We’re all about the 3D printers here at All3DP, but in the “desktop” and maker space, there’s a wealth of other machinery that uses the same principle of guiding a tool head across several axes that are worthy of attention.
CNC mills and routers are two such subsets of tools, distinct in their regard for specific purposes. Ideal for precisely cutting through or into woods, metals and other materials, the CNC mill and CNC router are popular tools, but typically they come at a cost.
Helping alleviate this is the DIY CNC kit, condensing down the CNC mill and CNC router into flat pack projects that result in high-quality tools fit for carving and cutting in relatively little time.
Here we summarize the differences between the two and present 14 of the top DIY CNC router kits on the market today (ordered by price).
Hackable and coming with a large work area out of the box - especially the XXL version - the Shapeoko is a versatile CNC router.
The cheapest DIY CNC kit to feature on this list, Sainsmart’s Genmitsu CNC 3018 boasts a comfortable work volume of 300 x 180 mm (from which the 3018 of its name derives) plus a Z-axis depth of 45 mm.
Ideal for those looking to dip their toes into CNC without sacrificing a lot of money, the Genmitsu CNC 3018 is built on the Open Source Arduino platform, using Grbl (also Open Source) for reading G-code and motion control. Suitable for softer materials, expect a cheap and cheerful machine to get acquainted with the principles and inner workings of a CNC machine.
An open aluminum extrusion frame and easily accessible electronics make the Genmitsu ripe for tinkering, which may be a necessity with the lack of end stops – should you want to engrave up to the limit of that work volume.
Possibly the most DIY of CNC kits to grace this list, the Lowrider is a full-sheet capable CNC router that, uniquely among the items on this list, heavily features 3D printed parts.
An evolution of the Mostly Printed Computer Numerical Control (MPCNC), the Lowrider achieves better rigidity while cutting the number of parts and, subsequently, cost over its predecessor.
In its most complete form, the Lowrider is available as a parts bundle containing the vitamins and electronics required to create this motion system. Separately, you will need to source a spindle, steel rails, plus cut MDF and 3D print the parts required to hold it all together.
Spendthrifts out there can take this further with just the bill of materials and locally source every single piece.
In return for all that effort, you get a CNC router with a large cutting area with a Y-axis that is only bound by your table length.
And best of all, building the Lowrider from scratch can total out at under $500. A complete project of a DIY CNC kit, this is perhaps best left to experienced hobbyists, rather than complete beginners.
Maslow is an open source project centered around the build large CNC machine capable of cutting large flat materials at up to 8′ x 4′ (that’s 2438 x 1219 mm). Pretty big – bigger than every stock machine on this list, even.
The secret — well, we suppose it’s no secret since the entire thing is open source and community driven — is that the Maslow stands vertically, condensing its large work area into a comparatively tiny footprint some 300 mm deep and approximately 3 meters wide.
The machine itself works with the router suspended on the surface of your cutting material, with motor driven chains affixed to a rail atop the Maslow’s easel-like frame moving the cutting action.
It’s a unique beast and one that is completely community driven thanks to the Maslow Community Garden forum, where users publish their projects for others to use, expand and improve.
As best we can tell, the only place to acquire a kit is at Maker Made CNC, which produces batches of approved kits to the original Maslow design. At $499, it’s perhaps the best bang for buck for those looking to make large pieces.
This CNC router kit is a stunner with its low price and high quality results. The frame is laser cut plastic, but all the connecting and bearing areas are reinforced with steel. The tool is clamped in aluminum and driven in X- and Z- axes while the cut plate moves Y. The kit includes the complete controller board and uses Autodesk’s free Fusion 360 as controlling software.
The DIY CNC router kit comes with a ll you need to get cutting right out of the box, and starts at $499. Extras like homing switches and further frame reinforcement packages can be configured into your kit or purchased later as extras.
Naturally, as a kit this DIY CNC router comes in parts and must be assembled by yourself, but MillRight’s customer service has proven as highly competent in many cases, should you run into any problems.
Another entry-level machine that balances affordability with capability, the Sienci Mill One V3 comes as a nuts and bolts kit, with plug and play electronics, pre-cut MDF walls that double as the frame, and convenient carry-handles, because why not.
The working area is modest when held against the other machines on this list, but for an accessible entry point to CNC routing the Mill One is hard to beat.
Oh, and it’s completely open source, too, meaning you can grab the bill of materials, STLs to 3D print parts, initialization information, and other bits and pieces needed to build your own from scratch form the Sienci website.
This laser-cut wooden DIY CNC router kit is a complete set; it comes with a milling motor, software, and electronics. It is great for engraving and cutting wooden or plastic objects. The frame comprises laser-cut plywood, with the tool head running on belts, so do not expect the highest accuracy.
Considering the price, large work space and the inclusion of a milling motor, the E3 it is a great first kit for those looking to get their feet wet in DIY CNC engraving and cutting.
This small and compact DIY CNC router kit offers great small-scale work for modest price. It does not include a milling motor, but it has ball bearing-mounted precision spindles for quick runs and a repeat accuracy of 0,03 mm.
It comes with LinuxCNC included, but can also be controlled with CNC Studio, WinPC-NC, and many other programs. The T-Nut work plate allows the attachment of clamps. It is suitable for machining soft materials, electronic circuit boards and small-scale work on non-ferrous metals.
