CNC Router vs Mill – Mystery Solved

cnc router vs mill

cnc router vs mill

 In the modern world, CNC devices are top-rated among manufacturers of customized parts. 

Computer numerical control (CNC) become famous in the mid of 20th century. In the CNC community, routers and mills are well-known equipment. CNC machines are responsible for enhanced efficiency and decreased waste in multiple parts of the devices. There are various types of routers and mills available in the market, but choosing an appropriate and suitable machine is a tedious job. However, it will become more tedious if you are unaware of the difference between a router and a mill.

Highlighting their differences is quite challenging because they perform similar functions inside a machine, but both have distinctive characteristics. You do not use them with the same material CNC machines refer to computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) for their operation. Router and mill operated by movement of the cutting tool in different axis. In this article on CNC mill vs. router, we have elaborated on all the differences among these two to facilitate you in choosing the right CNC for you.

CNC machinery

cnc mill vs router

Computer numerical control (CNC) devices are specifically designed for automatically moving a tool around a workspace in 3-axes to give fine and defined cuts and designs. These CNC milling router machines are considered subtractive in nature because they perform a task or create a design by removing some part of the material instead of adding something to it. The machining speed, rotation rate, and type of motion are all collectively programmed to determine the quality of cuts and designs created by the device. There are few similarities among these devices, but in order to sum up the debate of CNC mill vs router, a detailed analysis of both devices is necessary.


CNC router

The CNC router is considered as a universal tool that is used in modern shops of machines and technologies. The primary purpose of these CNC devices is to cut softer and less delicate materials such as wood, plastic, foam, and rubber. These machines are also capable of creating complicated and creative designs on these soft metals. Typically, these router mills are installed on a stationary table and move along the axes. These devices have a larger cutting area and a spindle that moves in 3-axes. In the CNC router vs mill conflict, it is pertinent to note that the routers have more speed than mills in producing sharp cuts. Commonly, routers have 3-axes, but there are 4-6 axes in some devices perfect for complex designs.

Uses of router

Perfect for cutting softer materials such as wood, plastic, and foam

  • Installed on a stationary table
  • Larger surface area
  • Spindle moving in X, Y, and Z axis
  • Operates at relatively speed
  • Utilize rotational speed to make cuts
  • Convenient in making 3D designs and cuts

Router Projects

  • Wood carvings
  • Signs
  • Cabinets and drawer fronts
  • Large-scale plastic parts
  • Paddleboards
  • Wooden puzzles
  • Containers and holders
  • Cutting boards
  • Wall panel art
  • Drink coasters
  • Wooden clocks
  • Phone holders

CNC mill

cnc mill vs cnc router

In the CNC router vs mill explanation, it is assumed that router and mill perform a similar task, but they still have some differences that make them unique. Generally, mills are used to cut more rigid materials and metals. It has a rotary cutting tool that is similar to a router but with a much slower speed than the router. Mills are designed to rotate in the X and Y axis instead of mounting on a stationary table. In this way, the z-axis offers more clearance over the material to make thicker cuts with high accuracy.


Uses of mill

  • Used to cut metals and tougher materials
  • Slower operating speeds than CNC routers
  • Move-in an X-Y configuration
  • The spindle moves along a linear axis above the work space for increased clearance along Z axis
  • Able to perform thicker cuts
  • Makes cuts using higher torque

Mill Projects

  • Intricate wooden or metal clocks
  • Metal signs
  • Wall panel art
  • Jewelry, such as rings, bracelets, belt heads, necklaces, cufflinks, earrings, and tie clips
  • Medical equipment parts
  • Phone cases with intricate designs
  • Keyholders
  • Bike pedals
  • Ashtrays

Router vs Mill Comparison

cnc router vs cnc mill

These computer numerical control devices operate on a designed program. CNC devices use CAD or CAM, or it is opined that all computer-controlled devices follow similar language and perform a similar task by following the same method. They are also similar in their characteristics and performance. Despite all the similarities, these devices do have some notable differences.



