CNC routers have a simple task: Etch a surface, carve a design, or cut out a shape. These tools have changed the way we sculpt, carve signs, make jewelry, and produce parts in metal, plastic, wood, and stone. Modern CAD and CAM software make it relatively simple to draw an idea, work out the tool paths, and turn it into a finished object.
Getting into CNC routing is easier than ever. Tools range from inexpensive kits to learn and grow on up to monster production routers big enough to mill an entire kitchen’s worth of cabinet doors in a single setup. For a good overview of CNC Routers, take a look at our CNC router review from earlier this year.
Here’s an assortment of CNC router projects to keep you cutting happily for many more hours. Enjoy, and good luck with your own masterpiece!
This CNC-milled paddleboard is the finished version of those ribs and struts pictured at the top of the article. The core parts were milled from a single sheet of marine grade 1/4″ plywood on a Maslow 4′ x 8′ CNC router, planked with cedar, and finished with epoxy for strength and waterproofing. It’s an example of the kind of projects you can create with large commercial routers.
And it’s easy to replicate, too, since Make: Magazine offers SVG files and instructions for this project.
If a paddleboard doesn’t fit your decor, this CNC kinetic sculpture is sure to look great on your wall. It’s about 20″ wide and runs several hours on a single winding. The plans are available from Clayton Boyer, who has developed an assortment of plans for CNC clocks and other moving artwork.
Most hobby-level CNC routers would work well for this size of project. And without the need to cut metal parts, it’s a good step up from simple milling.
Just keep in mind that wood typically isn’t used for mechanical assemblies for a reason: The material doesn’t easily allow for accurate meshing. Compressing, chipping, and snapping, wood isn’t a great material for a reliable, accurate mechanical assembly. Treat this project more as an exercise in aesthetics, not engineering.
The internet is loaded with CNC-cut wooden clocks. Just search “CNC router clocks”, and there’ll be no shortage of designs!
This particular assembly was featured on the Fine Woodworking blog. It’s a wooden remontoire-escapement style clock designed using ACAD and Cut2D for toolpath creation. Made of cherry, walnut, birch plywood, and brass, it’s an example of how elaborate you can go with even simple CNC equipment.
A word of caution: You might not want to attempt this unless you have a large amount of time to set aside. It’s no dainty task to build a working mechanical clock practically from scratch.
Not every CNC router project needs to be elaborate. This elephant puzzle is perfect for small children. It was designed for a scroll saw but could be easily adapted to a small CNC router, using a .25-inch bit for the outside and .125-inch bit to separate the pieces.
The original is cut from 1-inch pine to help it stand upright, but you could go thinner and make a flat puzzle, instead. A little sanding, stain, and sealer, and you’ve created a true heirloom.
CNC routers may be the optimal tool for stringed musical instrument makers. That’s because the technique delivers a level of accuracy and control rivaling the best hand-made instruments. It’s perfect for all the inlays, complex curves, and joints on even a simple instrument.
This ukulele was created using an Avid CNC router. These machines fit somewhere between hobbyist and commercial machines. In fact, most CNC routers can be equipped with diamond engravers to scratch designs into stone, glass, and steel. Swap the engraver out for a drag knife, and your machine will slice through paper, fabric, and vinyl. Mills like the Avid are comfortable with more difficult materials, such as aluminum and hardwood, perfect for making instruments like this ukulele.
Here’s a cool desk lamp created with a CNC router. It’s quite handsome in a post-industrial sort of way.
While this project is only available as a completed lamp, the picture has enough information to get you started designing your own version. If nothing else, it’s quite a conversation starter.
Medium-size hobbyist CNC routers (an X-carve was used here) can do some very precise work with care and a little tuning. This parametric desk cubby, milled from MDF, slides together with no fasteners. To achieve this level of precision, belts and wheels need to be tight, the spindle aligned, and the cutter sharp and straight.
Need a robot arm? Quite a few variations can be found online. Many require a 3D printer for some of the parts, but the one shown here is pure router. Milled from 40mm plywood, the arm is moved by seven servos connected to an Arduino. Plans can be found on Thingiverse.
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(Lead image source: Make: Community)
License: The text of "8 CNC Router Projects That Are a Cut Above" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.