Cnc wood carving has become the go to trend for many small shops. This is especially true for sign makers or others in design and for engraving purposes. The question becomes, is it worth the investment?

The answer ultimately you must decide but I am here to help you see the truth of the matter.

If your products focus on engraving then it will become an essential tool, and one you could not afford to have break down. In wood art it holds another place of distinction in its use but is still critically important.

If you have no experience with cnc wood carving you may wish to look into educational classes for woodworking with this tool. It can be learned on you own yet requires a high aptitude.

Lets take a look at its weaknesses and its strengths to better understand its value as an investment.


The weakest point of any cnc comes down to two major elements. First the components used in its building such as motors, wiring, and design. Design speaks to aspects such as whether it is belt driven or uses a lead screw. The design in its construction are absolutely critical and are not worth cheapening out on.

The second element is the software driving it like Linux, and also the development software used for design. Here you do not want any limitations. Additionally you need to be educated on how to use these systems for cnc wood carving.

The truth is that many of the packages you see such as shopbot’s, inventables, shapeoko, and so on are all typically worth nothing. To have a solid cnc mill you need to be willing to custom build and invest anywhere between 8k at minimum to as much as 15k. That 8k range is if you are smart in selection, good at coding with Linux, and have a grasp of whats going on.

There will be points of compromise. Few people can afford a 50k usd spindle so we settle for cheaper parts. Yet this is the nature of small mills.

In terms of wood art the cnc has another weakness. It is made for fit and finish. What design you put in, it then puts out. Wood art is not focused on dimensional lumber from the store. More on this topic later.

For some species of wood it is better used than others. Also manufactured lumber, plywood, and wood veneer sheets it is great and will do a wonderful job. These I never use for art, but a cnc will make quick work of this kind of wood. For me the tool saves a lot of time. It is worth me saying again. It seriously saves an unbelievable amount of time. To give you an idea I will use an example from my wood art. If I were to fully hand carve my pieces the price would be so expensive that very few, if anyone, would ever buy them. The issue comes down to economy more than my skill. Just because I can or could hand carve something does not make it marketable. Here the cnc steps in to rough out, or hog out, sections that allow for greater speed in carving. In this way I can still apply the hand touch that I desire to a given piece of wood art. Then there are those I also decide to allow the cnc to fully mill on its own. This too is due to the end price or customers desires. With cnc wood carving you gain flexibility. Yet with this flexibility comes other issues or bridges which one must make a choice at crossing.

For those who have worked with tools such as a cnc, and then also have done hand carving, the difference is clear. Tool marks will be one immediate noticeable aspect that stands out. It tells the story of how something is created.

Yet setting this aspect aside there are other critical problems which come with wood carving. It removes the artists ability to adapt or adjust on the fly. There have been times when what I see or feel in the wood changed my plans to allow a more natural appearance or beautiful creation to be had.