One of the most prominent points of CNC mill vs. CNC router is the material, they can be used on or show some compatibility. The choice of machine depends upon the nature of your work. Soft and delicate materials can be cut by router machining because these routers are specifically designed for handling soft metals.

If you are cutting soft material such as wood, foam, plastic, rubber, then you can do this either by router or mill. However, the most suitable device for cutting soft material is a router. On the other hand, if you are aiming at hard metals such as steel, titanium, iron, and aluminum, then you will need a good mill to perform the task efficiently. A mill is more powerful and strong, so its design is ideal for heavier metals.  The mill is considered the most appropriate tool for cutting hard materials and metals. With the help of a mill, you can cut heavier metals in different shapes.

Machining speed

The speed of the machine is also a determinant factor in the CNC router vs. mill debate. The speed of the machine determined the time in which your customized part gets ready. Speed should be considered while choosing the machine for cutting different materials. It is assumed that the speed of the router is much more than the speed of a mill. If you want to complete your project in less time or make multiple copies, then a router will be more beneficial. A router has fast speed and a high rpm spindle. The motor of a router is capable of moving with 10,000-24,000 rpm. Due to the high speed of the machine, there are more chances of mistakes in cutting by a router.

A mill has low speed and a motor with less rpm spindle. A cutting rate of a mill is 1000 rpm. However, if you want precision in your work, then it is advisable for you to use a mill. However, the mill will take more time than a router. A mill will perform its task in more time but with high precision and torque.



When you are arguing CNC mill vs. CNC router accuracy and precision of the machine should be under consideration. If you are cutting parts for highly sensitive purposes, such as customized pasts of various machines, then you should go for a milling because it can give you more accurate and precise cuts. Parts of military types of equipment, medical, and aerospace can be cut using a powerful mill. In the world of machines, a minor error can be very dangerous for you.

In comparison, router machining cannot be as precise and accurate as a milling machine. For basic cutting, a router is ideal for basic cuttings of soft and lighter materials. You can get the finest cuts with the help of a mill. The quality and the size of the tips of the router or a mill are responsible for the accuracy and complicated cuttings.

Cutting area

The cutting area of the machine is crucial in CNC router vs CNC mill as different devices have variable cutting areas. Before starting your project, you should be clear about the starting point. If it involves fine detailing, then you should know that it is the task of a router as it can give a deeper Z-axis for profound cuts in the surface. It is assumed that the cutting area of a router is comparatively smaller than that of a mill as it is more rigid due to its smaller surface area.

While if you are working on a large piece of material, for example, a large wooden block then you will need a device with a larger cutting area. In this regard, you will find a router useful because it offers you a larger and wide cutting area. A router has a cutting area of 4 by 8 ft and 5 by 10 ft.


In the CNC router vs mill conflict, the configuration of the device is equally important. We can find a 3-axis spindle in a router that are X, Y, and Z-axis. The router can be clumped on a table so that it can move on 3 axes by staying in one place. However, in a CNC router, we can find a shallow clearance for effective handling of flatter and lighter metals.

It is believed that in some routers, we can see more than 3 axes for diverse movement. Machines with multiple axes are perfect for complex and complicated cuttings. Different shapes and sizes are also available in a router; this option is responsible for the shape and size of the end product. Similarly, a mill also offers movement in 3 axes such as X, Y, and Z. These mills cannot be mounted on a stationary table; machine moves above the table in the X, Y-axis, and Z-axis are responsible for more clearance that gives us more defined and thicker cuts.


One of the deciding factors in the CNC router vs mill debate is the cost of the machine. Despite all other differences, routers and mills are also quite distinctive in their price range. We can find a router for $250 to $100,000, and a good mill can cost around $25,000 to $150,000. It is evident from the above estimate that the price of a CNC mill is significantly higher than the price of a router.

There are many factors that are involved in determining the price of the machine. The features that a device offers play an important role in deciding the cost, size, model, company, and speed; all these factors collectively determine the buying cost of the device for the buyer. If you want to buy a device that is manufactured by a top-notch company, then it is obvious that you have to spend some extra bucks.

