What can I do with a CNC Router?

Small home CNC routers have found their way into hobbyist workshops and design studios. But many people still ask: What can I do with a CNC router?

Some would argue that there’s little you can’t do with this kind of machine. And this is true since CNC routers can deliver precision-cut machine elements, intricate designs for marketing purposes, and so much more.

The following sections explore some of the coolest things you can get with this versatile tool and how you can make money with a CNC Router.

3D Carvings

If you’re starting, it would be best to work with a less complicated design. But those who already have some experience should test the limits of their router’s 3D carving capabilities.

This type of design is usually referred to as bas-relief, and the carvings don’t have full depth. These carvings are quite common in old furniture and ancient architecture. A CNC router is, in fact, one of the best tools to restore carvings on furniture.

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However, apps like Easel won’t be of much help for such projects. You need a 3D software that’s compatible with your machine and a 3D modeling app to complete the design. That might seem a bit too demanding, but there’s a way around it.

Some 3D modeling apps can generate a model based on an image. Plus, there is an extensive online repository of pre-designed bas-reliefs you can download for free. Here is one example of how to make this work.

Say you need to carve a coat of arms that features a lion. You can then search for lion bas-relief models online and incorporate the one you like the most with other elements for a more intricate design.

Firearm Ornamentation

If you’re into ornamental pistols and rifles, there’s hardly a design your CNC machine can’t handle. That said, you need to make sure your unit can work with metal and high-end polymers, common in some guns.

On the other hand, even the smallest at-home CNC routers work great with various types of wood. So, you won’t have a problem with machining a cool grip for your weapon. And design-wise, there’s hardly a graphics or image you can’t route.

But then, you need to be careful about the depth and comfort of the design. You don’t want anything that feels awkward when you hold the weapon. Or, a pattern that may affect the structural integrity of your prized piece.

Anyway, there are a bunch of free templates with simple ornaments. And some are specifically engineered for wooden or rubber grips, for example.

Gears

Did you know that some watchmakers use CNC machines to mill the gears and other elements for mechanical watches? And yes, routing a simple gear mechanism is an excellent way to get started with a CNC machine.

With these, you get to practice precision and figure out what it takes to engineer functional elements. But if you’re creative, gears and geared mechanisms can be the starting point for an eye-catching art piece.

There is an entire subculture of enthusiasts who CNC intricate mechanisms. These range from a few display gears that appear to be in perpetual motion, to full-on vaults with the geared mechanism exposed.

You can CNC gears from metal. But then, this requires a mighty machine and a robust cooling system. If you are an enthusiast, routing gears from MDF and wood is a great alternative. And those who have some painting skills can make it look like metal.

Tactical Accessories

Everyday Carry (EDC) has spiked in popularity over the past few years. And it’s safe to assume this is due to the wide-spread availability of at-home CNC routers.

A quick online search, and you’ll find an assortment of tactical key chains, multi-tools, hairbrushes, and whatnot. But why spend money on them when you can make your own? The only limitation here is that you need a machine that can handle metal.

However, you can also get away with certain types of plastic and carbon fiber. Though, you should bear in mind that most tactical accessories require thicker materials. Thus, make sure your router and bits cut through at least 1/2-inch of plastic or carbon fiber.

As for the design, you can download basic tactical multi-tool templates for free, and the same goes for key chains. But don’t hesitate to make your own − you never know, it might be the start of a lucrative side business.

Yoyos

At first glance, yoyos look simple. But to make a functional one, you need to have decent CNC routing skills.

Yoyo engineering involves a precise balance of weight and size to ramp up the toy’s performance. And you might need to consider adding a ball bearing to give some more freedom to the string.

Anyway, a CNC yoyo is one of the ultimate tests of your technical skills. There are very few free templates or ready-made CNC files for yoyos out there. But when you get a working toy, you’re ready for more intricate designs that feature more precision elements.

And if there’s a laser engraver in your workshop, you can finish off the design with a custom engraving.

Jewelry

If you ask yourself what you can do with a CNC router, jewelry is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. But these versatile machines are quite good at churning out custom buttons, bracelets, and dog tag charms.

Jewelry is also a good starting point when you’re learning the ropes of CNC routing. For example, simple rings are excellent for testing the machine’s cutting power, performance, and material properties. Plus, you get to perfect your designing skills with the routing software.

Similar to CNC-routed EDC, jewelry can also become an attractive product for your customers. Of course, this is if you plan to make some money with the router. But even if you don’t, you’ll always have a unique piece to showcase your engineering skills.

Think Outside the “Box”

Or inside the box for that matter because making custom boxes are a great way to use your CNC Router.  You can make unique one-of-a-kind dovetail boxes with all kinds of different joints that will make each box special.

There are some great apps out there that make cutting box joints out there very easy. If you Easel by Inventables they also have some great apps in their online software for creating custom made boxes.

Be Creative

What can you do with a CNC router? You can create mechanical elements and working prototypes. There’s always the option to try your engineering skills with toys and accessories. And you get to test out the properties of various materials.

All in all, CNC design is truly limited by your imagination. That said, the machines’ features also put a cap on what you can do.