7 Helpful CNC Router Tips for Wood Carving

If you are into woodworking or wood carving, then a CNC machine would be your best bet to expand on this skill. To begin with, CNC machines take wood carving one step further and make it seamless, safe, accurate, cost-efficient, and autonomous – an ideal recipe for increasing profits! Also, it checks all the boxes for customer satisfaction, so you can harness these benefits without rubbing off your customers the wrong way.

So, if you consider using a CNC machine for wood carving, here are some tips that can help you become a pro.

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Learn Different Types of Wood

A CNC Router

The perfect wood will birth the perfect output. To gain such results, you first need to understand the intrinsic properties of different kinds of wood. After all, these characteristics will have a bearing on the tools you pick, the product you wish to carve, its tolerances, etc. When it comes to carving, the following types of wood are extremely popular –

  • Basswood: a softwood ideal for wood art, kitchenware, household goods, etc.

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  • Butternut: an affordable softwood with coarse grains that is as versatile as basswood. It has an appealing natural pinkish finish.

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  • Walnut: a solid hardwood if you are looking for a dense and sturdy option, especially for furniture. And while walnut wood is tough to work with, its natural finish and durability make it the go-to material.

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  • Maple: its coarse, asymmetrical grain makes maple wood an excellent choice for wood art projects. That being said, it is exceptionally tricky to carve it.

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  • Cherry: a mix of softwood and hardwood, cherry is often used for commercial wood carving projects.

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Selecting the Right Tool

Choosing the right tool for your Bridgeport mill is the stepping stone for your project’s success. However, if you are looking for a magic wood carving tool selection formula for a sure-shot win, you might be disappointed. You have to make this choice individually, depending on your skills, resources available, budget, and project requirements.

For example, if you are looking to achieve carving that is rough at the top and has a smoother bottom surface, you might want to opt for the up spiral bits as they come with helical flutes that eject sawdust from the cutting point to grant this result. Conversely, down spiral bits pack the sawdust into the kerf, thereby adding to material and structural strength.

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Mixing the Use of Tools

Just because you have found the right tool does not necessarily mean that you have to commit to it and complete the entire project using just that. If anything, you will be required to use a combination of tools to get the desired look.

For instance, if you are carving wood in 3D, you will first use a straight spiral upcut bit for the rough cutting. Here, a bulk of the wood will be removed, and you will be left with a low-resolution image of the final look. You can then switch to a ball-nosed bit that will work with greater precision and remove the debris to give the final engraving. In simple words, strike a balance of tools that have something unique to offer to your project.

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Managing the Spindle Speed

As with any CNC project, you will also have to control the spindle speed while carving wood. If anything, you have to be more careful about it to avoid accidents like accidental wood burns!

Under normal circumstances, it is recommended that you pick a small shank tool and a low-power spindle motor. It grants greater control over the tool and ensures that the cuts are precise. However, if your project requires a larger shank tool, make sure that you complement it with an equally powerful motor.

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Invest in a Vise and Clamping Kit

Wood carving is all about accuracy, and the last thing you want while operating the CNC machine is the shifting or displacement of the workpiece. It is always a smart move to use a vise to avoid such a situation.

The vise secures the workpiece to the working table and prevents it from shifting. And since the vise is affixed to the T-slots of the CNC machine, you will require a clamping kit to hold everything in place. Such a setup will maintain the quality and accuracy of your job. However, clamping may not be an option if you are carving large plywood sheets (for doors, cabinets, etc.). In that case, it is recommended to use vacuum pumps to secure these sheets efficiently.

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Measure Twice, Cut Once

To get pieces that are right the first time, you need to have a proper hold of the basics of measurements. After all, your capabilities determine your ability to make accurate cuts that lead to laser-sharp engravings. Ensure that you accurately use measuring tools like the vernier calipers, micrometers, gauge blocks, air gauge, dovetail marker, etc. Your measure twice cut once approach will also prevent material wastage.

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Get a Sawdust Collection System

Needless to say, wood carving gives rise to a lot of sawdust. This sawdust is harmful – to the operator, machine, and the job. It is classified as a carcinogen and can cause several health issues apart from cancer. It can also lead to wood dust explosion that could put the entire workshop at risk. The collection of sawdust on the machine can lower its productivity. The accumulated sawdust on the material hampers its quality as the cuts will no longer be accurate. Given all the issues, installing a sawdust collection system is imperative as the investment will incur greater benefits.

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Closing Thoughts

Congratulations! You are caught up on all CNC and wood carving information. Now all you need to do is combine your knowledge of CNC machines (and CAD/CAM programming) with your wood carving skills, and you have found the secret to getting more done with less. 

Continue honing it time after time, and you might “carve” yourself a formidable niche in this sector!

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