When it comes to buying a CNC router, you can choose from a 3 axis machine, a 4 axis CNC router, or a 5 axis one. More axes mean better, more flexible manufacturing capabilities, but it also means more expense. So, you need to carefully weigh up what kind of capabilities you need alongside your budget to make the right choice.
To help you do that, in this guide we cover everything you need to know about 4 axis CNC routers. We’ll explain how they differ from 3 and 5 axis machines, their advantages and disadvantages, and what they’re used for. We’ll then review the best 4 axis CNC routers on the market so that you can easily pick the right model for you.
TL;DR: here are some 4 axis CNC routers we recommend:
What is a 4 Axis CNC Router?
Most CNC routers have at least three axes which determine the direction in which the tools and workpieces can move during the manufacturing process. A 4 axis router is simply a machine that has an additional rotational axis to provide more efficient and versatile machining.
To really understand what a 4 axis CNC machine is, though, you need to understand how it differs from 3 and 5 axis machines, so let’s take a look at that now.
4 Axis CNC Routers vs 3 Axis CNC Routers
3 axis CNC routers are the most basic and cheapest type of router. A 3 axis router has X, Y, and Z axes which move in the following way:
- The X-axis moves left to right
- The Y-axis moves right to left
- The Z-axis moves up and down
These types of CNC routers are usually used for cutting flat 2D and 2.5D parts due to the fact they can only move in three directions. You can work on more complex shapes and all six sides of a part, but this is inefficient as you need to set up a new fixture for each side.
4 axis CNC routers are based on the 3 axis model and have the same X, Y, and Z axes. However, in a 4 axis CNC router there is also the A-axis, also known as the rotary axis.
The A-axis is a rotational movement around the X-axis, so the workpiece is rotated during manufacturing. As the workpiece is mounted on the X-axis and therefore rotates along the A-axis, while the spindle is mounted on the Z-axis, this type of router can work on four sides of a part at once.
This not only makes a 4 axis CNC router more efficient than a 3 axis, but it means you can work on more complex products with much greater ease. Whereas with a 4 axis router you can work on four sides of a workpiece in a single fixture setup, if you were using a 3 axis machine, you’d require multiple fixtures. This means more time, more energy, and lower accuracy due to the loss of tolerance caused by fixture changes.
There are some other specific benefits of using a 4 axis CNC machine. For example, you can’t drill on the side of parts on cylindrical surfaces with a 3 axis machine, but you can with a 4 axis. They can also be used to machine angled features, so you can work on many types of different projects.
4 axis CNC routers can be split into two categories – index and continuous. Index machines rotate and cut independently, while continuous ones cut and rotate at the same time, meaning they’re more efficient and can be used to machine more complex shapes, such as helixes.
4 Axis CNC Routers vs 5 Axis CNC Routers
While a 4 axis CNC milling machine is more advanced than a 3 axis, it is less advanced than a 5 axis machine. This is because in a 5 axis router there is rotation around each of the X, Y, and Z axes, and as well as the A-axis, there’s the B-axis that rotates around the Y-axis, and the C-axis that rotates around the Z-axis.
The reason it’s called a 5 axis machine rather than a 6 axis machine is that only two out of the three rotational axes can operate at the same time. This gives a 5 axis machine various advantages over a 4 axis one.
As the rotation can occur by both the spindle and workpiece, these machines offer incredible accuracy across a range of different functions, such as milling and tuning. So, you can use a 5 axis machine to work on much more complex projects that would be a lot more difficult, or impossible, to do with a 4 axis machine. This includes highly specialized products, such as aerospace products, and even artificial bones for use in medicine.
5 axis machines are almost exclusively used in industrial settings. Their high price means they’re too expensive for most hobbyists, and in truth, a hobbyist is unlikely to even need the capabilities of a 5 axis router.
4 Axis CNC Router Applications
A 4 axis CNC machine can be used for the same basic applications as a 3 axis one, such as for sign making, jewelry engraving, arts and crafts, home decorations, and so on. However, due to the rotational A-axis, they can also be used for working on more complex products.
For example, one of the most common uses of 4 axis machines is carpentry, where they’re widely used in the industrial production of cabinets and furniture. However, they are also often used in the manufacturing of more intricate products, such as musical instruments.
