How to Read a Micrometer – Beginner’s Guide

Are you new to using a micrometer and not sure where to start? 

Don’t worry, you’re in the right place! This article will give you a step-by-step guide on how to use a micrometer correctly and with confidence. 

You’ll learn about the different parts of the micrometer, how to read the measurements, and even some tips and tricks to help you out. 

Check out the secrets to mastering micrometer measurement.

Parts of a micrometer

Before we talk about taking measurements with our micrometer, let’s have a quick refresher on the various parts of the micrometer. 

a micrometer with all of its part identified

Taking a measurement with your micrometer

Alright, let’s get down to business. 

I’m assuming you’re ready to take your measurement now. 

If you need tips for getting ready to take your measurement then skip to the bottom where we have some advice laid out.

For everyone else, grab your micrometer and your part to measure.

To take the measurement we are going to take four separate readings from the micrometer and add them up for our final reading.

Put your part between the anvil and spindle

a micrometer with the anvil and spindle identified

Put the part in between the anvil and spindle of the micrometer.

This might require you to spin the thimble to open the micrometer enough to get the part in there.

a micrometer with the thimble identified

Close the micrometer on the part

Now spin the thimble until it closes on the part. 

Remember you aren’t trying to clamp down on the part. 

Use a gentle, consistent amount of force when spinning the thimble. Using the ratchet on your micrometer can make this easier. Try spinning the thimble until you get three clicks on your ratchet.

closeup of a micrometer with the ratchet stop identified

We’ve done that now and we have the reading below on our micrometer.

a closeup of a micrometer measurement reading

So let’s break down the four parts of this reading.

The 0.100" reading

closeup of a micrometer with the 0.100" graduations identified

The first part of the reading is the 0.1000″ reading. This is our hundred thousandths or “hundred thou” reading.

In the example above we can see that the larger lines on the sleeve of the micrometer are numbered. 

Each of these larger lines equals another 0.1000″.

We are taking our readings at the intersection of the lines on the thimble and the sleeve. Because the 3 is the last hundred thousandths graduation shown, the first part of our reading is 0.3000″.

The 0.025" reading

Next is the 0.0250″ or 25 thousandths reading. 

This reading is also taken from the sleeve of the micrometer. 

 

closeup of a micrometer with the 0.0250" graduations identified

Each of the lines on the sleeve equals another 0.0250″. In our example, we can see two lines after the 3 which equals 2x 0.0250″ = 0.0500″.

This means so far our reading is 0.3000″ + 0.0500″ = 0.3500″.

The 0.001" reading

There are 25 lines around the thimble of an inch micrometer. 

Each of these lines equals 0.0010″ or 1 thousandth.

In our example we can see that we are on the 15 so our reading is 0.0150″.

closeup of a micrometer with the 0.0010" graduations identified

Let’s check in on our measurement so far. 

We have 0.3000″ + 0.0500″ + 0.0150″ = 0.3650″.

The 0.0001" reading

The last part of our reading is the tenths (0.0001″) reading.

Note: some micrometer don’t have a 0.0001″ reading. This is more common on older or very cheap micrometers.

To take the tenths measurement we look at the numbers that go around the sleeve of the micrometer.

closeup of a micrometer with the 0.0001" graduations identified

We take the reading where the number on the sleeve lines up best with a line on the thimble. 

In the pic above you can see that it looks like the 6 on the sleeve lines up best with a number on the thimble. This would make the final part of our reading 0.0006″.

We now have all four parts of our reading. The 1, 25 and 100 thousandths readings as well as the tenths reading.

If we add them all up we get 0.3000″ + 0.0500″ + 0.0150″ + 0.0006″ = 0.3656″

Note: our measurement was taken using a 0-1″ micrometer. If we used a 1-2″ micrometer then we would add 1″ to our measurement. If we used a 4-5″ micrometer then we would add 4″ and so on.

Taking multiple measurements

One last thing to keep in mind when taking micrometer measurements is that you should take multiple readings.

These are very accurate measurements and it is easy for something to go wrong

Clamping too hard, being a little off angle or a piece of dust or lint can really throw off your measurement.

Taking multiple measurements helps build confidence that your measurements are correct.

Micrometer reading examples

To give you a little more practice let’s look at a few more readings.

All of these examples assume you are using a 0-1″ micrometer.

Example #1

a micrometer closeup with a reading of 0.1370"

Here we have 0.1000″ + 0.0250″ + 0.0120″ = 0.1370″.

The tenths reading lines up with the zero so we don’t add any tenths.

Example #2

a micrometer closeup with a reading of 0.5500"

Here we have 0.5000″ + 0.0500″ = 0.5500″.

The 1 thousandths (0.0010″) and tenths (0.0001″) readings lines up with the zeroes so we don’t add them to our measurement.

Example #3

closeup of a measurement reading on a micrometer

Here we have 0.7000″ + 0.0140″ + 0.0001″ = 0.7141″.

The 25 thousandths (0.0250″) reading doesn’t have any lines shown beyond the 0.1000″ reading so we don’t add anything to our measurement for the .

If our tenths reading lined up at the 9 as shown below. Our reading would instead be 0.7000″ + 0.0140″ + 0.0009″ = 0.7149″.

closeup of tenths reading on sleeve of micrometer

Tips for preparing to take your measurement

Reading your measurement correctly is important but so isn’t preparing to take your reading.

Pay attention to these factors before taking your measurement to help make sure your readings are accurate.

Make sure everything is clean

Dust and lint might seem small but they can make a huge difference in your measurement.

A human hair measures about 0.003″. Micrometers take measurements to an accuracy of 0.0001″ which is 30 times smaller. This is why everything has to be extremely clean.

Make sure the micrometer spins freely

You want to make sure your micrometer is in good working order. 

Get a feel for it, literally!

If it feels like your micrometer is dragging or rubbing at any point when spinning the thimble, there is a good chance it could affect your measurement.

Pay attention to the angles

You want to take your measurements perpendicular (90 degrees) to the surface you are measuring. 

Measuring at an off angle will skew your measurements and tend to give you a larger reading than the actual size.

a micrometer measuring a part at 90 degrees

Verify your micrometer - checking the zero

Your micrometer should be calibrated but it also a good idea to check it right before using it.

The simplest way is to check the zero. Close the micrometer and check the reading to make sure it isn’t a tenth or two off.

If you have a larger micrometer then use a gauge block to check your zero.

Frequently asked questions about taking readings with micrometers

How to take readings with different types of micrometers

Our examples are shown using a typical outside micrometer. However, there are many different types of micrometers available.

They all get read the same way. 

Depth micrometers are probably the second most common type of micrometer. For most depth micrometer you will find that they don’t have a tenths (0.0001″) reading. Follow all of the same steps to read them but skip adding any tenths to your measurement.

What's the difference between a micrometer and a caliper?

Generally, calipers are less accurate and more versatile. Check out the comparison below to see how they match up.

Micrometers

Calipers

Accuracy

0.0001"

0.001"

Measuring Range

1" increments

0-6"

Types of Measurements

Outside Measurements

Inside, Outside & Depth Measurements

Beginner’s Guide to Micrometers – Get Started

a 0-1" outside micrometer
A standard outside measuring micrometer

What is a micrometer?

A micrometer is a precision measuring tool. 

They are used in manufacturing, machine shops, automotive work and the construction industry. 

“Mic” is shorthand for micrometer.

Mics are very accurate measuring devices. 

Micrometers are used to take measurements with an accuracy of ~.0001″ or better in inches. 

Measurements in millimeters can be made down to .01mm or .001mm.

 

How accurate are micrometers?

Most micrometers have an accuracy of +/- 0.0001″, commonly referred to as a tenth of an inch in machining.

The standard metric versions would come as +/- 0.001mm or +/- 0.002mm.

They can be found with worse or better accuracy but what is usually seen .

When to use a micrometer

Three of the most common precision measuring devices used by a hobbyist or a machine shop are calipers, micrometers and dial test indicators. 

Calipers have the least accuracy of the three and the largest measuring range.

a mitutoyo digital caliper with the display on
Mitutoyo digital caliper

The dial test indicator has the most accuracy and least measuring range. 

Micrometers are in the middle for both accuracy and measuring range. 

While still very accurate, one downfall of the micrometer is that they usually come with a 1″ measuring range (3-4″, 4-5″, etc.).

Because of this they are often sold in sets to cover a larger measuring range. 

A 0-6″ micrometer set will cover the needs of most applications while a 0-12″ set is more than most people, especially hobbyists will need. 0-3″ sets are also common.

Parts of a micrometer

a micrometer with all of its part identified

How to use a micrometer

Before using your micrometer, ensure that the measuring tool and surface to be measured are free of dirt, debris, chips, etc.

Everything should be clean.

The micrometer thimble should spin freely. No hangs up or anything similar.

a micrometer with the thimble identified

Open the thimble to place the part you want to measure between the anvil and spindle.

Spin the thimble until it closes on the part. 

You aren’t trying to clamp down on the part. 

closeup of a micrometer with the ratchet stop identified

Use a gentle, consistent amount of force when spinning the thimble. Using the ratchet on your micrometer can make this easier. Try spinning the thimble until you get three clicks on your ratchet.

This will help you get repeatable measurements. You want to be consistent in your measuring so you know your readings are good.

This is why taking multiple measurements is so important.

When possible, measure the part multiple times to be confident your readings are accurate.

A little practice on a cheap gauge block can help here. Measure that same gauge block a bunch of times and you will become more repeatable in your measurements. You’ll also see how easy it is to change your reading.

a micrometer with the anvil and spindle identified

As the spindle closes on the part being measured, it can be beneficial to slightly rock the micrometer in an effort to seat the micrometer on the part.

Be careful: this technique isn’t right for surfaces that could be scratched or damaged easily.

Once you have closed the part in the micrometer, it is time to take your measurement reading.

How to read a micrometer

The most common variety of micrometers measures to one ten-thousandth of an inch (.0001″).

Measurements are taken by identifying where the lines on the micrometer line up.

