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What Is a 5 Axis CNC Router?

Jean Marie Asta
Jean Marie Asta

A 5 axis computer numeric controlled (CNC) router is an advanced machine that can perform all the tasks of a standard router, but with automation and greater precision. The machine is capable of carving any material that can be used in a standard router. Although plastic and polyurethane can be used, wood is the most common material for the work piece.

To operate a 5 axis CNC router a worker needs only to create a model of the finished product on a computer, usually as a three dimensional wire frame model. Once the digital model is complete, the worker loads the work piece onto the router. The computer reads the model and carves the work piece according to the exact specifications that were programmed into the computer.

Man with a drill
Man with a drill

In order to get such specific results, a 5 axis CNC router is capable of rotating the work piece and the router itself in a number of ways. The router bit itself is capable of moving around the work piece and performing routing operations at almost any depth. There are a few different methods that a 5 axis CNC router uses to rotate the work piece as well. Together, these adjustments can alter the angle of the table to the specific degree needed. The table itself can move and rotate as well.

The range of sizes that a standard 5 axis CNC router is capable of routing is very broad. Like standard routers, the bit can be changed as needed, so with an appropriately sized bit, a very small object can be cut. Similarly, 5 axis CNC routers are large machines, and while their size varies, most are capable of carving work pieces that are several feet high and much longer than the width of the machine.

Due to their large size, a typical 5 axis CNC router costs tens of thousands of US dollars. Some people have been trying to make the software that these machines require available for free via open source licensing. This would allow engineers and other skilled individuals to construct their own 5 axis CNC router system. As of 2011, the project was stalled due to insufficient funds.

Even with open source technology a 5 axis CNC router is unlikely to be found in even an advanced home woodshop. They are too large and too expensive for that purpose. The primary setting for their use is in mid- to large-scale manufacturing using wood products.

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      Man with a drill