What is CNC Routing? – 2024 Resource

What is CNC Routing

CNC routing uses computer-controlled cutting tools to shape materials with precision, employing CAD and CAM software for design and operation; it is suitable for woodworking, metalworking, and plastics. CNC routers offer high accuracy, efficiency, and versatility across industries, handling diverse materials and enabling scalable production. I often use CNC machines in my work for accuracy and efficiency.

What is CNC Routing?

CNC (Computer Numerical Control) routing is a sophisticated machining process that utilizes computer-controlled cutting tools to shape, carve, and engrave materials with precision. It represents a significant evolution from traditional manual machining methods to highly automated and efficient production techniques.

Brief History

The evolution of CNC routing traces back to the mid-20th century when early numerical control (NC) machines were developed to automate machining tasks previously performed manually. These machines gradually evolved into CNC systems, incorporating computer technology to precisely control cutting tools and improve manufacturing efficiency across various industries.


CNC routing finds extensive use across diverse industries including woodworking, metalworking, plastic cutting, and more. It is indispensable for producing intricate components, prototypes, signage, and custom parts with high accuracy and repeatability.

How CNC Routing Works

Design Phase

In the design phase, Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software is used to create digital designs of the desired part or component. These designs are then translated into machine-readable instructions using Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software, specifying tool paths and operations. Cutlist Plus and Rhino3D are good starting points for CAD software.

Machine Setup

Once the design is finalized, the material is securely fixed to the CNC router bed. The appropriate cutting tool, selected based on material type and design requirements, is mounted on the machine spindle.

Routing Process

During operation, the CNC router undergoes calibration to ensure precise alignment and accuracy. The machine then executes the programmed tool paths, cutting, engraving, or shaping the material according to the digital design with minimal human intervention.

Benefits of CNC Routing

Precision and Accuracy

CNC routers deliver exceptional precision, achieving intricate details and maintaining consistency across multiple parts or batches.


Automation reduces human error and speeds up production, making CNC routing ideal for large-scale manufacturing and rapid prototyping.


Capable of working with a wide range of materials including wood, metals, plastics, and composites, CNC routers accommodate diverse industry needs and applications.


From small-scale custom projects to mass production runs, CNC routing offers scalability without compromising on quality or efficiency.

Materials Used in CNC Routing


Commonly used in furniture making, cabinetry, decorative items, and architectural components due to its versatility and aesthetic appeal.


Aluminum, steel, and other metals are machined for industrial parts, aerospace components, and custom metalwork applications.


Acrylic, polycarbonate, and other plastics are routed for signage, display cases, prototypes, and various engineering applications.

Composite Materials

Engineered woods like MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) and plywood are used extensively in furniture, construction, and interior design for their durability and dimensional stability.

CNC Routing in Woodworking

Custom Furniture

Enabling the creation of intricate designs and personalized furniture pieces with precise cuts and complex shapes.

Cabinet Making

Streamlining production processes for cabinet components, ensuring precise fitting and high-quality finishes.

Sign Making

Crafting professional signage with detailed graphics, custom fonts, and dimensional accuracy, enhancing visual appeal and brand representation.

Setting Up a CNC Router

Choosing the Right CNC Router

Selecting a CNC router involves considerations such as size, power, spindle options, and cutting capabilities tailored to specific project requirements and production needs.

Workspace Preparation

Establishing a clean, organized workspace is essential for efficient CNC operation. Implementing safety measures like proper ventilation, dust collection systems, and personal protective equipment ensures a safe working environment.

Software Installation

Installing and configuring CAD and CAM software is critical for creating and optimizing designs, generating tool paths, and programming the CNC router for precise cutting operations. Some reccomendations for software are: Cutlist Plus and Rhino3D.

Tips for Successful CNC Routing

Material Selection

Choosing the right material type and grade ensures optimal performance and quality in finished parts.

Tool Maintenance

Regularly inspecting and maintaining cutting tools ensures sharpness and extends tool life, improving cutting efficiency and surface finish.

Test Cuts

Performing test cuts on scrap material helps fine-tune cutting parameters, verify tool paths, and prevent errors before production runs.

Speed and Feed Rates

Adjusting cutting speeds and feed rates based on material properties and tool specifications optimizes cutting efficiency and minimizes tool wear.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Improper Tool Selection

Using incorrect tools can result in poor cuts, material damage, and unnecessary tool wear. Selecting the appropriate tool type and size for each operation ensures optimal cutting performance and surface quality.

Inadequate Clamping

Insufficiently securing the material on the router bed can lead to shifting or movement during cutting, affecting cutting accuracy and safety. Proper clamping techniques ensure material stability throughout the routing process.

Ignoring Safety Protocols

Neglecting safety guidelines increases the risk of accidents and injuries during CNC operation. Following safety protocols, including wearing protective gear and observing machine operation procedures, promotes a safe working environment.

Overlooking Machine Maintenance

Regular machine maintenance, including cleaning, lubrication, and calibration, is essential for maintaining CNC router performance, accuracy, and longevity.