You will need to take 4 readings and add them together to get your measurement.

These readings are the 0.1000″, 0.0250″, 0.0010″ and 0.0001″ readings.

Machinists refer to these as the hundred thousandths, 25 thousandths, 1 thousandths and lastly the tenths readings.

Let’s get started.

Along the sleeve of the micrometer will be graduations similar to a ruler. The graduations at every fourth interval are most often numbered 0, 1, 2 and so on. 

These numbers represent .100″ or one hundred thousandths of an inch. 

closeup of a micrometer with the 0.100" graduations identified

Whichever hundred thousandths reading you are past is your reading. In the pic above, the hundred thousandths reading would be 3 which equals 0.3000″.

Once you have taken your hundred thousandths reading then you will need to take the 25 thousandths reading.

Each mark along the sleeve is 0.025″ or 25 thousandths.

closeup of a micrometer with the 0.0250" graduations identified

Next is the reading from the thimble. This is the 0.0010″ reading or one thousandth of an inch reading. 

In the pic above two lines are shown past the three so the 0.0250″ graduation value would be 0.0500″.

In the end we are going to add all of our individual measurements up for our final reading.

closeup of a micrometer with the 0.0010" graduations identified

Note the 0.0010″ reading on the thimble and lastly take the tenths reading from the spindle.

Here we have 15 thousandths.

This makes our measurement so far 0.300″ + 0.0500″ + 0.015″ = 0.3650″.

closeup of a micrometer with the 0.0001" graduations identified

The last reading to take is the tenths reading. If the lines matched up at the 6 tenths mark, then we would have a reading of 0.0006″ which we need to add to our previous readings.

0.3650″ + 0.0006″ = 0.3656″ or three hundred and sixty five thousandths of an inch and six tenths.

Frequently asked questions about micrometers

What kinds of micrometers are available?

There are a ton of different micrometer types available

Often specific industries have their own special type micrometers such as the auto related micrometers on our list of the most common micrometers below:

  • Outside micrometers – measures various lengths, widths, thicknesses and diameters
  • Inside micrometers – measures hole diameters, slot widths
  • Depth micrometer – measures depth of holes, step locations
  • Thread micrometers – measures various thread characteristics
  • Crankshaft micrometer – specific measuring range for measuring crankshafts
  • Disc brake micrometer – measures thickness of brake rotors
  • Blade micrometer – measures slots, keyways and grooves

Are cheaper micrometers as good as expensive ones?

The cheaper off-brand micrometers have gotten much better in recent year, but they haven’t quite caught up to the best manufacturers yet. 

Starrett and Mitutoyo still reign supreme in terms of quality and accuracy.

You can always look for used options on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace to save a buck.

What makes a good micrometer?

A good micrometer needs two things: precision and accuracy. 

Some adjustments can be made with most micrometers to account for small errors in accuracy but nothing can be done to fix a tool that isn’t precise. 

Quality micrometers will turn smoothly without any drag. This is the telltale sign of a good tool. If your micrometer ever feels like it is rubbing internally, we recommend disassembling the micrometer and cleaning per the manufacturers instructions to eliminate any possible contamination that may be causing the issue

How to adjust a micrometer

If your micrometer is in need of adjustment, most micrometers can be adjusted by using the wrench that came with your tool to spin the sleeve of the micrometer. This is usually done in the zero position. This can be especially useful for adjusting for the touch or feel of a mic when it does not include a ratchet or friction stop. 

If you no longer have a wrench or spanner for adjustment, replacement wrenches can be purchased from most manufacturers or on Amazon.

How often should my micrometer be calibrated?

How often you need to calibrate your micrometer will vary depending on a few factors such as what you are measuring with it, how often you are using it, and what type of environment it is in.

Check out our guide to micrometer calibration to get a better understanding of the how, where, when and why of calibrating your mics.

Best Digital Calipers – The Definitive Buyer’s Guide in 2023

A good set of digital calipers is an invaluable tool for any machinist or hobbyist. Calipers can take a wide range of measurements. And do it with a ton of accuracy.

For many people, finding the best digital caliper is important because they get used so much. When you can measure inside, outside and depth measurements the tool gets a good amount of use.

I used digital calipers almost every day for 15 years and there isn’t much competition. 

Mitutoyo digital calipers are the best. 

There is solid competition in the value department but Mitutoyo has the most well-made caliper on the market.

If you don’t plan on using it day in and day out then consider this caliper from iGaging. 

It has good build quality and is closer in price to a budget pick than the Mitutoyos. If you have a special use case or an extremely limited budget then keep reading to find the right digital caliper for you.

Name

Awards

IP Rating

Where to Buy

Mitutoyo 500-196-30 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Overall Digital Caliper, Most Accurate, Easiest to Use

None

VINCA DCLA-0605 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Budget Digital Caliper

None

Starrett 798A-6 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Rugged Caliper

IP67

iGaging IP54 0-6" Digital Caliper

Best Budget Rugged Caliper

IP54

Mitutoyo 500-754-20 0-12" Digital Caliper

Best Large Range Digital Caliper

IP67

What we consider in our review

Accuracy vs resolution

Accuracy is the single most important feature of your digital caliper. 

They are measuring tools and they need to measure correctly.

a mitutoyo digital caliper with the display on
Mitutoyo digital caliper

The accuracy is the ability of the caliper to give the true value of a given measurement.

The accuracy of the best calipers is usually +/- .001.

Cheaper alternatives will have an accuracy between +/- .002″ to +/- .010″. For some this may be fine, but it will depend on what level of accuracy you need for your project.

I also recommend that you do not blindly trust the claimed accuracies touted by the budget manufacturers. If Starrett or Mitutoyo specify an accuracy level, you can trust it but this is not the case 

Keep in mind the type of tolerances you will be working with to help you decide how accurate your caliper needs to be.

Measuring range

The measuring range of the caliper is another one of the most important aspects of any digital caliper. 

You need to make sure that it will cover all the measurements you will want to take. 

0-6″, 0-8″, 0-12″ and 0-24″ are some of the typical measuring ranges. 

0-6″ is the most common size of caliper. 

Measuring sizes over 6″ are less frequent. 

A 0-6″ caliper maintains a nice balance of measuring range and ease of measurement. 

As the measuring range of a caliper gets larger, it becomes more difficult to use

Using a 0-24″ caliper to measure a 1″ hole diameter would be quite difficult. 

Even if you require the ability to measure larger sizes, you will want a 0-6″ caliper for many measurements because of its ease of use.

Display size

mitutoyo digital caliper zeroed
Look For A Large Display

The display on your caliper plays an important role in how easy it is to use. Being able to quickly read your measurements will save you time in the long run. 

Let’s be real, some of us don’t have the best eyes. Larger displays make getting your reading simpler. This is one area that digital calipers have a nice advantage over dial calipers. The dial and indicator needle can be hard for some to read on your average dial caliper.

The best displays have large uniform digits as shown on the Mitutoyo caliper above.

Measuring units

Most digital displays are capable of showing measurements in inches as well as millimeters. Some calipers will also read measurements in fractional units. 

Fractional units are generally not the best way to take measurements because the displays don’t round and instead will display a measurement of something similar to 53/128″. That isn’t a very helpful way to display the data. If the display rounds to something useful such as 1/16 or 1/32 it would be more useful but most don’t.

Battery life

mitutoyo digital caliper sr44 battery
Typical digital caliper battery

Battery life should be a prime consideration when examining the quality of a digital caliper. 

An auto on and auto shut off feature can greatly extend the longevity of a calipers battery life. 

The best digital calipers will have battery life that is measured in months or years. Most of the budget options available have much shorter battery lives. If you go the budget route with your caliper, make sure to keep some extra batteries on hand and maybe think about taking the battery out when the tool is not in use.

Good battery life means the caliper will be ready to use when you need it.

Dial vs digital calipers

dial caliper reading 0.661
Dial caliper face

Dial calipers make a good option for a measuring device as well. The main benefit they possess is that they don’t require batteries so they are always ready to use. 

Dial calipers can’t switch measuring units at the press of a button though. There are some dial calipers that measure in mm as well as inches at the same time but they haven’t been proven to be particularly reliable.

For a more comprehensive look at the two caliper types, be sure to check out our  guide to the differences between dial and digital calipers.

IP ratings

Ingress protection rating or IP rating for short is the amount of resistance a device has to things such as dirt and water. 

Many digital calipers have no protection rating at all.

For the ones that do, IP54 is the most common rating. This equates to limited protection from dust and protection from splashing water which will be more than most users require.

The less frequent IP67 rating is excellent and means they are almost impervious to everyday dirt and water.

Keep in mind though that IP ratings don’t protect the tool from physical damage such as being dropped.

The chart below outlines how protected a tool is. The first digit in any IP rating is for the solids protection and the second digit covers the protection from liquids.

ingress protection (IP) ratings solids description
ingress protection (IP) ratings liquid protection

Materials

Adoric digital caliper display
Carbon fiber digital caliper from Adoric

For most applications you will want to get a caliper made of stainless steel. Other materials available include carbon fiber composites and plastic. 

While tools made of carbon fiber and plastic are generally not as nice in quality as those made of stainless steel, they do have some benefits. Carbon fiber and plastic calipers are less likely to scratch or damage softer materials such as wood or plastic. 

Stainless steel calipers tend to have sharp jaws that can scratch some materials but if you are careful in their use, there shouldn’t be any issues. Carbon fiber composites and plastic also have the benefit of being non-magnetic.

Calibration certificates

Some calipers are sold with a calibration certificate for a decent upcharge. Skip it. The tool should be accurate when purchased, regardless of whether it comes with a certificate or not.

The best practice is to verify the accuracy of the caliper when you receive it. Check the tool against a known standard such as a set of gauge blocks. At a bare minimum, verify the zero position before using your gauge.

Cases

VINCA digital caliper in case unwrapped
A Case Provides Much Needed Protection

A case is an important accessory for a digital caliper. These are precision measuring instruments after all and all too often they get knocked off a workbench or dropped by a careless coworker. 

