CNC Mill vs. CNC Router

CNC Mill vs. CNC Router: What’s the Difference?


A CNC mills and a CNC router are often confused with each other but they are not the same.


To an untrained user, the CNC mill and CNC router might look the same.


Nevertheless, an expert machinist can identify the significant differences between these two machines.


While both the machines are computer-controlled, they differ on some key aspects.


For the uninitiated, CNC routers usually come with a larger cutting area. These machines have a gantry style design and are generally used for milling non-metals.


CNC mills, on the other hand, come with a relatively smaller cutting area. They have a C-frame style design and we use them to mill metals.


This article will dive a bit deeper into the differences between a CNC mill and a CNC router.


But first, let’s understand what a CNC mill and a CNC router are.


CNC Mill


CNC mills are machine-operated cutting tools that run on computer programs to remove materials from a workpiece. 


Machinists use CNC mills to design a specific part or product with the help of Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software.


These machines usually come with a main spindle and three-linear-axes. 


Some advanced CNC mills may have 4-5 axes for more accurate machining.


CNC Router


CNC routers are similar to CNC mills in terms of their functionalities and movements. 


Some CNC routers can perform almost all the tasks a CNC mill can perform.


Machinists mainly use CNC routers to cut, engrave, and carve objects out of a wooden workpiece. 


CNC routers vary in build and configuration, with some having more axes to make machining more efficient and faster. 


CNC Router vs. CNC Mill: The Difference


CNC mills and CNC routers differ on the following fronts:




CNC routers come in a range of materials. We use plywood, plastic, aluminum, and steel to make CNC routers.


Depending on the material, the rigidity and robustness of the machine also change.


However, with the material, the cost of the machine will also change.


Usually, CNC routers come with gantry style design.


The gantry moves in the Y-axis, and the spindle moves in the X-direction. 


The gantry frame in a CNC router must be light enough so steppers motors can move it around. 


CNC mills are much sturdier and heavier compared to CNC routers.


Typically, CNC mills are made of steel and aluminum.


More advanced CNC mills use either cast iron or stainless steel.


Despite the heavier weight and more substantial structure, CNC mills are smaller in surface area.


Since CNC mills are heavier in weight, assembling one requires an engine hoist.


Cutting Area


CNC routers have a larger cutting area compared to CNC mills.


Since CNC routers mill wood and other non-metal materials, they need a larger cutting area and beds.


On the other hand, CNC mills work on thick metal stocks, so they need concentrated milling, and thus a smaller cutting area.


The smaller travel also aids in the overall rigidity of the machine.


Z-axis Travel


Another distinct difference between a CNC mill and a CNC router is the Z-axis travel on them.


CNC routers don’t make deep cuts, and thus they have smaller Z-axis travel.


CNC mills have larger Z-axis travel because we use them to make deep cuts.


CNC mills also have large X and Y-axis travel and low Z-axis height.


Spindle Speed


Since machinists use CNC routers to cut through softer materials, they come with high-speed spindles to cut through these materials efficiently. 


CNC routers can move the spindle from 10,000 RPM to 30,000 RPM. 


The spindles in CNC mills run at lower RPMs with high torque. 


The RPM on a CNC mill can range from 1000 to 15000.




As we mentioned earlier, machinists use CNC routers to cut through softer materials. 


However, you can mill steel on a CNC router if you use the settings correctly.


We don’t typically use CNC routers for machining metals


Machinists use CNC mills to work on metal workpieces and other harder objects.




CNC routers work on non-metals; therefore, their accuracy is lower compared to CNC mills. 


Woodworking does not require the machinist to be exactly accurate. A little bit of leeway in measurement does not drastically affect woodworking.


On the other hand, metalworking requires the exact same measurements; therefore, CNC mills need to be precise.




All in all, a CNC router is a computer-operated machine that you can use to work on wood, plastic, fiber, and other non-metal objects.


CNC mill is a computer-operated mill that you can use on heavy-duty materials such as steel, iron, and other types of metal.


Both the machines also differ in cost, but we didn’t get into that.


Because, in our opinion, converting an old machine into CNC is a more affordable and efficient way to practice your machining skills.


If you are looking for a pocket-friendly way to elevate your machining skills using a CNC machine, a CNC conversion is your best bet. 


At CNC Conversion Plus, we have 40 years of experience in designing and automating machines. 


We also provide turnkey machines


What’s that? 


We purchase your choice of machine for you, modify it according to your recommendations, and deliver it to your address.


So, if you are thinking of honing your machining skills on a CNC machine, we advise that you let us convert your old machine at half the cost.


You get the same efficiency, power, and accuracy without burning a hole in your pocket. 


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