So you’ve done it. You’ve bought a CNC router, or maybe you’re just thinking about it and you want to know more about what you can actually do with one. Everybody knows you can make basic wooden signs and cutting boards, but it feels like there’s an awfully hefty price tag if that’s all there is to it. Don’t fear, there are tons of things you can be doing with your CNC router once you get the hang of it.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
For a maker or woodworker, a CNC router is a little bit like Disneyland. Or maybe a lot like Disneyland. It’s delightful and thrilling and exciting, but you’re probably a little bit worried that you’ve dropped a lot of money on future disappointment. If so, it’s time to consider some of the OTHER things a CNC router can do, once you learn how to tell it to do them.

The truth is that these machines are capable of so much more than most people realize, your boundaries are only the size of the machine and the edges of your engineering mind. Here are a few MORE things you can do with your CNC router:

Cut and carve plastic. Although a lot of CNC router owners bought their machines specifically for woodworking, you can actually cut plastic with them, too. You can do things like adding plastic parts to a wooden build - or carving entirely from plastic materials for items like weather-friendly signs and water-safe cutting boards. More materials mean more magic in the woodshop, just don’t try this with hard metals - that’s for your CNC milling machine.
Carve non-ferrous metals. A CNC router can cut metals? Yes. With caveats. Non-ferrous metals are much softer than items like steel that require a milling machine. So you can go hog-wild on decorative details and small parts from aluminum, copper, or brass using your CNC router. Don’t forget your eye protection if you’re watching it perform this feat.
Implement more “lossless design” principles. Sure, it sucks to spend a lot of extra money to make anything, so why would you? One of the beautiful things about a CNC router is that you don’t need to leave space between parts. Not only does laying out your designs using lossless principles mean you spend less money on materials and have less waste, it takes less time because parts that share the same cut line require fewer passes.​

Create custom templates. You already know your CNC router can cut big projects like signs and custom cutting boards, but have you ever tried cutting a template with your machine? No? Well, all it takes is swapping your router bit out for a utility knife blade attachment and presto! You’re ready for creating custom templates for all sorts of things, from outlines for manual woodworking tools to painting templates. Most machines will cut any soft material up to about a quarter-inch thick. Think materials like cardboard, styrene, and vinyl.
Engraving. Was that a swoon? That sounded like a swoon. Yes, your CNC router can engrave stuff well beyond wood. Add some sparkle to a project with a diamond-tipped stylus to engrave glass, granite, or steel. You’ll get exceptionally precise results without any of the effort. Welcome to looking like a total pro. How does it feel?​

If you own a CNC router, what kinds of projects are you doing on your machines that you didn’t realize were possible when you bought it? If you’re considering one, what would you like to do and aren’t sure will work? Tell us in the comments!