Keeping them in a case will add a layer of protection to help keep them safe. Cases come standard with calipers from the the best toolmakers such as Starrett, Mitutoyo, Fowler and Brown and Sharpe. 

They do not come standard for cheaper tools so keep that in mind when looking at those budget friendly options.

Data transfer

An RS232 port can be a handy addition to your caliper, but is certainly not a necessity. A RS232 port allows the transfer of data/measurements from your caliper to your computer.

For most users this is an unneeded feature, but for some applications it can be handy to record the data directly to your computer.

Our top picks

Now that you know what we consider when reviewing the best calipers, let’s find out who is making the best in class calipers. 

Spoiler: there’s someone new on the list

Mitutoyo 500-196-30 Digital Caliper

plus symbol

Pros

Accuracy
Dependability
Battery life

minus symbol

Cons

Cost

Accuracy: +/- 0.001”/.0254 mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: 1 SR44 (included)

Amazing accuracy, excellent battery life and protection from dirt, water and oil. Mitutoyo makes a digital caliper that is everything you would want in a precision measuring tool.

These calipers from Mitutoyo are a reliable and consistently accurate measuring instrument. Perfect for reloading, engine work or every day use in a machine shop. 

Basically, Mitutoyo has set the standard for what a digital caliper should be and maintained that standard for a long time. In fact, if you can find a used set do be afraid to pick them up. 

These calipers are heirloom quality.

That isn’t something you would normally say about something electronic, but these digital calipers from Mitutoyo break the mold and are built to last.

Everything about these calipers is well-made.

  • Quality stainless steel frame
  • Solid plastic body
  • Buttons that just feel nice and are easy to use
  • Large, easy to read LCD display
  • Better battery life than any other caliper I have seen (Mitutoyo claims 3.5 years – it might be longer)

Combine these things with the dependable accuracy and you got a tool that is truly best in class.

VINCA DCLA-0605 Digital Caliper

plus symbol

Pros

Price
Customer service

minus symbol

Cons

No IP rating

Accuracy: +/- 0.001”/.0254 mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm, fractions

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: LR44 (included)

If you’re just getting into machining and you’re a bit nervous about dropping a lot of money on a high-end caliper like the one above, then this budget-friendly VINCA just might be the tool for you.

First and foremost, it’s a very accurate caliper for the price, with an accuracy of +/- 0.001″/.0254 mm. These are measuring devices after all. They need to be accurate.

While it is made of stainless steel, you’ll also be happy that this caliper comes with a heavy-duty case to keep it protected at all times when it’s not in use.

The LCD display face is fairly large, however you should note that the way the values are displayed is a little awkward, especially when measuring in inches. It appears VINCA did this to allow fractional measurements.

This isn’t something that is a deal breaker but worth noting because some of the numbers you will be reading are only half the size of the screen.

Battery life is good on these VINCA calipers. Take note that they automatically turn on when the caliper moves which can cause them to drain the battery faster even when not in use. Using the lock to gently keep them in place will go a long way towards extending your battery life and keeping them ready to use when you need them.

An excellent bonus feature of this caliper is the RS232 port which allows you to plug the caliper right into your computer. This is something that is rarely seen with budget priced calipers.

Digitally transferring readings can be super helpful, because it’s so easy to fat-finger a measurement if when entering them manually. 

Overall, these VINCA digital calipers are a great value for the price. They aren’t quite on the same level as some of the higher end measuring tools but they make an excellent starter set that doesn’t break the bank.

Starrett 798A-6 0-6″ Digital Caliper

plus symbol

Pros

Protection from the elements
Accuracy

minus symbol

Cons

Expensive

Accuracy: +/- 0.001”/.0254 mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: CR 2032 3V (included)

It’s tough to do a review about calipers and not include anything made by Starrett. Starrett is an industry leader, and for decades has carried a solid reputation for making incredible products.

This heavy-duty digital caliper from them has an accuracy of 0.001″, or 0.254 mm and a resolution 0.0005″ or 0.010 mm. Exactly the type of precision you would expect in a quality measuring tool.

When it comes to build quality, the stainless steel bar of this caliper is designed to last just like many other Starrett tools and the case it comes with only helps to extend the life of your caliper by keeping it safe when you’re not using it.

This display is easy to read and quite large. The buttons work as designed and overall the 798A-6 functions exactly as intended and just feels very well built.

However, the real reason you’ll want to buy this caliper is because of how rugged this thing is.

The 798A-6 is rated IP67. IP stands for ingress protection. This is a measure of the amount of resistance a device has to dirt, water, and other contaminants. For a full breakdown of IP ratings, see our rundown in the Things to Consider section.

Just know that most digital calipers, especially lower priced models, often offer no IP rating at all. The better models that do offer some form of IP rating are usually rated IP54. The IP67 rating of this Starrett is a significant jump up in protection.

One thing to keep in mind is that the IP rating doesn’t protect against damage from drops or other physical damage. You’re going to still need to treat it carefully. But let’s face it, we aren’t always working in the most pristine environments.

While the added protection that the Starrett caliper offers is welcome, it does come at a cost. Mechanics and machinists have known for a long time the value of a tool that can withstand a little abuse. Whether that is necessary for you situation is something you will need to decide.

I can’t say that I know of anyone who has regretted spending the extra to step up and get a tool from Starrett.

iGaging IP54 0-6″ Digital Caliper

plus symbol

Pros

Large display
IP54 rated

minus symbol

Cons

No auto power off feature

Accuracy: +/- .001”/0.02mm

Measuring units: Inches, mm, fractions

Warranty length: Two years

Battery used: CR 2032 3V (included with spare)

While they are a budget tool manufacturer, iGaging has been around awhile and made quite a name for themselves providing decent tools for a much lower price.

Made of stainless steel, this iGaging caliper has an accuracy of +/- .001” or .02mm, and a resolution of .0005” or .01mm which is directly in line with the capabilities of higher priced tools. Fractional measurements are taken in increments of 1/128″

We tested the accuracy and it performed wonderfully reading spot on in all inside, outside and depth measurements taken across the measuring range. It even comes with a calibration certificate. Most budget priced tools skip this.

This is a solid set of calipers, especially for the price. The LCD display is large and skips the weirdness that other calipers such as the VINCA DCLA-0605 has because of the fractional units. 

igaging ip54 digital caliper display fractions

But the real standout feature of this caliper is just how tough it is given its price. The iGaging caliper has an IP54 rating, which, as we mentioned earlier, is the average rating for calipers with an IP score.

However, given the price point, this is a very uncommon feature for calipers in this price range. Most will have no IP rating at all.

Being a budget caliper, but still offering protection from dust, oil, water, and other contaminants is what sets this caliper apart from others in its class.

Another nice thing about this caliper is the 2-year warranty. You’ll notice that a lot of the calipers on this list are given a 1-year warranty which is still higher than the average warranty. 2 years provides quite a bit of assurance that the caliper will function for a good long time.

igaging ip54 digital caliper in box with battery

One small drawback of this caliper is that the on/off power function is manual. What this means is that you need to remember to hit the power  button every time you are done using it or else you’ll drain the battery. Many digital calipers will feature an auto off feature to extend the battery life.

Overall, the IP rating this tool has offsets any issues with battery life. iGaging has done a great job of making a budget priced tool that stacks up well in most areas against some of the most well known measuring tool manufacturers.

Mitutoyo 500-754-20 0-12″ Digital Caliper

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Pros

Large measuring range
IP67 rated

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Cons

Very expensive

Accuracy: +/- .0015”/0.0385mm.

Measuring units: Inches, mm

Warranty length: One year

Battery used: 1 SR44 (included)

We’ve included another Mitutoyo caliper on this list because this caliper is a bit different than the other one. For one, it’s got a much larger measuring range, going from 0-12″.

While measuring above 6″ is less likely, especially for beginners, this caliper gives you the option for larger measurements when needed.

Keep in mind that you wouldn’t want this as a replacement for a 6″ caliper, instead larger calipers such as a 12 or 24″ model will get used in addition to a 6″ caliper.

There are situations where you might need to measure something larger and the 6″ caliper just won’t do. But anytime you are measuring a smaller size, a large format caliper such as this will be difficult and awkward to use. Not to mention it won’t fit into tight spaces well.

You should also take not that the accuracy is slightly reduced because it needs to maintain that accuracy over a larger measuring range. This caliper has an accuracy of +/- .0015″/0.0385mm which is pretty good. 

You will find that some of the budget tool makers will spec their 12″ digital calipers with an accuracy of +/- .001″, which on paper looks like they are better than this Mitutoyo. In reality, they are often far worse than that. This is especially true if you move up to a 24″ caliper.

The Mitutoyo 500-754-20 comes with a whopping IP67 rating, meaning it’s super water and dust resistant. Having that level of protection on a tool that costs this much is important because you wouldn’t a splash of coolant or oil to destroy your prized measuring tool.

While it’s an expensive tool, if you have bigger projects that you plan on working with, then it’s well worth the money. And, as we touched on earlier, Mitutoyo is a premium brand in the industry, so if you do pull the trigger and decide to buy this caliper you won’t be disappointed in the quality of the product.

If you must go the budget route with a large range digital caliper, then be extremely aware of the accuracy you need and what the tool can actually provide. They might not line up.

I know everyone doesn’t have unlimited budgets so if you need to keep costs down, think about looking for a used Mitutoyo or Starrett digital caliper (good luck) or maybe going with a good quality dial caliper instead. Remember, that your large calipers are going to see much less use than a standard 6″ version.

All in all there are a lot of choices available nowadays when it comes to digital calipers and they are not created equal. 

Mitutoyo and Starrett lead the pack but they do come at a cost. 

Tools that have IP protection will help them last but may not always be a necessity for each user.

For smaller 6″ calipers, you can get a serviceable option that will often get the job done at a fraction of the cost. 

When it comes to larger calipers, don’t believe the claimed accuracy on those budget tools. 

Best Desktop CNC Routers for Home Use [2023]

Let’s face it. There just isn’t enough space at home.

