Can CNC Routers Cut Metal? Answered! by Bill Baum at TheEdgeCutter

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Yes, CNC routers can cut through metal. Though these routers are specifically made for cutting plastic, composite materials and wood, they can be used to cut metal. This procedure is termed CNC milling; the method that uses rotary cutters(CNC router) to remove material from the workpiece.

Note: The workpiece is fed to the cutting tool by the CNC router in the direction of rotation of the tool. The inception of CNC milling was to replace the conventional machining process, which was rather slower and highly labor-intensive.

People generally think of using a CNC router for engraving works on wood or for other plastic work. But, this machine can be well used for metal cutting as well including copper,  aluminium, stainless steel, and brass.

No doubt that a Laser or Plasma technology based CNC machine is more efficient in handling metal cutting processes than CNC routers, yet the latter option is feasible for metal cutting projects. 

But then, the question may arise: why use a CNC router for metal cutting when there are other efficient CNC machines available on the market? 

Well, firstly, if you are already having a CNC router, you are saving thousands from spending on a whole new machine. Secondly, you might have a tight budget to go buy a machine that is dedicatedly meant for metal cutting. Thirdly, your workshop might not be spacious enough to entertain another big giant inside. Fair enough?

Now you might be wondering: how to use the router for cutting any metal workpiece? I have got it covered right below! 

How to Cut Metal Using a CNC Router?

Firstly, make sure to have a proper clamping system followed by an adequate vacuum. These two are the must-have as metal processing takes place under a high degree of rotational force. 

The tabbing process is a good tip to try and prevent the workpiece from wobbling from its cutting path during the ending stages of the process. Small Vectric V carves are generally used by the CNC router professionals to secure the workpiece in place and prevent it from spoiling or slippage. It is one of the best practices in CNC router based metal cutting.

Choosing the appropriate tool for a particular job is also a very important part of CNC machining practice. Let's suppose that you have a workpiece of 3 mm Aluminium to be cut, so you need to choose the tool that is not too short or long, i.e. the tool length should be your main focus to get the desired cutting finish. 

Since the CNC router cutter and metal workpiece generate a notable amount of heat during the process, use a proper lubricant to keep the cutting smooth. Dry cut is also okay but you may not get the desired end product that you otherwise expected. 

Note: Using lubricant not only eases the metal cutting process but also increases the tool life used for that dedicated metal piece, thereby saving your expense. 

If you follow all the above points accordingly, you can only expect to get the best cutting output on your router in no time.  

How to Eliminate Vibration While Metal Cutting? 

Metal processing will generate a considerable amount of vibration when the cutter is fed to the workpiece. To avoid such continuous vibration employ sheetrock screws to hold the workpiece in position on the spoil board. This will firmly hold the metal from wobbling and ensure that it is closer to the cutting tool. This 

Benefits of Automated CNC Routers

Here are some common advantages of employing a CNC router for metal cutting:

1. Precision and Cutting Accuracy

It is true that a handheld router can be operated close to the workpiece compared to a CNC router. But, the former has higher risks of errors in accuracy and precision cutting which the latter doesn't have. Even the most perfectionist hands can make mistakes or face cutting errors. You never know! However, a CNC router, being a computer regular machine, is operated according to the parameters fed to the computer software that in turn signals the machine to cut the material accordingly. So, there is no risk of accuracy or precision error in this, and you get the most perfect end result. Also, due to increased accuracy, there will be much reduction in waste generation which will save your time and money.

2. Ability to do Repeated Cuts

Apart from the above mentioned point, a CNC router is the best automation device for creating repeated cuts. This factor is really useful for the mass production of the same type of end products compared to a handheld router. A CNC router can operate at the same speed, precision, and accuracy to maintain repeatability. This again saves your time and expedites your work. Since it works on automation technology, you can leave the machine to work overnight, in case you have bulk production requirements.

