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A CNC router, is just a tool, or I should say, part of a tool. It needs software to become a complete tool. A big part of using a CNC effectively is learning how to design the projects you wish to carve. Fortunately, this is something you can experiment with for free, without buying a machine. Vectric has free demos you can download of its software that you can use to design projects to see how you like that portion of using a CNC. They also have lots of tutorials available. From the manufacturers of the x-carve and the shapeoko are other software choices, Easel and Carbide Create. These are a little more basic, but are sufficient for many, and I believe they are free.
Finally, there is Fusion 360 from Autodesk. It is a full 3D solid modeling program. Not as easy to use for the “artistic” type designs (but you can get there), but really nice if you want to design a full piece of furniture made up of lots of pieces, or a jig, a wood gear clock (and be able to animate it!) or even layout your shop. Then it allows you to CAM, or create the g-code file you need to run on your CNC. Luckily, it is free for hobbyists, startups or students.

To get the most out of a CNC you need to be able to create your own designs. I see people on some of the Facebook groups asking for someone to give them things like “can anyone send me g-code for a 4 inch square” or “who has the file for this” and showing a very unique one of a kind antique carving. Designing and creating your own artwork and creating the g-code is a big part of using a CNC. Make sure you enjoy this before you spend on the hardware.
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