What is a CNC?

What is a CNC machine?

As a CNC operator and geek I get this question all the time so naturally, I have to blog about it. In this short blog I will aim to answer this question for you!

A CNC is by definition, a computer numerical control (CNC) router is a computer-controlled cutting machine which typically mounts a hand-held router as a spindle which is used for cutting various materials, such as wood, composites, metals, plastics, glass, and foams. CNC routers can perform the tasks of many carpentry shop machines such as the panel saw, the spindle molder, and the boring machine (attributed to wikipedia).

CNC’s have been around for decades and are (in this application) just miniature versions of what you see in the big plants making furniture, cars, oil rig parts. It is, at the base level, a machine that takes code produced by software and cuts it out of your stock material.

Wavy American Flag

I personally use the the Onefinity Journeyman X-50 as it is a very sturdy machine with few moving parts AND it comes with an acceptable price range. I do a lot of hard wood signs, flags and cabinet detail with mine.

So what CAN you mill (cut)?

Ultimately your standard hobbyist CNC can handle everything from scoring paper to milling aluminum in a 2D to 3D environment. I say 2D to 3D because your average CNC, can’t actually do a 3D mill. Meaning, the bottom of your stock will remain flat. Their is ways around that! But it either takes REAL talent or a special attachment to your CNC that takes you from 3 axis cutting to 4.

The image of this wavy 3D American flag is a perfect example of what a hobbyist CNC machine can do. Think about this for a second. I am a woodworker by trade, can I make that? Yes! How long would conventional tools take me to do this? Days, maybe even weeks. My CNC can cut this with a roughing pass and a detail pass in 6 hours.


Your unique item is repeatable. So you can make your item over and over again. If you don’t know the processing programs like Fusion 360 or VCarve Pro, you can just buy the file off Etsy (which is exactly what I did with that 3D flag). If you look back up at the picture of the CNC cutting the jig for cabinet rails & stiles, you can really start to grasp where the repeatability is such a benefit of the CNC. I can program all my cabinet pieces and then simple cut, cut and re-cut. They are the perfect size and angle every single time.

The picture depicts programming the CAM for a cabinet rail using Fusion 360.

The picture depicts programming the CAM for a cabinet rail using Fusion 360. With the CNC and some rather significant understandings of software (some software like Easel are not that bad) you can make literally whatever you can think of. So as a side hustle or just for hobby fun sake, the CNC is an amazing platform to build your ideas. I personally love mine!

I hope this explains a little more about what a CNC is and how it can be used. If you want to know more, you are in the right spot! This is my hobby and I love blogging about it. Check out more at Hill Country CNC & Woodworking!





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Onefinity CNC machining the final cut on a customers sign.
Onefinity CNC machining the final cut on a customers sign.

2 thoughts on “What is a CNC?”

  1. I appreciate you letting us know that a CNC uses a computer to control the cutting of various materials, like wood, composites, metals, plastics, glass, and foams. It seems like my brother needs precise cuts for the metals to be used in his manufacturing company soon, so I was planning to recommend CNC machining to him for this. I’ll keep this in mind while I look for CNC-cutting services to recommend to my brother soon.

    1. CNC is definitely the way to go with precise cutting. Labor that was done on machines like lathes used to take tremendous time and skill. With the right CNC it can be done much easier, more precisely and repeatably! Thanks for the comment!

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