September 16, 2022 7 min read

If you’re facing the dilemma of CNC mill vs. router, and which machine would better suit your needs, we can help.

In this article, we’ll discuss the differences between the CNC mill and router, as well as when to use which machine. Let’s get into it.

CNC Router Vs. CNC Mill in a Nutshell

To help you conclude which side of the CNC mill vs. router dilemma you wish to be on, we’ve constructed the following list and table. You can easily see which of the two machines will suit your purposes. If you have more to consider, keep reading for detailed accounts.

  • CNC mills can cut tougher workpieces than routers can
  • CNC routers operate much faster than mills
  • CNC milling machines have fewer spindle axes than routers do
  • A router isn't as accurate as a CNC mill

Comparison Table

As you can see below, both the CNC mill and router have specific uses and aren’t quite interchangeable. However, they can serve some of the same purposes, and we’ll leave it up to you to decide which device better suits your purposes.

CNC Mill CNC Router
Work Materials Metals and other tough materials Wood, foam, and other relatively soft materials
Operating Speed Medium High
Axis Configuration The spindle moves along a linear axis; you can add additional axes The spindle moves along X, Y, and Z axes
Cutting Abilities Can cut thicker workpieces Cuts using rotational speeds
Accuracy High to Extreme Medium to High
Workpiece Movement Moves the workpiece over the spindle Moves the spindles and bits over the workpiece
Cutting Area Relatively small, but not generally a problem because the device moves the workpiece. Considerably larger than a mill, but fixed in place

What is the Difference Between a CNC Router and a CNC Mill?

The main difference between a mill and a router is that the mill has more torque and a higher degree of accuracy. This gives it an advantage in terms of accuracy and cutting ability. There’s a wide array of other differences when comparing CNC mill vs. router.

The changes aren’t so extreme that you can’t perform many of the same tasks with the two machines. However, each of them is better suited to specific types of projects. Let’s take a closer look at the differences.

Work Materials

Due to their cutting style, CNC routers generally can’t handle the same material hardnesses that a longmill CNC can. For this reason,

  • CNC routers generally find uses in cutting soft materials like foam, wood, plastic, and soft metals.
CNC routers have less torque, which makes them ideal for cutting softer materials like foam, wood, and plastic.
  • CNC mills typically find a place in factory setups that work with hard materials like tough metals, hardwoods, soft stone, and other tough materials.
CNC mills have high torque, and hardened steel bits, which allow them to cut easily through tough elements like metals and hardwoods.

Operating Speed

Another significant difference when considering CNC mill vs. router is the operating speed.

Routers rely on high rotational speeds which allow them to operate quickly. However, the speed doesn’t give them the power needed to cut hard objects. Mills move a lot slower but have more power.

Axis Configuration

The CNC mill has a somewhat unusual axis configuration when compared to the router. Routers generally have multiple axes along which their spindles can move.

A longmill CNC focuses on an X and Y axis configuration with the spindle moving along a linear axis.

Another difference between the axis configuration of these devices is that the mill can move the workpiece to a new position. CNC routers have a fixed worktable along which the cutting bits move on fixed axes.

Cutting Style and Abilities

When comparing the abilities of CNC milling machines and routers, there are a few things to consider.

The first thing is that mills are generally a lot more accurate than routers. Mills are therefore a better choice for fine scrollwork, engraving, and other work requiring high accuracy.

Thanks to their extreme accuracy, CNC mills play a useful role in detailed engravings and other delicate operations.

Routers are typically better suited for coarser work, that needs to be conducted quickly. That’s not to say that you can’t perform fine work with a router, just that it’s slightly harder.

CNC routers may not have the same accuracy as a CNC mill, but they can still deliver astounding results when it comes to 3D creations.

Otherwise, mills and routers both work well for cutting wood into desired shapes and sizes. The main difference between the two is that CNC milling machines have higher torque and can make proportionally thicker cuts.

Advantages and Disadvantages of CNC Mills

The longmill CNC is an excellent machine with wonderful uses. Typically, it finds uses in factories that specialize in intricate components. However, as with any device, it has both advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a closer look.


  • It has high torque, allowing it to cut much thicker workpieces.
  • The torque allows it to cut denser and tougher materials like metals and hardwoods.
  • It has extremely high accuracy, making it ideal for detailed engraving and fine scrollwork.
  • CNC mills move the workpiece, instead of moving the spindle over the workpiece.
  • You can add additional axes to help improve accuracy and work control.
  • Excellent at producing detailed components that require high levels of accuracy and precision.


  • It doesn’t work as quickly as a CNC router does.
  • CNC milling machines are often much larger than routers.
  • Mills generally have a smaller working area than routers do.
  • A CNC mill can be extremely expensive when compared to a router.

Advantages and Disadvantages of CNC Routers

CNC routers have great advantages in the mechanization and production industries. On the other hand, it doesn’t have the same abilities when it comes to accuracy and cutting power. Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons.


