CNC machines are operated with a computer system that dictates where the machine's cutting bits move; this process is known as computer numeric control, or CNC. Routers are machines that cut wood or other materials using a rapidly rotating bit, usually around the perimeter of the piece or even in the center to cut designs and shapes. Most of these machines are quite large, but a mini CNC router is a smaller cutting machine useful for extremely small woodworking projects or for cutting other small pieces of material. This mini CNC router is usually small enough to fit on a workbench or in a small workspace.
In order to use the mini CNC router, an operator will need to hook a computer up to the system. This computer must be loaded with the appropriate software to control the machine, and it must meet the minimum software and hardware requirements set forth by the manufacturer. Once the computer is hooked up, the machine can be programmed to move in a certain path to make cuts on the material to be altered. The computer is usually exceptionally accurate, so a mini CNC router is useful for making the same cutting pattern on several pieces of material over and over again.
Some mini CNC router models have the capability to automatically change bits when necessary. The computer can be programmed to accomplish this task, though some machines are not equipped to do this. The operator must instead change the bits by hand when necessary, which can be time-consuming and more labor-intensive. The machine is therefore not fully automated, as some routers can be. Bits are changed to create different types of cuts on the material, or to accommodate different types of material — a bit used on wood may not be the best choice for cutting plastics, for example.
The cutting bit is mounted to a motor that rotates the bit at a high speed. This motor is mounted to a trolley system, which is in turn mounted to a track that moves back and forth over the machine. The motor trolley can move side to side on the track, which means the bit can be moved anywhere over the piece to be cut. The materials being cut will be placed on a table beneath the motor and bit, and the size of this table, as well as the size of the track, will dictate how large of a piece can be cut.