We all do it. We have mountains of tools, gadgets and just plain ole stuff strewn everywhere. Sure, you can clean your garage, workshop, kitchen table or wherever you tend to work on stuff, but it just doesn’t last.

Space is at a premium, which is why we bring you our guide to the best small desktop style CNCs. While these CNCs won’t be carving up 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood anytime soon, they are more than capable of creating some pretty cool projects on a smaller scale.

The best part is their small footprint means they can be easily stashed away when not in use. But please don’t run one in your closet. Your significant other will not approve of a sawdust and metal chips on their clothes. Don’t ask how I know.

Without further ado, check out our picks for the top desktop CNCs.

Name

Awards

Work Area

Where to Buy

SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer

Best Overall Desktop CNC

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

MYSWEETY DIY CNC 3018-PRO

Best Desktop CNC/Laser Engraver Combo

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

Genmitsu PROVerXL 4030

Best Desktop CNC for Aluminum,
Best Desktop CNC under $1,000

15.7"x11.8"x4.3"

VEVOR CNC 3018 Router Kit

Best Budget Desktop CNC

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer

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Pros

Quick assembly - ready in less than 30 minutes
Quiet enough for use in an apartment
Sturdy and well-built, made of aluminum instead of plastic

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Cons

None for the price point

Machine Work Area: 300mm x 180mm x 45mm = 11.8″ x 7.0″ x 1.7″

Physical Machine Dimensions (Machine Footprint): 400mm x 330mm x 240mm = 15.7″ x 13.0″ x 9.4″

Weight: 21.4 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: Plywood, MDF, PCB, acrylic, nylon, carbon fiber and soft metals

Warranty: 1 Year

This SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer comes mostly pre-assembled, needing only about thirty minutes of assembly once out of the package. A smaller machine that is great for CNC beginners, hobbyists, and small business owners, this machine is very quiet and can operate inside an apartment or similar space without disturbing the neighbors. The smaller size also means it is easy to move around.

Further, the PROVer comes equipped with an emergency stop control that is very visible and easy to access for an immediate shutdown of your machine. You’re inevitably going to mess something up if you work for long enough, so having a big red button to shut off the machine is pretty helpful.

The machine also comes with acrylic safety baffles to help stop dust from spreading while you’re working, making clean up a bit easier and faster. That said, the machine does produce a lot of dust and wood chips, so you may want to make your own cover, or at least be prepared for a thorough cleaning after use.

This 3018 PROVer comes with an offline controller, which allows you to run the machine without having a computer attached.

Though the machine is not particularly wide it can be used to make pass-throughs for narrower, but longer pieces.

 Even though it is a smaller machine, it is built using solid materials. Rather than being made out of wood or plastic, like a lot of cheaper models, the PROVer is made with aluminum. This solid construction also helps reduce noise and vibration while the machine is working.

MYSWEETY DIY CNC 3018-PRO

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Pros

Easy to assemble and operate
Great beginner laser engraving machine as well

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Cons

Not built for cutting harder materials

Machine Work Area: 300mm x 180mm x 45 mm = 11.8″ x 7.0″ x 1.7″

Physical Machine Dimensions: 400mm x 330mm x 240 mm = 15.7″ x 13.0″ x 9.4″

Weight: 15.82 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: Wood, bamboo, paper, ivory, leather, flammable plastic, PCB, acrylic, ceramic/stone, metal surface paint, metal surface plating

  • Note: DO NOT work on metal, iron, glass, 201/304 stainless steel, jewelry, or silver

Warranty: 1 Year

One important thing to understand with this machine is that it is truly a machine made for CNC beginners. If you expect to get this in the mail and begin a large project, you’ll be somewhat disappointed. With that said, it is a good machine for those who want to start learning CNC.

Though the machine does not come assembled, assembly is relatively easy, taking between one and two hours. If you need some extra help, there are plenty of videos on YouTube that can assist you. 

That the machine does not come pre-assembled is not a surprise given its price point, but, again, assembly is easy so don’t let that discourage you.

Initially, it may seem worrying that the frame of the machine is plastic – plastic can easily snap and break if the machine is running a hard job that causes vibrations and shaking. 

However, the plastic framing is phenolic resin, meaning it’s really strong stuff that will not break easily. Such strong plastic also means that there are fewer parts needed for assembly, which is of course a bonus.

It should also be emphasized that the machine defaults to metric movements, so if your code is in inches and you manually move the machine with the offline controller you will run into some issues. So, you either have to be really careful when the machine is operating and be prepared to do conversions on the fly, or you can just make sure that your code is done using the metric system.

Lastly, one shortcoming of this machine is that it is mainly only for engraving on wood. This machine does not do all that well for any cutting action.

If you’re looking to engrave harder materials – such as soft metals – this machine is probably not for you. It does have the added benefit of  working well for laser engraving.

For those who might want a multipurpose machine, the MYSWEETY CNC makes a good choice. The easy to use laser engraving software means most will be able to set it up and start engraving in short order (remember your laser safety glasses). 

CNC work will take a little more effort because the included CNC software isn’t as user friendly, but is still very manageable.

Genmitsu PROVerXL 4030

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Pros

Quick assembly - comes mostly pre-assembled
More power than most small CNCs - can cut metal

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Cons

Takes up more space but allows larger projects

Machine Work Area: 400mm x 300mm x 110mm = 15.7″ x 11.8″ x 4.3″

Physical Machine Dimensions (Machine Footprint): 641mm x 755.5mm x 580mm = 25.2″ x 29.7″ x 22.8″

Weight: 57.2 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: wood, MDF, plastics, foams, vinyl, and aluminum.

Warranty: 1 year

The setup for this machine is really nice. All of the hard bits – such as routing the wiring – are done for you, so what’s left only takes about an hour if you’re working hard. Maybe two hours if you’re going through it at a slow pace.

Once you get started, you’ll notice that this machine definitely has a lot of torque. It’s probably a good idea to start off with the 3018 model if you’re a true beginner, but if you have just a little bit of CNC experience this is a well-built, powerful machine. This model comes with a super rigid structure, so you shouldn’t have any difficulties with it in terms of vibrations and shaking once your work starts.

Because the PROVerXL 4030 is so powerful, it can work on a fairly wide range of materials. You can work on wood, MDF, plastics, foams and even aluminum. Some users have said that they can also cut other soft metals, though if you’re not experienced with soft metals you shouldn’t try to work with them on this machine.

genmitsu proverxl 4030 on table next to 3018 cnc

In terms of workspace, if you’re doing relatively small projects there should be plenty of room to work. For beginners, or even a small wood/metalworking business you should have enough space to do virtually any CNC project for your customers within reason.

But if you are looking to do something a bit larger, there are some really nice upgrade kits that you can purchase for this machine. For more working space you can buy additional sizes 24”x 24”( 600 x 600mm), and up to 40” x 40” (1000 x 1000mm).

For even more versatility in terms of what you can make with this machine, you can buy the Rotary 4th Axis or High Powered Laser Modules.

VEVOR CNC 3018 Router Kit

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Pros

Price - cost about half of what most others cost
Aluminum construction

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Cons

Assembly instructions are lacking

Machine Work Area: 300mm x 180mm x 45mm = 11.8″ x 7.0″ x 1.7″

Physical Machine Dimensions (Machine Footprint): 400mm x 300mm x 240mm = 15.7″ x 11.8″ x 9.4″

Weight: 17.1 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: All types of plastics, soft aluminum, woods, acrylics, PVC, PCB

Warranty:

The biggest advantage of the VEVOR 3018 is its price. Generally coming in at a little more than $100, you’re going to get a ton of value out of this machine. Of course, a cheaper machine generally means fewer capabilities and cheaper materials, but the VEVOR 3018 is still a good CNC machine for beginners.

Speaking of its construction, the frame is mostly aluminum with some plastic in there as well. For a cheap machine, having an aluminum frame is a big bonus. Metal frames help to reduce vibration, which makes the machines more accurate.

pieces to build vevor 3018 cnc
VEVOR 3018 Pieces for Assembly

One downside for this machine is its assembly. You have to do most of the work yourself, and the assembly guide comes with only pictures, no words. However, there are helpful videos that you can find on YouTube to help out.

Generally, this machine should only be used for engraving, as it is not the strongest machine on the market. You may be able to cut through some balsa wood, but don’t try anything stronger than that. Some users have said that if you push the VEVOR 3018 to its outer limits the machine begins to shake a fair amount, so that is one thing to keep in mind as well. However, if you’re using the machine within its normal range it is pretty quiet.

Generally, people have seemed to have good interactions with the manufacturer if they’ve had any issues, so that’s always a bonus.

Overall, if you’re okay with installing the machine using only pictures and YouTube, then this is a good introductory CNC machine if you do not want to spend a lot of money. But remember, you get what you pay for.

Things to consider when purchasing a desktop CNC

Safety

Just because these are entry level machines does not mean they aren’t powerful and cannot hurt you. Always read instructions. Also, some of these machines can cause a lot of dust and particles to fly into the air while they’re operating, so you should wear safety glasses if you’re getting close.

Size of work area

The size of the work area for any machine directly affects the size of the project you are capable of doing with that machine. All of the machines on this list are entry level, so they are not particularly large. That means they can be easily moved around and do not take up so much space, but that also means the projects you are capable of producing is limited.

It’s also important to remember that the overall size of the machine is not the same as the work area of the machine. For example, the SainSmart PROVer 3018’s overall size is 420 x 340 x 280mm, but its work area is only 260 x 155 x 35mm. That’s a big difference, so make sure you’re reading the machine specs carefully.

Machine construction

This relates to the materials the machine is made out of. When a machine has a really solid frame – typically made out of metal, like the Genmitsu PROVerXL 4030 for example – this is always preferable to a frame made out of wood or plastic.

A solid frame will reduce the shaking of the machine, which makes cuts and engravings more accurate. Reduced shaking can also make the machine quieter when it’s running.