4 axis CNC routers can be used with a wide range of different materials, such as plastic, wood, acrylic, PVC, PVB, MDF, stone, ceramic, and more. You can’t use them to engrave or mill metal, but if you’re using the aforementioned materials, then there’s a huge range of possibilities with a 4 axis CNC router engraver.
Benefits & Drawbacks of 4 Axis CNC Routers
- The rotary axis means they can be used to work on products like furniture and musical instruments, unlike 3 axis machines
- Offer higher quality, efficiency, and flexibility than 3 axis routers
- Considerably less expensive than 5 axis routers while being capable of creating lots of the same products
- Suitable for both hobbyists and professionals
- Considerably more expensive than 3 axis machines – beyond the budget of some hobbyists
- Less efficient than 5 axis machines
- Cannot create extremely complex objects that can you can with a 5 axis router
- Less purchasing options than there are for other types of CNC routers
The Best 4 Axis CNC Routers
Now, let’s take a look at the best 4 axis CNC routers on the market, including the cheapest machine, the top model for hobbyists, and the best option for industrial settings.
Foraver CNC 3040T 4 Axis Router – Cheapest Option
- Price: $880 — Available at Amazon here
If you’re looking for a 4 axis CNC router on a budget, then the Foraver CNC 3040T is certainly one to consider. While it doesn’t offer the quality of other machines, such as the Vevor router we’ll review next, you’d be hard pushed to find a cheaper 4 axis machine.
This router is specifically designed for hobbyists and those using a 4 axis machine for the first time, so it’s very user-friendly. It’s also a small machine that you can easily fit in your home or a personal workshop.
It’s built with an aluminum alloy frame which ensures the router is very steady, robust, and durable. The cover plates also help reduce the pollution of screws and shafts. The spindle speed ranges from 500 to 8,000 RPM and there is a motor knob for making positional adjustments.
You can use this machine with a wide range of materials, from wood and plastic to stone and MDF, so it offers lots of versatility in terms of projects you can work on.
Overall, the Foraver 4 axis CNC wood router is a user-friendly, robust and versatile machine that offers good value for money.
Vevor 4 Axis CNC Router – Best for Hobbyists and Small Businesses
- Price: $1499 — Available at Amazon here
Vevor is one of the most prolific producers of CNC machines and is well known for producing high-quality yet low-cost CNC routers. The Vevor 4 Axis CNC Router ticks both these boxes and is an excellent choice for serious hobbyists and business owners alike.
For starters, it’s a very steady and solid machine thanks to the aluminum worktable and backing plate, which are dustproof for easy cleaning. The worktable is large with dimensions of 750x480x15mm, providing higher enforceability while engraving.
The chrome shafts are also very well designed, while the cover plates protect the screws and shafts from pollution, so the machine has a long working life and can be used continuously without damage.
This 4 axis CNC router kit comes with a 57 two-phase stepper motor on each axis for easy movement. The motors are connected using reliable external couplings, which produce high torque transfer. You can also easily adjust the position of the motors using the knobs on the side of the machine.
The spindle motor on the Z-axis is water-cooled and capable of reaching up to 24000RPM/min for accurate, high-performance CNC machining.
Another nice feature of the Vevor 4 Axis CNC Router machine is the functional controller that comes with a built-in transformer. The controller is intuitive, has an emergency stop button, and the transformer helps provide stable power over long-term use. You can also connect the router to your computer via the USB port and easily control it using the Mach3 software.
JFT 6040 CNC Router – Best for Industrial Use
- Price: from $4,434 — Available at Amazon here
JFT has taken a somewhat unusual approach to its products by making the same model available in 3 axis, 4 axis, and 5 axis formats, with different wattage options for each.
This certainly offers a great degree of choice when it comes to finding the right machine for your needs. The 4 axis version is available in 1.5Kw and 2.2Kw, with the latter costing around $200 more.
As the price reflects, this JFT 4 Axis CNC Router is designed for use in industrial settings. It’s a very stable, robust, and durable machine with high-strength ball screws, while the spindle can reach speeds of up to 8,000mm/m. This speed and power make for great accuracy, even during continuous use and for demanding projects.
Like the Vevor 4 Axis CNC machine, the JFT model has a USB port so you can control it via your computer using the Mach3 software. Mach3 is regarded as one of the top CNC control software solutions and is very intuitive, so it’s easy to get the hang of.
If you’re a business owner or industrial worker looking for a reliable 4 axis milling machine, this is certainly a model worth considering.
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