Originally launched on Kickstarter, Stepcraft has burgeoned into one of the first names in modular CNCmachines, offering a variety of DIY CNC kits and ready-to-run machines out of its base in Germany. The Stepcraft D-Series is one such kit, coming in 5 different sizes to suit different workshop spaces. It is one of the cheaper, lighter and smallest CNC routers on this list.
The series comes as a complete set albeit with one pretty important omission — the milling motor itself, so you‘ll have to procure a compatible motor yourself (Stepcraft also produces them). The Stepcraft D-Series comes with control software for Windows, has end stops on all axis and a big red emergency stop button.
This DIY machine is great for engraving and working with softer materials. It can even cut 10mm aluminum sheets.
Featuring a larger work area than its desktop mill predecessor, the Nomad 338 Pro, the Carbide 3D Shapeoko is all about versatility.
Compatible with a wide array of router bits and eminently hackable, it’s DIY CNC router kit for restless makers. Depending on where you purchase the Shapeoko 3, the kit includes either a DeWalt 611 or Makita router to power the cutting, making the machine capable of carving out woods, plastics, and Aluminum.
Carbide’s own Carbide Create and Carbide Motion software make working with the Shapeoko a breeze, allowing for maximum creativity across the machine’s 406 x 406mm work area.
Boasting a large work area, the Inventables X-Carve is geared toward signage and other larger objects. It comes with its own software and has a thriving community around it. When buying this CNC router kit you can configure it to suit your particular usage.
The basic machine starts at $999 and comes with a machine head, toolkit, clamps, and electronics all wrapped around a 500 x 500mm work area. The axis is driven by belts and the machine is mounted on a wooden board. Due to its low cost and configurability, the Inventables X-Carve is a great DIY CNC router kit if you’re just getting started with the tech.
Fully open source, the Ooznest WorkBee is the product of UK-based Ryan Lock and his CNC machine and accessory store, Ooznest.
An evolution of the OpenBuilds Ox, an open source CNC machine that Ooznest sold and improved upon over time, the Workbee is it’s own new machine that filters back into the open source community (an OpenBuilds variant is even available on the OpenBuilds store).
C-beam linear rails shield the motion systems from cutting debris, and a highly configurable design that accommodates switching from lead screw to belts — letting you scale up to over 1000 mm builds.
Recently upgraded to include a Duet 32bit controller, the popular Workbee is now capable of wider connectivity, optimized motion control resulting in smoother and quieter operation, plus futureproofing for upcoming functionality-adding updates; overall a sturdy machine that blends quality of life with flexibility.
The consensus for this DIY CNC router kit appears to mostly be positive, indicating it is great for milling chipboard and plastics. You can also lengthen the cutting space as the driving motor sits in the gantry. Furthermore, the tooling clamp offers a free spot for installing a CO2 laser head, allowing for laser cutting across the blueChick’s generous 305 x 914 x 76 mm work area.
Made from wood and constantly improved upon to add to the stability and sturdiness of the machine, the blueChick is currently on version 4.2., a revision improving the arrangement, drive method and structure.
This powerful full Aluminum router is MillRight’s top spec machine. The router tool is mounted with precision ball screws on two axles for extra stiffness. In addition a stainless steel bearing shaft in combination with a high torque stepper motor is used to move to tool. The aluminum bed accommodates clamps and, due to the overall stiffness of the machine, it can also manage short cuts into steel.
The kit includes complete controls, homing switches and an emergency stop switch. Jobs on this DIY CNC router are controlled through Autodesk’s free Fusion 360 software. At the time of writing MillRight only ships to the contiguous 48 US, but you can contact them to discuss other shipping locations.
The Pro Version of CNC Router Parts milling machines start with a compact and space saving design, that is subsequently configurable to offer a huge work space. It is designed with a bearing mounted Z spindle. The X- and Y- axis, however, are rack and pinion driven which lowers the overall accuracy, especially for larger builds. Its manufacturer promises however the milling of aluminum alloys.
The Pro kit comes with end stops for all axes, but no CNC control software, machine head nor electronics. The electronic solution is available prebuilt for $1,500 or as a kit for $765. It is mostly used for larger wood builds or foam.
The CNC mill and CNC router are terms often used interchangeably. In actuality, they are two distinct machines with specific purposes.
A CNC router is mostly used for cutting wood, plastic, model foam or other soft materials. With some routers you can also machine aluminum, but this is mostly for engraving purpose.
The spindle of a CNC router can rotate up to 20,000 Rpm, a necessity in order to experience low torque when cutting into the material. Typically the frame and bearings of a CNC router are not configured for high stiffness. The upside of this high-speed low torque cutting is that a CNC router can do its work quickly, compared to slow CNC mills.
Another benefit of the CNC router is that they broadly tend to offer more working space in the X- and Y- axes, with a shallow Z-axis movement when compared to the CNC mill.
Despite being generally less stiff than a CNC mill, the stiffness and quality of a CNC router depends on the price tag. You can pick up a good CNC router with tools for less than $800.
Perhaps the most noticable difference between the CNC mill and CNC router is cost. A decent CNC mill can costs in the range of $10,000, and that’s before factoring in maintenance and tools.
The upside of such an expensive machine however, is that a CNC mill is capable of machining all kinds of metals such as (cast) steel, aluminum alloys and precious metals.
To do so, the spindle of a CNC mill runs at around 1,000 Rpm — much slower than a CNC router. Paired with a stiff frame and sturdy bearings, it’s possible to precisely cut to a tenth of a millimeter, though this of course depends on the quality of your tools, talent and machine.
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