Work materials

Not every CNC machine will cut all materials. This is especially true when it comes to smaller, desktop style CNCs. 

There are two big jumps in capabilities. The first is to soft metals such as aluminum. The second is to harder metals such as steel. 

Some of the machines above will handle aluminum. Not all will do it easily. None of them will be able to cut steel.

Take note of the capabilities of each machine as referenced above and you won’t be disappointed. 

Tooling

Tooling is another word for cutters. Different materials require different cutters, and the type of cutter you’re using can make all the difference on a project.

Most machines will come with a few cutters for you to use right away. These bits are not usually of the highest quality, but if you’re a beginner they will do the job. Learn the pieces, and when you’re ready you can buy separate, more expensive ones.

Customer service

Customer service is really important because these are complex machines if you’re new to CNC. It’s not uncommon to have an issue during assembly, or while you’re using the machine.

In many online reviews, people note the level of customer service that they have experienced, and you should pay attention to this. Don’t be afraid to go on a company’s website and look around to see how easy it is to contact customer service, and also look for things like video tutorials that the company has provided themselves.

CNC software

There is a large variety of software that gets used on these machines. Covering them all would be a giant topic by itself. To get you started here is a quick rundown:

  • CAD or computer aided drafting is software that will allow you to create models to machine or engrave. This is only a drawing and needs further processing before your machine will know what to do with it. The most commonly used CAD software are Fusion 360 and Tinkercad
  • CAM or computer aided manufacturing is the software that takes your model and turns it into code that your CNC will understand. If you are familiar with 3D printers, CAM software is similar to slicing software. The most common CAM software are Fusion 360, CamBam, SheetCam and MeshCam.

A good starting point is to look into Fusion 360. It has an enormous number of tutorials on YouTube. You are likely to find help for any issue you run into and there are many guided courses on use of the software.

CNC routers vs spindles

When it comes to beginner level CNC machines, the terms router and spindle are used almost interchangeably. Some machines, such as the ones from BobsCNC, use an actual router like you would buy at a hardware store. Others use spindles.

Practically, they are both motors that have a collet or chuck to hold a cutting tool such as a router bit or end mill.

Related articles

Best Woodworking CNC Routers [2023]

CNC machines have been in use for decades and most people associate them with the metalworking industry. But for many years they have been used by amateur woodworkers to machine a large variety of projects.

CNC technology, just like 3D printers has found its way into the homes and garages of people throughout the world.

Below we have outlined the best CNCs for woodworking. CNC machining can be a daunting task for many, so our picks lean more towards the beginner CNC woodworker and place an emphasis on ease of setup and use. These two aspects in particular make it easier to unlock the full potential of your CNC router so read on to find out which models top our list.

Name

Awards

Work Area

Where to Buy

BobsCNC Evolution 4 CNC Router

Best Overall Woodworking CNC

24" x 24" x 3.3"

SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer

Best Desktop Woodworking CNC

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

MYSWEETY DIY CNC 3018-PRO

Best Woodworking CNC/Laser Engraver Combo

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

Genmitsu PROVerXL 4030

Best Woodworking CNC under $1,000, 

Best Woodworking CNC for Aluminum

15.7"x11.8"x4.3"

BobsCNC Evolution 4 CNC Router

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Pros

Heavy-duty machine with a lot of capabilities
Large work area
Excellent customer service

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Cons

Assembly is not quick

Work Area: 610 mm x 610 mm x 85 mm = 24” x 24” x 3.3”

Machine Size: 990mm x 810mm x 530mm = 39” x 32” x 21”

Weight: 42 Pounds

Materials it Will Cut: Wood, plastic, soft aluminum, acrylic, PCB, leather, others are possible with experimentation

Warranty: 60 Days

While still an entry level machine, BobsCNC machines are a cut above the rest. Their machines are typically more heavy duty, capable of cutting more materials, and are more expensive than other entry level machines. While this machine can cut a large variety of materials, including soft aluminum and leather, CNC wood routing is easily BobsCNC’s specialty.

When looking at the E4 machine, you should be aware that setting the machine up will take a good deal of time. Unlike most other beginner CNC machines, the E4 does not comes pre-assembled.

You should plan on assembly taking up most of an entire day. Keep in mind, though, that when assembly is this intense, you really get to know a machine well, which will be super helpful if you’re a beginner.

Additionally, the instruction manual is highly detailed and thorough. The assembly isn’t necessarily difficult, but instead is simply time consuming. Luckily, if you come upon any roadblocks, you can find an abundance of guidance on YouTube and Facebook to help you along.

But if you are facing any big obstacles during assembly – or even long-after you’ve got the machine running – BobsCNC has a great reputation for top notch customer support and service.

 

Call or email them, and you are guaranteed to get a quick response, and a simple solution to whatever problem you may be facing. As a matter of fact, Bob himself has been known to respond to users seeking help frequently. 

Keep in mind that this is a big and powerful machine. As such, it can create more noise than other, smaller entry level machines. It can also create a large amount of dust and chips when it’s working, so be sure to have a shop vac ready to clean up or better yet, a dust collection system in place.

The E4 is the type of machine that you would normally want to store in a garage or workshop instead of inside your main living area.

This is a heavy-duty machine and you can expect it to be louder and a bit messier, but because it is such a solid machine you can also expect it to perform quality work for a long time to come. The E4 is a real workhorse, and many customers have found the machine to last for ages.

The BobsCNC Evolution 4 is an excellent option for a woodworking CNC. The setup will take more time than our other recommended options but there is a substantial payoff in the end. The expanded work area and power of the machine will allow a much larger variety of work than smaller machines.

SainSmart Genmitsu 30018-PROVer

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Pros

Fast and easy assembly
Quieter than other CNCs
Aluminum construction

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Cons

Not made for heavy-duty work such as metals

Work Area: 300mm x 180mm x 45mm = 11.8” x 7.1” x 1.7”

Machine Size: 400mm x 330mm x 240mm = 15.7” x 13.0” x 9.4”

Weight: 21.4 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: Plywood, MDF, PCB, acrylic, nylon, carbon fiber and soft metals

Warranty: 1 Year

If you’re looking to get your feet wet with CNC machining, but don’t want to jump all the way in quite yet, then the SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer is a good place to start.

For a sub-$400 machine, you get a lot of value from the PROVer.

For one, the 3018 PROVer will arrive at your door largely pre-assembled, so you won’t have to spend too much time putting the machine together.

It might take you longer to put together than the 15 minutes that SainSmart advertises, but you should be able to put this together fairly quickly, and there are plenty of YouTube videos out there to give you a hand if you get stuck.

While this machine is pretty powerful for a beginner machine, one common review from users is that it is fairly quiet. If you live in an apartment and you don’t have to worry about your neighbors making a noise complaint, the 3018-PROVer makes a great option. 

Another great feature of the PROVer is the aluminum frame. For a budget priced machine, having a sturdy metal frame is a big bonus.

A solid frame helps to reduce any vibration from the machine, which makes the machine more accurate, and works to reduces noise.

Along with the aluminum framing, the machine has acrylic safety baffles which help stop dust from spreading while you’re working, making clean up a bit easier and faster. A welcome addition for anyone who plans to run this CNC indoors.

Another great feature of the PROVer is the easy to see, easy to access shutdown button.

This big red button on the side of the machine makes triggering an emergency shutdown super simple. From experts to amateurs, mistakes are going to happen, so such an obvious emergency stop button will come in handy. This is a feature that all full blown industrial CNCs have and for good reason.

When you hear something start to go wrong with your run, and trust me, you usually hear it before any other warning signs. The stop button just might save your project or cutter tools.

Other safety features of the PROVer include hard stops, and limit switches to keep the machine from coming off the rails, literally. The limit switches will tell your machine to stop safely when your custom CNC program attempts to move the cutter three feet off your dining room table.

SainSmart has done a good job including many of the 3018 series CNC upgrades and accessories that people find they want after purchasing such as an offline controller, which will allow you to run the machine without needing to have a computer attached.

Overall, the 3018 PROVer is a top notch, entry-level machine that is especially useful if you’re looking to start smaller wood carving and wood cutting projects and is more than capable of tackling other materials of similar hardness.

MYSWEETY DIY CNC 3018-PRO

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Pros

Quick setup
Laser engraving module included

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Cons

Can't cut metals

Work Area: 300mm x 18mm x 45mm = 11.8” x 7.1” x 1.7”

Machine Size: 330mm x 400mm x 240mm = 400mm x 330mm x 240 mm = 15.7″ x 13.0″ x 9.4″

Weight: 15.82 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: Wood, bamboo, paper, ivory, leather, flammable plastic, PCB, acrylic, ceramic/stone, metal surface paint, metal surface plating

Warranty: 12 Months

The MYSWEETY 3018-PRO is truly a beginner CNC router for woodworking. The machine is easy to get started with, but it can’t handle some of the difficult materials that more powerful CNC routers can. Luckily, all can be forgiven when you look at the price.

If you’re looking for something to introduce you to the world of wood cutting and wood carving, the MYSWEETY will do that and more.

While this machine does not come pre-assembled like some other models, putting it together is not all that difficult. Set up time should take most people between one and two hours.

Setup is made even easier because there is a large selection of videos on YouTube that can help guide you through the process.

The machine’s frame is primarily made out of metal, so you know it is going to be sturdy. But even the gantry (crane type bridge), which is made of plastic is solid. It is made using phenolic resin, which is extremely strong stuff. For a CNC woodworking machine on the cheaper end of the price range, the MYSWEETY is surprisingly well built.

The MYSWEETY also has the benefit of being ready to laser engrave wood projects as well as CNC routing. Unfortunately, the machine has an issue where the laser module’s focus lens fits loosely. This can make it too easy to accidentally turn resulting in poor engravings from the laser not being focused properly.

No worries though, a small bit of Teflon tape on the threads will allow you to fix this problem yourself.

The biggest downfall of the machine is that it does leave a little bit to be desired if you want to work with something beyond wood.

It is just not all that powerful, and you shouldn’t try to push this machine too far. It will work well with wood and softer materials but don’t expect it to work well with even soft metals such as aluminum.

