CNC mills are computer-controlled machines that cut and engrave a wide variety of materials, from wood to metals like titanium. They are mostly used by businesses for manufacturing products, though many hobbyists also use them for home CNC projects.
However, finding the right CNC mill for you isn’t always easy. For starters, most CNC milling machines are very expensive and designed for industrial settings, so finding an affordable yet high-quality machine can be tricky. Secondly, all different mills come with their own features, so you’ll need to find the one that best suits your purpose.
To help you out, we’ve picked out the best CNC mills for 2022. We’ve gone with mostly affordable yet powerful machines — and routers that provide low-cost alternatives — for hobbyists and small businesses with a few of the best industrial CNC mills also included, so that whatever you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it in this guide.
Before we get into our best CNC mills list, however, let’s just take a quick look at what exactly CNC mills are and how they differ from CNC routers.
What are CNC Mills?
CNC mills are a type of computer numerical control machine that cut, shape, and engrave materials like wood and metals. Milling is the process of using rotary cutters to remove material from a workpiece. The milling cutter is held by a spindle and can cut in different angles as it moves along the different axes.
CNC mills can range from 2-axis machines up to 5-axis mills. The number of axes defines how they cut. For example, a 2-axis machine can only cut vertically and horizontally, whereas a 5-axis CNC mill can cut complex shapes for uses such as in prosthetics and other medical applications, and car models.
CNC mills differ from manually controlled mills in that they’re operated using a computer. The computer number control is a programmed code that relays instructions for precise movements to be carried out by the mill. The control software converts the numerical code into Cartesian coordinates which allows mills to work with extreme precision.
CNC Mills are used across a huge range of industries, from simple carpentry to automotive and aerospace design.
CNC Mills vs CNC Routers
To the untrained eye, CNC mills and CNC routers may appear very similar. While they both do have similar functionalities, there are several key differences. In fact, if you want to buy a cheap CNC machine, your only options really are to buy a router, as low-cost CNC mills start in the several thousand dollar price ranges.
Arguably the most important difference is that CNC milling machines are designed to cut and engrave extremely strong materials like metal with ease.
CNC routers are best for softer materials like plastics, acrylics, wood and aluminum, while CNC mills are capable of cutting much tougher materials such as steel and titanium.
CNC routers use stationary workpieces and spindles that move in X, Y, and Z. In contrast, CNC milling machines use parts that move in X and Y and spindles that move in Z. The difference in axis motion means that CNC mills have increased clearance along the Z axis, allowing them to perform thicker cuts of tougher materials.
Most mills also have spindles that are slower but have more torque than those used in routers, which primarily rely on rotational speed for cutting. This higher torque — the force that causes objects to rotate around axes — provides more power to cut harder materials.
Whereas most routers use a gantry frame design, CNC mills typically use a C-frame structure with a column and base. The C-frame structure helps make mills more robust so they can handle harder materials than CNC routers.
CNC routers are typically mounted upon stationary work tables and usually have a larger workspace than mills.
CNC Mill Price
The price for CNC mills and routers varies a lot depending on the type of machine you’re buying. However, on the whole, CNC mills are generally more expensive than CNC routers of comparable quality — even mini CNC mills command a higher price tag.
Low-cost, benchtop CNC routers are much more common than cheap, small CNC mills.
One of the main limitations of CNC mills is their price. It’s rare to find a CNC mill that costs less than $5,000, but that’s cheap when it comes to these machines – the best ones used in industry cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Keep that in mind while we look at some more affordable CNC routers later on. While these won’t offer the same speed or accuracy as highly advanced industrial CNC mills, they’re a great choice for hobbyists who can’t afford to splash out huge amounts.
Best CNC Mills & Low-cost Alternatives
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CNC Mills You Can Buy
There are many CNC mills out there, such as the UMC-500 by Haas, one of the leading manufacturers of industrial CNC machines.
The first thing you’ll notice is that this is a 5 axis router. 5 axis machining is much more advanced than the standard 3 axis machining seen in most hobbyist machines. It adds two rotational axes in addition to the standard Y, X, and Z-axis, meaning it can machine parts with significantly higher precision and flexibility. 5 axis mills like this are used to process highly complex products, such as aircraft parts and even military weapons.
You can use 30 different tools with this machine and it can mill even the hardest metals like steel, unlike hobbyist machines which are restricted to aluminum.
