanism. It controls the longitudinal, transverse, and vertical feeds. Position the feed selection lever as shown on the feed selection plates. Milling machines have a rapid traverse lever engaged when a temporary increase in the longitudinal speed is required. 

Similarities between a CNC router and CNC mill

  • Both machines are computer-controlled.
  • A router and a mill use a moving, cutting tool around the workpiece across multiple axes.
  • Both work with a gcode.

Differences between a CNC router and CNC mill

  • A router has a stationary workpiece and a spindle that moves in X, Y, and Z, while on a mill, the part moves in X and Y, and the spindle moves in Z.
  • Routers use a gantry frame design, while mills use a C-frame structure with a column and base.
  • CNC mills are more robust as they handle materials like steel, cast iron, or titanium, while a mill cuts wood and plastics. There is more mass in a smaller space, which allows a mill to be more rigid than a router.
  • Mills have spindles that are lower speed, but higher torque, than a router.

Why use a CNC router

  • Routers are for larger parts, cut from sheet materials. They have a larger, gantry-style – format, and are less rigid than their mill counterparts. 
  • The routers cannot cut materials like steel or titanium, but they cut wood, plastics, foam, and even aluminum. 

Why use a CNC mill

  • Use a CNC mill when working on harder materials.
  • To make accurate cuts.

CNC Router VS Mill cost

Desktop CNC routers range from $1,500 to 5,000. Standard routers range from $5,000 to 30,000, and high-end routers range up to $100,000. Consider your needs and your budget. The CNC mill ranges from $5,000 to 100,000. It depends on the model you want, features, and budget.

David D. Hughes

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