All in all, if you’re looking to get started with CNC routing and woodworking as a hobby, this is a good machine for just that. The laser engraving module makes a big plus as well.

The MYSWEETY CNC is a budget friendly option that is capable of producing some pretty cool woodworking projects.

Genmitsu PROVerXL 4030

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Pros

Power
Solid frame reduces vibrations and increases accuracy

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Cons

None

SainSmart has created one of the most recognizable introductory CNC machines with its 3018 PROVer. Everything that SainSmart has been able to pull off with their flagship 3018 CNC has been replicated and upgraded on the PROVer XL 4030.

More power, more work area and more options for increasing the capabilities of the machine down the road as branch out into different projects.

Like the smaller 3018 PROVer, the 4030 comes mostly pre-assembled. Assembly is easily accomplished, just don’t expect it to take the 15 minutes that SainSmart quotes it at.

Not only is this 4030 CNC one of the best woodworking CNCs available but it is also one of the most common. This means there are plenty of quality YouTube videos to help you along the assembly process and beyond should you run into any stumbling blocks.

All in all, the SainSmart 4030 can be assembled, fired up and be cutting or engraving in no time at all.

As mentioned earlier, this machine is powerful. A great benefit that many lower end machines don’t have.

While the PROVerXL isn’t an industrial shop-level machine, if you’re a hobbyist or a small business owner you should still be able to get some good mileage out of this CNC.

The PROVerXL 4030 will cut a wide assortment of hard and soft woods, as well as plastics, foam, vinyl, and even aluminum. Keep in mind that if you plan on working with materials on the harder end such as aluminum, they will likely take more trial and error whereas you’ll find it difficult to run into trouble working with wood of any kind.

This machine also has the structure to match its power. The frame is made entirely out of aluminum. The rigidity this provides helps that you don’t sacrifice power for accuracy. With the 4030, you won’t have to worry about vibration or shaking which can result in poor surface finishes or decreased accuracy, even if you’re engraving metals.

As far as workspace goes, this machine is definitely bigger than the 3018, though in its original form you’ll still be limited to relatively small projects. However, there are some really nice upgrade kits that you can purchase for the machine.

Kits to expand the machine work area to 24”x 24”( 600 x 600mm), and up to 40” x 40” (1000 x 1000mm) are available. And for even more versatility in terms of what you can make with this machine, there is a  rotary 4th Axis and a high powered laser module available as well.

If you want to get started with CNC woodworking and have the ability to work with more difficult materials in the future, the PROVer XL 4030 is the right machine for you. It also makes a great upgrade for those who are already familiar with the 3018 series because the added power and capabilities will expand what is possible to make with your CNC.

Things to consider when purchasing a woodworking CNC

Assembly

CNC routers will come in a variety of assembly stages. Some machines will come almost entirely assembled for you, while others make you put together every last part.

For some people, assembling a machine is part of the fun. Many times, it can help you learn about your new tool.

For other people – especially beginners – you will want something that is practically ready to use out of the package. Preferences will differ but keep this in mind when reviewing the different options available. Assembly difficulty is certainly a factor to keep in mind.

Safety

safety glasses

Yes, these are entry level machines, and yes, some are more powerful than others. Take note though that any one of these CNC routers is capable of cutting not only your wood projects, but you as well!

Be sure to read the instructions, and if this is your first time working with a CNC machine then ease into it. Also, as with all woodworking, chips and particles are bound to fly around, so make sure you’re wearing eye protection if you plan on getting close while the machine is operating.

Laser engravers present their own safety hazards as well so make sure you are using any and all proper personal protective equipment when operating these as well.

Size of work area

Naturally, the bigger the work area of a machine, the bigger the project you can do with that machine.

Since these machines are on the entry level side of things, none of them are overly big. Keep the size of your projects in mind when shopping for a new CNC for your woodworking project and if you need something truly massive, think about purchasing one of the upgrade kits available for many machines or stepping up to a 4’x4’ or 4’x8’ CNC router.

genmitsu proverxl 4030 on table next to 3018 cnc

 On the flip side, the smaller work area for some of these machines means they are easier to move around and locate in your work space.

It’s also important to remember that the overall size of the machine is not the same as the work area of the machine.

For example, the SainSmart PROVer 3018’s overall size is 420 x 340 x 280mm, but its work area is only 260 x 155 x 35mm. That’s a big difference, so make sure you’re reading the machine specs carefully.

Software

There is a large variety of software that gets used on these machines. Covering them all would be a giant topic by itself. To get you started here is a quick rundown:

  • CAD or computer aided drafting is software that will allow you to create models to machine or engrave. This is only a drawing and needs further processing before your machine will know what to do with it. The most commonly used CAD software are Fusion 360 and Tinkercad
  • CAM or computer aided manufacturing is the software that takes your model and turns it into code that your CNC will understand. If you are familiar with 3D printers, CAM software is similar to slicing software. The most common CAM software are Fusion 360, CamBam, SheetCam and MeshCam.

A good starting point is to look into Fusion 360. It has an enormous number of tutorials on YouTube. You are likely to find help for any issue you run into and there are many guided courses on use of the software.

Construction materials

When a machine has a sturdy frame – one made out of metal, like the Genmitsu PROVerXL 4030 for example – this is always better than a machine made using wood or plastic.

A solid frame will reduce the shaking of the machine, which makes the cuts and engravings more accurate. Reduced vibration will also make the machine quieter when it’s running. A welcome addition for anyone trying to create woodworking projects in their home.

Noise

Speaking of noise, you may also want to keep this in mind.

More powerful machines will allow you to run more types of projects, but generally they are much louder as well.

If you’re working in a confined area, such as an apartment or townhouse, it may be better to start with a smaller, quieter machine. Maybe you don’t like your neighbors, in that case go all out and get yourself a full-blown industrial model.

Cutters

router bit set

Different materials will require different cutters, and the type of cutter you use can make all the difference when it comes to your woodworking projects.

Most machines will come with a few cutters for you to use right out of the box. These bits are universally found to be low quality, but if you’re a beginner they will do the job. It’s better to bust one of these starter bits than the more specialized and capable cutters you will eventually step up to.

Gain some experience with the included cutter or purchase a cheap starter set, and when you’re ready you can buy separate, more specialized versions.

Customer service

Customer service is crucial. CNC machines can be complex, and you may run into difficulties with assembly or operation, especially if you’re new to CNC.

We place a priority on customer service and look to recommend machines from manufacturers who are quick to respond and assist with any problems.  If you are intimidated by the process of getting started with CNC woodworking, we advise you to look for model specific YouTube videos so you can educate yourself and build some confidence in your ability to work through the assembly and operations of the machines.

Related articles

Best Affordable CNC Routers For Every Budget [2023]

For many people looking to get into CNC machining, one of the most important aspects is the price. CNC mills and routers can cost tens of thousands of dollars or more.

These are not the type of machines we have outlined for you here.

It can be hard to find budget CNC routers with all the capabilities needed for detailed work. Luckily, we have laid out the best machines at the lower end of the price scale for you. Check out the best budget friendly starter CNCs below.

Name

Awards

Work Area

Where to Buy

Genmitsu CNC 3018-PRO

Best Value for Money CNC

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

SainSmart Genmitsu 3018-PROVer

Best All Around Budget CNC

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

VEVOR CNC 3018

Best Cheap CNC

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

MYSWEETY DIY CNC 3018-PRO

Best Affordable CNC/Laser Engraver Combo

11.8"x7.0"x1.7"

BobsCNC Evolution 4 CNC Router

Best Cheap CNC Capable of Large Work

15.7"x11.8"x4.3"

Genmitsu CNC 3018-PRO

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Pros

Affordable and capable
Easy to assemble

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Cons

Customer service can be slow

Work Dimensions: 300mm x 180mm x 45mm = 11.8” x 7.0” x 1.7”

Weight: 15.33 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: Plywood, MDF, PCB, acrylic, nylon, carbon fiber and soft metals

Warranty: 1 year

If you’re new to CNC machining and woodworking and you want “bang for your buck,” then the Genmitsu 3018-PRO is a great place to start. This machine has all the capabilities you’ll want from a starter machine, but it’s not going to go busting up your bank account. In short, the 3018-PRO is the best beginner CNC in terms of value for money.

One great thing about the 3018-PRO is that assembly is not too difficult. Though the machine does not come pre-assembled, it only takes a couple of hours to put the machine together. Some more expensive entry-level models take a day or two to assemble, so a couple of hours isn’t bad.

The machine assembles a lot like IKEA furniture: the manual utilizes pictures over words. If you do get stuck, though, there are plenty of great videos on YouTube to guide you along.

Once you have the 3018-PRO setup, you’ll notice just how solid and sturdy the build is. The frame is made out of aluminum, which is incredible for a cheaper machine. For a machine of this price, it’s not uncommon to find cheap plastic frames that allow the machine to shake or vibrate when the machine is operating. Trust me, shaking and vibrating isn’t good for your accuracy or the surface finish of your project.

With a 1.8-inch engraving depth, you’ll find that the 3018-PRO is capable of cutting all types of plastics, soft aluminum, woods, acrylics, PVCs, PCBs, and a wide range of other materials. Just don’t think you’re going to be working with anything to hard such as steel.

If you’re brand new to CNC machining, the 3018-PRO’s versatility will allow you to experiment with a wide range of materials without fear of damaging a high-end, pricey machine.

While the working area of this machine isn’t huge, it is designed to all you to pass through your workpiece. Basically, you slide your part through the machine and work on it in sections. This is called tiling and will be handled by the software. The limiting factor will be the 300mm (11.8”) width of the machine’s work area. Still, if you are dead set on building large projects, this likely won’t be the right choice for you.

As for software, the 3018-PRO is compatible with most operating systems. This is because the machine has an offline control module. Even if your desktop can’t connect straight to the machine itself, you can copy the code from your computer to an SD card and then control the machine using the offline module. This alone may save you from having to purchase additional software.