Of course, as this is a CNC machine, highly technical designs can be created beforehand, simulated, and then fed to the machine which will process workpieces accordingly with little to no manual intervention needed.
Haas and other distributors of this machine don’t even advertise the price – you have to get in touch for a quote – but you can be sure it’ll set you back tens of thousands.
TAIG 2019 CNC Micro Mill – Best Small CNC Mill
- Price: $2,495
If you’re new to CNC milling, then the 2019 CNC Micro Mill by TAIG is hands down the best option to start with.
CNC forums across the board praise this mill as the best machine to learn CNC milling on. It’s a smaller machine, so it’s easier to come to grips with and boasts high levels of accuracy and precision normally seen in more expensive models.
The catch though is it needs to be run at low speeds. So, in theory, it has the rigidity to cut through the toughest metals and accuracy to design intricate parts, but just at a snail’s pace. For that reason, we don’t recommend this machine for production, a.k.a if you need to hit multiple orders a day.
If that’s the case you’re better off with a Tormach.
That said, it does reach traverse speeds of up to 30 inches per minute and reaches up to a 1/8” depth with a single pass on steel.
One thing to note about this micro mill is that it doesn’t come with a computer, so you need to think about that additional price, however, we do enjoy the customizability this affords. This way you can choose which computer to use, including one you’re already familiar with, and lessen the initial learning curve. It does come with the MACH3 software though.
This TAIG machine comes with a two-year warranty, and you don’t need to bother with expensive upgrades since you’ll be working at low speeds anyways, making this the most economical CNC mill on the market.
It comes preassembled and with a large community to help you build your craft, offering a fantastic introductory machine to CNC milling that won’t limit your growth or wallet.
Tormach PCNC 440 – Best CNC Mill for Schools and Universities
- Price: From $5,390
Tormach is a well-known name when it comes to CNC mills and the PCNC 440 is a great example of this company’s quality.
This is a small, compact CNC mill designed to provide an alternative to the mostly larger machines on the market. The PCNC can fit almost anywhere, such as garages, offices, basements, schools and machine shops, so it’s a great choice for small businesses and educational settings.
One of the best things about this CNC metal milling machine is that you can use it to cut almost anything. The PCNC 440 can shape and engrave even the toughest metals thanks to the powerful Poly-V Belt transmission system.
This machine has a 0.75 HP R9 spindle that works at an incredible 10,000 RPM. Despite the mill’s small size, you still get 10 inches of travel on both the X and Z axes, and 6.25 inches on the Y-axis. The maximum clearance between the table and spindle nose is 11 inches, so there’s more than enough room to work with.
Another benefit of the Tormach PCNC 440 is that it comes with the company’s PathPilot CNC controller. This is a very intuitive platform that has powerful conversational programming that allows you to tweak programs and keep progressing, so it’s a good choice for hobbyists and experts alike.
There are a range of customizable packages available to purchase for the PCNC 440, so you can tailor the package exactly to your needs. Tormach provides a wide variety of training materials and offers great customer service if anything does go wrong.
Haas Modular Mini Mill – Best Professional Grade Mini CNC Mill
- Price: $30,746
Haas is a huge name in the CNC industry and provides exceptionally high quality, professional standard machines around the world. It creates a huge variety of different milling machines, but the Modular Mini Mill is the cheapest professional CNC mill to date, though it’s still not cheap!
This compact mill boasts an impressive 40-taper performance despite being much smaller than most other machines of similar power. It’s, therefore, a good option for universities, small companies and so on.
In fact, Haas is a pioneer in professional-grade mini mills, having built the world’s first in the year 2000 and installed over 25,000 globally since. The Module Mini Mill is the latest model in the series.
This Haas CNC mill is ideal for a wide range of projects. It can reliably and accurately handle small-parts manufacturing, which makes it ideal for cutting aluminum and finishing work, but it also has enough torque to cut steel.
Another interesting aspect of this CNC milling machine is that you can add a range of bolt-on modules to increase flexibility. For example, you can add a faster spindle, increased rapids, a coolant pump, a 4-axis drive to run a rotary table, and all of these together if you wanted.
As an added bonus, Haas offers free training with every purchase of its CNC mini mill.
