3 Axis CNC Router Vs 5 Axis CNC Router

To understand the difference between 3 and 5-axis routers, you first have to understand how CNC routers work and some of their basic components. Once you have this background knowledge you will be able to determine which type of router best suits your needs.

How a router works

The power behind any router is its CAD/CAM software. The CAD software allows the user to create a design they want the router to cut. Once this design has been made, the CAM software converts the design into a tool path code that the router can understand.

The computer then translates this code into signals that control the movement of the router’s drive system. The drive system contains the spindle, which is the part that holds the actual router bits. The spindle rotates these bits 8,000 to 50,000 times per minute to cut the material. Simply put, the user creates a design and uses software to make instructions for the router to follow.

3-axis routers vs. 5-axis routers

Now that you have a working knowledge of how a router works you can better understand the differences between various models. Although 4-axis routers exist, the most common CNC routers available are 3 and 5-axis routers.

3-axis CNC routers cut along three axes at the same time; the x-axis, the y-axis, and the z-axis. Cutting along the x-axis moves the router bit from front to back, cutting along the y-axis moves it from left to right, and cutting across the z-axis moves it up and down. These machines are used primarily for cutting flat, 2-dimensional parts.

5-axis CNC routers can cut along two additional axes than 3-axis routers. These routers have the ability to cut on five sides of a piece of material simultaneously, which expands the operator’s capabilities and flexibility. Unlike their 3-axis counterparts, these machines are usually used to cut large 3-dimensional parts. In addition, 5-axis routers have a taller gantry and longer x-axis, which allows them to cut larger parts; however, this comes at a serious cost; the taller the gantry and the longer the x-axis, the less accurate and stable these machines are. For proper quality control, the height of the gantry and the length of the x-axis should be limited as much as possible.

Although routers seem like simple machines, they are highly sophisticated pieces of technology that require a certain level of expertise to operate. 5-axis routers tend to be more expensive than traditional 3-axis models, but ultimately offer greater flexibility and enable users to be more creative with their designs.

CNC routers are generally available in 3-axis and 5-axis CNC formats. The CNC router is controlled by a computer. Coordinates are uploaded into the machine controller from a separate CAD program. CNC router owners often have two software applications—one program to make designs and another to translate those designs into a 'G-Code' program of instructions for the machine. As with CNC milling machines, CNC routers can be controlled directly by manual programming, and CAD/CAM opens up wider possibilities for contouring, speeding up the programming process and in some cases creating programs whose manual programming would be, if not truly impossible, certainly commercially impractical.


Leading Manufacturers of 3 and 5 axis cnc routers

Thermwood DMS  Freedom Machine Tool Multicam Komo  Laguna  Motion Master AXYZ