Even if your computer is compatible, an offline controller is a welcome addition, so you don’t need to always have your laptop or desktop constantly connected to the machine.

All in all, the Genmitsu 3018-PRO is the best budget CNC.

Genmitsu CNC Router 3018-PROVer

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Pros

Quick assembly - comes mostly pre-assembled
Quiet

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Cons

Customer service can be slow

Work Dimensions: 300mm x 180mm x 45mm = 11.8” x 7.0” x 1.7”

Weight: 21.4 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: Plywood, MDF, PCB, acrylic, nylon, carbon fiber and soft metals

Warranty: 1 year

The 3018 PROVer is really just an upgraded version of the 3018-PRO. Naturally, the PROVer will take a little more out of your wallet than the PRO, but you’re paying for upgrades that are absolutely worth it. If you can afford the extra, go for it. For my money, I’d say the PROVer is the best all-around budget CNC machine.

I won’t go too much into the basics of the machine here since it’s simply an upgraded machine from the review above. Instead, I’ll stick to the upgrades.

Assembly is similar. It will take an hour or two (don’t believe the 30-minute time that SainSmart quotes) but nevertheless, that’s a quick assembly time for a CNC machine.

One big addition the PROVer has is the Toshiba TB6S109 driver, which makes the machine quieter and more precise when cutting and engraving. Upgraded drivers are a welcome addition to any CNC, especially lower priced machines such as these. They bring added accuracy and machine longevity.

When comparing this machine to the 3018-PRO, you’ll notice that this PROVer has acrylic baffles on the side. These baffles aren’t there just for looks – they work dually as a safety mechanism and a way to some of the mess from escaping when the machine is running. The baffles will prevent wood and other materials from flying off your projects at high speeds, and in doing so, they’ll contain the dust somewhat for a faster clean up.

Often people will start out with cheaper CNC machines such as the ones in this post and find out that they want quality of life upgrades for their tool. Essentially, the PROVer combines the most common upgrades and packages them together for you.

The emergency stop button is a feature that every CNC should have but unfortunately, many of the low-end machines skip this item. Imagine making an error in your program or setup and all of a sudden, your machine is trying to drill into itself or even a clamp holding your workpiece. Being able to hit an emergency stop is a welcome safety feature that may just save your machine, your tooling or at least your workpiece.

Limit switches to stop your machine from crashing into the ends of its travel provide some useful protection as well. It should be easy to see why safety features are often at the top of the list when it comes to upgrading your machine.

While the Z axis probe setter and larger offline controller aren’t quite as essential as the safety features we just noted, they do provide some nice quality of life improvements. The probe setter speeds up setup time and simplifies the process.

One thing to note is that if you plan to always have your CNC hooked up to your computer, then the bigger controller will not be of much help, but if not you’ll be happy to have a larger, more versatile display.

Overall, the 3018-PROVer is the same machine as the PRO version but with upgrades that are essential to the use of the machine. The upgrades aren’t required but many will find themselves picking them up in the long run. If budget is your main concern, go with the PRO version and pick the upgrades up one by one at a later date. However, if you can swing the extra dollars, you’ll be glad you did to make things simpler and maybe a little bit safer as well.

VEVOR CNC 3018

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Pros

Extremely cheap
Aluminum frame

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Cons

Assembly instructions are pictures only

Working Area: 300mm x 180mm x 45mm = 11.8” x 7.0” x 1.7”

Weight: 17.1 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: All types of plastics, soft aluminum, woods, acrylics, PVC, PCB

Warranty: 1 year

If you’re new to CNC machining and you just want to test the waters with CNC, then the VEVOR 3018 is for you.

It’s rare in CNC that you can spend under $200 on a machine that is actually going to work and be able to perform some useful work. Obviously, the lower the price means lower capabilities, but you don’t necessarily need a fancy machine with all the bells and whistles if you’re just starting out.

One perk of the VEVOR is that it has an aluminum frame instead of the plastic frames you see on other super budget models. The aluminum frame helps to reduce vibration, which makes the machines more accurate.

Another great feature of this machine is that it has a fail-safe mechanism built into it. If you’re running a program and the machine senses drag along the x or y axes, the machine will stop itself. This isn’t foolproof, but it just might save you from breaking bits. It will also help to teach you what the upper limits of the VEVOR are. If you’re brand new to CNC, learning to feel out the limits of your machine will be useful.

One piece of advice for the VEVOR would be to stay away from cutting any metals or thicker pieces of wood with this machine. It is not a workhorse. Engraving is okay, but you are likely to run into trouble when trying to work with harder materials or deeper cuts.

Though the manufacturer may boast about the power of the VEVOR, this machine is really better suited as an engraver, which is okay given the price.

Another tip for the VEVOR is to look up some DIY upgrades for the machine on YouTube. There are a lot of small things you can do yourself to the VEVOR to get an extra bit of power and precision out of the machine.

Overall, the VEVOR CNC is a machine for pure value.

Given its capabilities as an engraver and occasional cutting tool, it can be considered a really good entry-level CNC machine. If you’re looking for the best value and/or cheap CNC machine, this is it.

MYSWEETY 2 in 1 CNC 3018 Pro

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Pros

Comes with a laser
Easy assembly

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Cons

Plastic frame

Working Area: 300mm x 180mm x 45mm = 11.8” x 7.0” x 1.7”

Weight: 15.82 pounds

Materials it Will Cut: plastics, woods, acrylics(Only suitable for spindle milling cutter engraving), PVCs, and PCBs

Warranty: 1 year

One thing that makes this MYSWEETY 2 in 1 so great is, well, it’s 2 in 1. Unlike most beginner machines, this one comes with both an engraver and a laser, which gives you a much wider range of projects that you can work on.

The MYSWEETY gives you a lot of versatility compared to other CNCs at a similar price point, making it the best affordable CNC/laser engraver combo on the market.

 Another plus side to this machine is the assembly time. Most people have said they clock in at around an hour for assembly, though it could be a little longer if this is your first time putting something like this together. Like most of these entry-level CNCs, if you get stuck during assembly, you can hop on YouTube or Facebook and find some solid instructional videos.

As for the machine itself, it is a little unfortunate that the frame is not metal. Instead, it boasts a plastic frame which can lead to a bit more inaccuracy when you start pushing the machine to its limits. With that said, the plastic is a phenolic resin which is pretty rigid stuff.

Overall, a plastic frame isn’t ideal, but it’s also not necessarily a reason not to buy the MYSWEETY.

If you’re mostly looking to do woodworking, then this is a really solid machine for you to use. Between the engraver and laser, you’ll gain a good feel for how woodworking operates at the CNC level. While the MYSWEETY is mostly designed for wood, you can venture out to other materials such as plastics if you’re careful. However, you really should avoid working with any kind of metal with the MYSWEETY – that is just not what this machine is meant for.

MYSWEETY themselves advertise this machine as one for “the absolute beginner,” and that is correct. If you’re new to the CNC world, and you want to get some experience in both carving and laser projects, then the MYSWEETY 3018 is going to give you the best value on the market as far as combo machines go.

BobsCNC Evolution 4 CNC Router Kit

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Pros

Large workspace
High-quality customer service

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Cons

In-depth assembly

Working Area: 610 mm x 610 mm x 85 mm = 24” x 24” x 3.3”

Weight: 42 Pounds

Materials it Will Cut: Wood, plastic, soft aluminum, acrylic, PCB, leather, others possible with experimentation

Warranty: 90 Days

If you’re looking to do larger projects but you’re still working on a budget, BobsCNC Evolution 4 is the machine for you. While it isn’t as cheap as the other options we detailed, this machine is more than worth it.

When reviewing CNC machines for home use, you’ll quickly realize that prices shoot up significantly as the machine size increases. Many have hopes of woodworking projects only to realize that the signs they want to make simply aren’t possible with cheaper machines. The Evolution 4 provides the needed capabilities while still managing to keep the cost down.

When it comes to the Evolution 4, the first thing most people note with this machine is the setup. Unlike most beginner CNCs, you’re going to have to assemble this thing piece by piece, screw by screw.

For most folks, you’re going to be looking at around a full day – possibly a little bit more – before the E4 is up-and-running and ready start your project. However, for many users the assembly is part of the fun. The assembly is certainly more detailed but has the added benefit of getting you intimately familiar with the workings of the CNC router.

As usual, if you get stuck during assembly, you can go onto YouTube and find some helpful tutorials, but the routers from BobsCNC have an added bonus: absolutely top-notch customer service. BobsCNC is famous for being the gold standard in customer service.

If you drop them a question – be it about assembly or a project you’re working on – they’ll get back to you with a speedy, meaningful response. You can tell this company truly cares about its customers and their customers CNC experience.

Once you have the Evolution 4 working, you may notice that it’s a little louder than other entry-level machines. What you’re hearing is the power. Running on a Makita RT0701C router, part of what you’re paying for with the Evolution 4 is this machine’s capability.

With the Evolution 4, you can work on a really wide range of materials from wood to leather to soft metals such as aluminum.

It costs quite a bit more than our other budget options, but the added cost substantially increases the capabilities.

If you want to work on larger work with your CNC router such as making big signs or something similar, then you’ll find that the Evolution 4 is a very capable machine that provides great value for the price.

Things to consider when purchasing a CNC

Safety

Safety first. Safety second, third and fourth. You really shouldn’t be operating any of these machines without a pair of safety glasses. When cutting and engraving, these machines move materials at a high velocity, and getting something in your eye could lead to serious damage. If you don’t have them already, you’ll definitely need to buy some safety glasses along with your machine.

You should be very much aware that these are powerful cutting tools. Treat them with respect.

Materials being machined

These machines are pretty useless if they don’t have anything to engrave, so remember that you’re going to need to buy materials to machine.

Materials will vary in cost but most of these machines are designed to work with wood. Different woods will cost different amounts, and if you’re attempting to cut metals, some will be pricier than others. Also, if you’re new, it’s a good idea to over-buy on the cheaper materials because CNC machining takes some learning, and you’re bound to mess things up. Practice makes perfect and you are bound to mess some of your first projects up.