  • CNC routers have extremely high cutting speeds, which expedites certain types of workflow.
  • Great for quickly cutting certain workpieces into the desired sizes and shapes.
  • Excellent at basic, repetitive tasks - a workhorse for making standard parts and components that lack intensive detail.
  • The CNC router price range is typically lower than that of CNC milling machines.


  • CNC routers have less torque due to their rotational cutting abilities
  • They can only cut materials of a certain density and hardness, like plastics, foams, and wood.
  • Due to their high speeds and variability, their accuracy is considerably lower than that of CNC milling machines.

When to Use a Router Vs. When to Use a Mill

Now that we’ve discussed the CNC mill vs. router question in depth, the final question is, when do you use a CNC mill and when do you use a router?

There’s some room for discussion since the machines are quite similar in some ways. In our opinion, you should use the CNC mill when:

  • Your project depends on incredibly high levels of accuracy - i.e., when it incorporates very fine, detailed scrollwork; you’re creating components with delicate or detailed parts.
  • You’re working mainly with hard materials such as metals, dense hardwoods, natural stone, or high-density plastic types.
  • You need to make deep cuts consistently and quickly, without making a myriad of adjustments.

Project criteria aside, CNC milling machines are ideal for your workshop if:

  • You have a fair bit of space - these are permanently mounted machines and take up a fair bit of space.
  • You consistently do projects or make components that require a high degree of accuracy. If you do so rarely, it might be cheaper to rent a machine or order those parts from someone with a mill.
  • You don’t require high-speed production of intricate parts. While these machines are significantly better than crafting with small devices, they’re slower than CNC routers.

CNC routers are an ideal fit for your project if:

  • You only require medium-high levels of accuracy. I.E., you’re making plenty of basic cuts, doing low-mid detail scrollwork, or performing repetitive tasks.
  • Speed and efficiency are at a premium - when performing simple tasks, CNC routers are incredibly efficient.
  • You’re working with low-medium density materials like foams, particle boards, most woods, and plastics.
  • You don’t need to make extremely deep cuts very often. Routers have a fairly limited cutting depth when compared to mills.

When disregarding the needs of a specific project, consider a CNC router for your workshop if:

  • You require a fair amount of versatility - While routers don’t have the power and accuracy of mills, they tend to have a great degree of versatility. Whether you’re carving, routing, engraving, or cutting, most CNC routers can do it.
  • You need a device with an affordable price range. Routers can perform many tasks and are generally considerably cheaper than CNC milling machines.
  • Your workshop has a limited amount of workspace. Most CNC routers, and especially 3-axis CNC machines, are a lot more compact than CNC milling machines.
  • Your workshop often performs tasks that require high-speed production of certain parts.

In the end, it comes down to how much you’re willing to spend, what you want to produce, and how much accuracy you need.

When discussing CNC mill vs. router, they can achieve the same functions but not equally well. Routers are generally the best bet for most small-medium enterprises with CNC milling machines finding their home in larger industrial applications.

Can a Router be Used as a Milling Machine?

After what we’ve looked at about the CNC mill vs. router dilemma, the simple answer has to be no. A CNC router can never fully replace a CNC mill.

Even so, CNC routers and mills have certain similarities. If you’re looking to accomplish tasks that don’t require vast amounts of accuracy, then a router can be a suitable replacement for a milling machine.

You’d need to consider the following, to decide whether a router could plausibly replace a CNC milling machine in your case:

  1. Level of Accuracy Required: If you’re doing basic scrollwork, or even simple engraving, a router can do the job. However, if you’re doing highly detailed work with little margin for error, you probably want to opt for a CNC mill instead.
  2. Types of Materials Used: If you’re working with softer materials like medium-density hardwoods, plastic, foam, or even soft metals then a CNC router will do a splendid job. If you’re working with dense metals or the hardest hardwoods, you’ll need a CNC milling machine.
  3. Cutting Depths: CNC mills can achieve much deeper cuts than routers can. A router can generally achieve good results on cuts up to three times the diameter of the bit. Therefore, your cutting depth is limited by the maximum bit size your machine can take. Mills are a better choice if you’re consistently working with deep cuts.

Closing Thoughts

CNC milling machines are ideal for intensive situations where you’re constantly replicating incredibly detailed components. It works well for cutting dense and hard materials, or when you need high amounts of accuracy.

However, for many businesses, a CNC mill would probably be excessive. If you’re making basic cuts on materials like foam or wood, most 3-axis CNC machines would serve your purpose. These machines are also fantastic for basic scrollwork and engraving.

Except in a couple of edge cases, the better pricing, speed, and space consumption of a CNC router are typically a better choice. If you’d like to know more about whether our machines can meet the needs of your business, feel free to contact us.

We’d be happy to tell you about the capabilities of our devices and to help you construct a package that will meet your specific needs.

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