Industry application

The use of the device in industries is also the part of CNC router vs CNC mill argument. CNC machines are common in every industry that deals in computer-controlled parts and appliances. Mill routers are part of industries that involve complex and intricate designing and cutting. To our surprise, all industries are using devices in different ways, such as the industry that manufactures military-related parts, medical, auto-mobile industry, electronics, and oil and gas industries.

Certain devices are designed to be fitted for a specific purpose. The industry, which deals in larger and complicated devices, prefers routers over mills. On the other hand, the industry which involves smaller and delicate metals uses mills for cutting and designing purposes, such as the industry specializing in making airplane equipment. CNC milling is ideal for heavy industrial applications, while routers are perfect for soft materials.

Why do you need a mill?

Specifically, mills are stronger and robust, so they can easily handle tougher and harder materials such as steel, aluminum, iron, and titanium. The mill is also capable of cutting wood and plastic but in a limited and restricted manner as compared to a router. Mill has a smaller work envelope that means that the device is more rigid due to more mass in smaller space.

The more rigid and smaller envelope is famous for high accuracy and precision. A mill router can be the right option for you if you are tolerant enough to show some patience over the rigidness of the device. It is observed that mills have lower speed spindles than a router, but they have higher torque than a router. Due to the high rate of torque, mills are considered better than routers.

Why do you need a router?

cnc milling router machine

CNC routers are designed to make cuts from sheet surfaces with larger parts. This router mill can be regarded as gentler and less rigid than the mills because of its larger format. However, being less rigid can be interpreted as the incapability of routers to cut metals like aluminum, titanium, steel, and iron as their design is more compatible with cutting wood and plastic. They also have a high spindle speed of 10,000 – 24,000 RPM, and sometimes it is even higher than this.

In some routers, 4-6 axes are available that are ideal for complex and complicated projects. Routers have router bits that are similar to trills in shape and function. Routers bits are available in various shapes sizes, such as you can get straight router bits, chamfer router bits, and beaded router bits for different cuttings and designs. Their faster and efficient RPMs range from 12000 and 24000. Due to this range, it will produce less torque.

Shapes and uses of router bits

  • Straight bits: to cut straight down, create a groove, or hollow out an area
  • Chamfer bits: to create an edge or angled edges for box construction
  • Roundover bits: to create a rounded curve on a square edge
  • Round nose bits: to create a groove or flute in the middle of a material
  • V-groove bits: to create a v-shape into the material

Why do you need both?

A mill router is a very piece of equipment when it comes to modern machines. Both router and mill have specific uses, and you can easily choose which one is worth buying. But if you want to upgrade your machines and your shop of modern machines, then it is suggested to have both devices in your shop and in your collection. If you are making cabinets, signs, drawers, and wood carving, then it is necessary to have a router in your shop. On the other hand, if you are dealing with manufacturing customized parts or assembled parts for large and heavy machines, then you can do this by routing milling.

When you have both devices in your shop, then you can expand your business by doing smaller projects that can be done by a router and larger projects that can be done effectively with a mill. You can cut lighter as well as heavier metals and materials when you have both a router and a mill in your collection.


cnc mill router

In order to conclude the debate of CNC router vs. mill, the above discussion stated that both router and mill could give you promising and consistent results and both can give you other benefits such as low cost, high speed, more versatility, lower maintenance, and better protection. However, you should always be clear about their differences. Both machines have different purposes and different functioning. The choice of the device entirely depends upon the nature of your work and your preferences. If your preference is precision and accuracy, then you have to buy a different machine. But if you are aiming at high speed, then you have to look for other appropriate and suitable device that is capable of fulfilling your needs and demands.

Doug is a passionate woodworking enthusiast and the founding editor of the popular woodworking blog WoodyManReviews. With a deep appreciation for craftsmanship and a love for working with wood, Doug has dedicated his career to sharing knowledge and expertise with fellow woodworking enthusiasts. To this day, he still leads writing efforts on the blog, supervising the team of talented writers at his disposal.​
Doug Mahoney

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