Low-cost CNC Mill Alternatives (Routers)
Sainsmart Genmitsu 3018 PROVer – Highly Popular among Hobbyists
The Sainsmart Genmitsu 3018 is one of the most popular hobbyist CNC machines out there. It ticks all the boxes of most hobbyists: affordability, ease of use, safety and high-quality machining.
This is a versatile machine that can cut a wide range of materials with a 1.8-inch engraving depth, allowing you to work on wood, plastics, acrylics, software metals like aluminum, and much more.
It’s a very sturdy CNC mill, with a well-constructed metal frame that’s optimized for safety, with 5mm acrylic buffers that prevent cutaway materials from flying about during the cutting process. The 750 motor spindle with 10,000 RPM provides also plenty of power and accuracy
This machine runs on the popular and intuitive GRBL software that’s based on Arduino. GRBL is known for being easy to use yet reliable, and it also comes with the Carveco Maker CAM software for design.
Another nice feature is the offline controller, which is really user-friendly and has a 1.8” display for reading layouts, so you don’t even need a computer to control the machine.
There’s also the possibility to upgrade this router to a laser cutter with the Sainsmart laser module kit. Various other upgrades are available, including an aluminum spindle holder for mounting higher-quality spindles.
If you’re in any doubt regarding the Sainsmart Genmitsu 3018, just check out the hundreds of reviews from happy customers on Amazon.
Maslow CNC – Large CNC Table for Low Price
If you’re familiar with different size CNC machines and how size can affect cost, you may be wondering how the 4ft x 8ft MakerMade Maslow 4×8 CNC Router can be bought for just over $500, whereas large CNC mills able to cut that size would cost tens of thousands.
Well, the reason is that this is a very unique machine produced by the open-source, community-driven Maslow project, which aims to “make large format CNC technology available to everyone.”
So if you’re a hobbyist or small business owner looking for a large machine at a fraction of the usual cost, here it is.
This is built with the hobbyist in mind, so it’s easy to use but also has some nice features, such as z-axis functionality and the ability to adjust cutting depth for working with different materials and on different projects.
However, perhaps the best thing about this CNC machine is that it’s the center of a very active user community. Not only can you chat with other users about all things CNC, but there’s also a marketplace where you can buy things people have made with the Maslow and even sell your own projects.
If you want an idea of what’s possible with this machine, the Maslow website highlights many projects from other users, from home decorations to fully functional desks and even a life-size boat.
BobsCNC Evo 4 – Excellent 2×2 CNC Mill Alternative
- Price: $1,230 — Available on Amazon here
If you’re looking for an affordable CNC mill surrogate that offers a large working area, check out the BobsCNC Evo 4.
This 2ft x 2ft router and others from BobsCNC are well known in the community for their wooden frames and somewhat unusual design, but these are some of the best hobbyist routers out there.
The laser-cut wood frames have an SG20U supported trail system, meaning the machine is incredibly stable with repeatability of just 0.0002-0.0004”. Another advantage of this wooden router’s frame is that it offers quieter machining than metal ones.
So with the BobsCNC Evo 4 you can work on wood, plastic, aluminum, MDF and much more with great accuracy and durability.
This is another hobbyist CNC that runs on Arduino. One of the great things about it is the fantastic amount of learning resources offered by BobsCNC, including over 100 instructional videos on the company’s Youtube channel.
Carbide3D Shapeoko 4 XL
Price: $2,050 — Available at Matterhackers here
The Shapeoko 4 XL, by Carbide 3D, is one of the best value-for-money CNC machines we’ve come across. While it’s pretty expensive for a hobbyist machine, the price is more than justified by the fantastic quality it offers.
For example, the 15mm belts are a lot stiffer than the 9mm belts used in other machines, which along with the redesigned V-wheels mean this machine is really strong and rigid.
It has fully supported Y extrusions on a hybrid table, which also contributes to the incredible sturdiness of this machine. There’s also the more rigid 65mm router mount, with the increased thickness resulting in less deflection during heavy cuts.
One of the highlights is undoubtedly the advanced V3 electronics, which are highly resistant to electromagnetic interference and static discharge, helping you maintain precise working in a shop environment.
Another nice thing is that you get a high-quality dust boot included when you buy the Shapeoko 4 XL, helping improve safety and reduce wear to the machine, whereas with many other routers you need to buy the dust boost separately.
Best CNC Mills FAQ’s
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