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Article: What is the difference between a CNC router and a lathe?


What is the difference between a CNC router and a lathe?

CNC routers and lathes are both computer numerically controlled machines, and both are often used for high-precision and automated machining of materials. They are used to cutting and shaping materials with high precision and automation. However, there are some key differences between these two useful machines.

The difference between the two

CNC routers usually have a gantry structure so that the spindle can be moved over the workpiece. CNC routers are best suited for cutting sheet metal or making decorative cuts. They can cut materials such as wood, plastic, aluminum, and steel. CNC routers are versatile and can be used by woodworkers, metal fabricators, and manufacturers. They are ideal for high-volume production of parts and prototyping.

In contrast, CNC lathes rotate the workpiece while the cutting tool moves over it. CNC lathes are more suitable for machining cylindrical parts and asymmetrical or irregular shapes. The cutting tool is fixed in the lathe's tool holder, while the workpiece rotates at high speed. CNC lathes are typically used for machine metal bars, rods, and tubes. They can produce parts from a fraction of an inch in diameter to 15 feet or larger for large industrial lathes. CNC lathes require shorter set-up times and can provide higher accuracy, tighter tolerances, and better surface finishes than CNC routers.


A CNC router completes a cut by moving a rotating tool over a stationary workpiece, while a CNC lathe rotates the workpiece while the cutting tool remains stationary. This fundamental difference results in CNC routers and lathes being best suited for different applications, materials, and types of cuts, even though they are both highly versatile computer-controlled machines that offer a great deal of automation and precision. For any machining project, determining whether a CNC milling machine or lathe is best suited depends on the specifics of the workpiece material, dimensions, tolerances, and cutting needs.

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