3. Easy to Operate

You will enjoy the ultimate ease of operation with CNC routers. These automated machines are exceptionally simple to operate. You will need some basic training and you are ready for the job! Unlike the handheld router where you have to take care of the safety for effective cutting performance, a CNC router is free from such extra worries.  

4. Reduction in Labor Cost

Since all the work is automatically handled by the CNC router, you will not require manual service, which will save your labor cost to a great extent. Handheld metal cutting or other routing works that would have otherwise taken multiple technicians can now be cut short by a single CNC routing system. Plus, you will only need a fewer number of members in your work team for programming the computer software for the routing procedure.

5. Better Safety

Constantly handling a handheld router can cause hand fatigue to the user. Moreover, there is a high risk to the operator and people surrounding that person. But, there are CNC routers that come with safety features to protect the operator from any sort of mishap or serious injuries.  

Price Table Of Different CNC Router Types

Router Type

Price Range

Hobby or desktop or Mini CNC Router

$1,500 to $5,000

Basic and Standard CNC Router 

$5,000 to $30,000

Complex and Multi-processing CNC Router 

$30,000 to $100,000

Highest-end Industrial CNC Router 

> $100,000

Top 3 CNC Router Recommendations For Metal

1. CNC Piranha XL Router

Next Wave Automation CNC Piranha XL

CNC Piranha XL is a perfect choice for those who are looking to buy an industry-grade CNC router. This machine features rational cum auto-edge sensing technology which means that the router can locate the workpiece automatically and identify its parameter. Moreover, the router auto-detects the beginning point of the project.

Apart from that, the machine comes with the Windows-only design program known as the Carve Desktop V8 design software. It helps the operator to feed any finished design directly to the router through USB cable.

Pros:

  • Pro-grade CNC router model
  • Can be used on multiple surfaces like plastics, soft metals, and wood
  • Comes with automation features that make the work easier and smoother 

Cons:

  • Windows-only design software limits the machine's usability
  • A little pricey

2. JFT 3040 3-Axis CNC Router

JFT 3040 3-Axis CNC Router

JFT 3040 3-Axis is another exceptional model with a proper balance between its price and quality. Moreover, the durable metal frame of this router makes it an efficient choice for buyers looking for a metal-intensive CNC router. It is a water-cooled CNC machine which allows the device to consistently operate for a longer period.

The sturdy Aluminum gantry followed by ball-screw adds more strength and stability to the router design. Another notable thing about this router model is that it accommodated a couple of computer software, including the ArtCAM and the Coppe­­rCAM software. So, unlike the first recommendation, this CNC router is not limited to usability. 

Pros:

  • Delivers great power and high speed
  • Firm and durable router body allows it to work on metal workpieces
  • Water-cooled features enables the device to operate for longer
  • Can work using a variety of engraving software 

Cons:

  • Needs consistent monitoring when in use

3. MillRight CNC Power Router

MillRight CNC Power Router

MillRight CNC Power Router is a versatile cum powerful router model, in case you are looking for one. This engraving machine features a fully metallic frame which gives great strength and stability to its durability during the milling operation.

The machine is clamped with ball-screws onto an axle pair, giving additional stability to the router. Also, you get a higher quality end product. The bearing shaft operates with a high-rotational-force stepper-motor to move the CNC giant around. Due to its high stability and sturdiness, the router is fit for working on metal surfaces, including steel.

Pros:

  • High-quality metal engraving capability
  • Durable metal body
  • Features safety stop switch 

Cons:

  • Software usability option is limited 

Conclusion

Computer Numerical Control or simply CNC routers are a significant part of any hardware production factory or workshop. The cutting efficiency, ease of operation, quality, accuracy , and precision makes it the most suitable machine for cutting metals, repeated cuts, and more. But, the main challenge is when you go to a shop to buy the model that best suits your purpose. I hope the above three recommendations ease your CNC router selection and the article stands helpful to your knowledge. 

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