Bits and accessories

Just as you’ll mess up with materials, you’ll mess up and break bits. It happens to us all. This is especially true if you’re using the bits that come with the machines because those bits are usually on the cheaper end. You should plan on purchasing some extra bits at some point if not immediately.

One thing to think about also, is your work holding accessories. Most of these machines come with clamps, but the clamps may not be enough if you start pushing the machines to their upper limits. Higher quality/easier to use clamps will be a welcome addition at some point.

You may also buy a machine without a laser, and somewhere along the way, you’ll want one. Or perhaps you’ll want a work-area extension or a more powerful spindle. It isn’t easy but try to think about what you ultimately want to be able to accomplish with your machine. Often it is better to upgrade your capabilities from the outset until patching on upgrades.

Clean up

As we talked about in the bit on safety, when these machines are working, there is a lot of excess material flying around. In other words, expect a good amount of dust.

At the very least make sure you have a shop vac handy to clean up. A dust boot or shoe will help also, especially with larger machines. Cleaning is going to cost you some money, keep it in mind when purchasing.

Ease of use

If you don’t know much about software, you’re not going to be able to easily operate any of these machines. Most entry-level CNC’s will use Universal Gcode Sender (UGS) software platforms. You can easily find this open-source code for free on the Internet.

Most machines are also going to use GRBL software to run the machine.  So, for example, you can use Fusion360 to create your project design, then have Fusion360 communicate the code to UGS, then from UGS to your machine.

If you’re new to coding this may all take a bit trial and error, so tinker around with the code and the machine until you’re comfortable. When in doubt, you can always search YouTube and Facebook for tutorials and guides to help you out with the software aspects of CNCing.

Guide to CNC M Codes [List and Quick Reference]

What are M codes used for?

In CNC machining, M codes are used to control machine and miscellaneous functions.

This includes turning off and on features such as the machine spindle as well as coolant functions. They also control how the CNC reads and flows through the program.

M codes are the second most common codes used in CNC programming. 

We’ve laid out what each M code does, but remember that some CNC makers switch things around a little bit.

You can bet that the most common codes such as the ones for starting and stopping your spindle, coolant and program will be the same but some of the others might vary.

For anyone new, be sure to check out our post on the first M codes to learn to make sure you start with the important stuff.

List of M Codes

When the machine gets to this code it will stop everything, including the spindle and coolant until the operator tells the machine to continue on.

Learn more about the M00 code

The machine will check the control panel and if the optional stop switch is on, the machine will stop just like with M00.

Programs often have optional stops placed at the break of sections in the program such as the start of a hole drilling sequence.

Learn more about the M01 code

A leftover from the NC days. Ends the program without rewinding to the start again. 

In many machines now, M02 is no different than M30. How it gets treated depends on the specific CNC control model.

Learn more about the M02 code

Turns the spindle on in the clockwise direction. This is the spindle direction used by most cutting tools.

Learn more about the M03 code

Turns the spindle on in the counterclockwise direction. 

Learn more about the M04 code

Turns on a coolant mist. Some machines treat it as coolant source 1 on.

Learn more about the M07 code

Turns the coolant on to soak the workpiece. Some machines treat it as coolant source 2 on.

Learn more about the M08 code

Turns off all coolant sources.

Learn more about the M09 code

M19 CNC M Code

M19 - Orient Spindle

Gets the tool ready for tool change. Aligns the keyways. 

The M06 code will do this as well but calling it ahead of time can make the tool change process faster.

Stops everything including the spindle, movement, coolant and will go back to the beginning of the program.

Learn more about the M30 code

Frequently Asked Questions

What are M codes used for in a CNC program?

M codes are used for turning miscellaneous functions on and off such as the spindle and coolant.

What is the difference between G and M codes?

M codes turn things on and off while G codes switch modes in the machine such as working in inches or mm.

G codes also prepare the machine for functions such as canned cycles for drilling or boring holes.

What other types of CNC codes are used in CNC programming?

There are many other CNC codes that get used such as:

  • Location based codes such as A, B, C, I, J, K, X, Y & Z
  • Machine related codes such as F, R & S
  • Offset related codes such as D, H & T
  • Program related codes such as G, N, O, P & Q 

Beginners Guide to Rapid Traverse for CNCs

What is rapid traverse?

Rapid traverse, sometimes referred to as rapid transverse or rapid travel, is used for moving a machine tool around the workpiece as fast as possible. 

Depending on the type of machine tool, this is accomplished in different ways. See below for more information related to CNC and manual machines.

How fast does the machine move in rapid traverse?

industrial cnc machine
Industrial grade CNC mill

First let’s talk about speed.

Rapid traverse speeds vary based on the machine.  A good quality desktop CNC will usually be capable of speeds around 100 inches per minute (IPM).

Larger, industrial grade CNC can often move at speeds of 1,000 inches per minute or more. 

No matter what type of CNC you are using, you will want to make sure that nothing is in the way when these moves are being made in a CNC machine. 

Crashing a CNC at normal speeds is bad enough, crashing a CNC at rapid speeds could be catastrophic.

Can rapid traverse speed be adjusted?

cnc control board with rapid travel dial identified with arrow
Rapid Override Dial

Most CNC machine controls have an adjustment to dial back the rapid travel speed. This is often referred to as Rapid Override or something similar. This override allows the CNC operator to adjust the rapid speed, usually in the form of a percentage of the full speed.

Some shops need to run full speed. Time is money after all, but many machine shops will dial things back a little for safety.

How does the CNC move during rapid travel?

straight line movement example

Newer CNCs will move in a true straight line fashion, however some older CNCs can process the command in different ways.

Some machines may only move one axis at a time while others will move in other strange ways. The most important thing is to be aware how your specific CNC control will process the rapid travel command and create your program to account for this movement.

Because various machines will process commands in different ways, this means you may not be able to take a program and a setup and run it on a different machine.

What is the G code for rapid traverse?

rapid traverse code example

The G code for rapid movement is G00. 

This applies to both CNC mills and lathes. 

In the example above, G00 is the code for rapid traverse and the X and Y values are the position that the machine is to rapidly move to.

Rapid movement can happen in the Z axis as well.

What should you think about when using rapid travel?

When you are zipping your CNC back and forth think about:

  • Part location – it can be easy to forget about a step in your part and attempt to move over the top of you part at a Z height that is too low
  • Fixturing – similar to your part location, remember that you often have clamps, vises, etc. that will be in your machine and it’s best to avoid them
  • Removing material – don’t cut in rapid mode, it will result in size issues and poor surface finishes at best

Rapid traverse in manual machining

bridgeport milling machine with rapid power feed pointed out
Power feed marked by red arrow

Many manual machines, such as a Bridgeport mill, use a power feed to rapidly move around the workpiece. 

These power feeds are not as fast as a CNCs rapid moves but they are still much quicker than the standard speed which usually involves cranking a handle to position the machine.

Quick Guide to CNC Coolant Codes [M07, M08 & M09]

a graphic of a cnc machine with text that says learn g code today coolant codes

Which codes control coolant use on a CNC machine?

There are three main CNC M codes which control coolant use:

M07, M08 and M09.

M08 and M09 are the most common codes used. 

In addition, many machines have special coolant functions available such as through spindle coolant.

Special coolant codes tend to vary from machine to machine so make sure to check your individual machine for specialty coolant function.

Want to learn more about CNC G Code?

M07 [mist coolant]

The M07 code is a modal command which turns on mist coolant.

Mist coolant is compressed air and coolant (usually oil). 

It can be more efficient than flood coolant and in some situations be better at clearing chips than flood coolant, but it is used far less often than flood coolant with the M08 command.

M08 [flood coolant]

cnc machine table with coolant lines and spindle shown
Flood coolant on a workpiece

M08 turns on the coolant for the main spindle.

In general, you will find this coolant aimed directly at the cutting edge of the tool.

Flooding the area with coolant has multiple benefits. The coolant reduces the heat build up from the cutting action, lubricates the cutter and helps to clear chips from the cutting area.

These three benefits of using flood coolant all work to reduce any heat that is caused by the cutting action which helps extend the life of your cutting tool.

M09 [coolant off]

The M09 code is used to turn off both types of coolant flow.

You never want to turn off coolant while the cutter is still cutting. On the opposite end of things, you should never turn coolant on if the cutter is already cutting.

Always start and stop coolant flow when the cutter is not actively engaged with the part.

What is coolant used for in CNC machining?

Coolant for CNC machines is used to keep the workpiece and cutting tool at a lower temperature during the cutting process.

Both the cutter and the part tend to get hotter because of the friction created cutting.

Coolant is also used to clear chips from the cutting area. If chips are not cleared from the cutting area then you can end up recutting chips. Built up chips can also lead to built up heat which can damage your cutter or part.

Recutting chips also has a tendency to create poor surface finishes.

Types of coolant that can be used

The main types of coolant used on CNC machines are:

  • Air: This type of coolant reduces heat and clears the chips, but it does not lubricate the workpiece. This type of coolant is used more often with sensitive materials.
  • Mist: With mist coolant, the pressure of the coolant is kept low and less coolant is used. This can be beneficial if your CNC doesn’t have a coolant capture system. Mist coolant lubricates the cutter and clears chips.
  • Flood: This is also a low-pressure form of coolant. Flood coolant lubricates, removes chips and reduces heat buildup.
  • High pressure: High pressure coolant is similar to flood coolant. The only difference is that it hits the workpiece at greater than 1000psi. The higher pressure and higher quantity of coolant helps cool the cutter better and remove more chips.
  • Through spindle: Through spindle coolant delivers the coolant directly where it is needed. It is better at clearing chips in many cases because the coolant from the spindle pushes the chips out of a hole or pocket.

What is CNC coolant made of?

Coolants are categorized into four groups depending on the material that they are made of:

  • Synthetic fluids: They are made of lubricants and rust inhibitors usually dissolved in water. It is basically soluble oil mixed with water to create coolant.
  • Semi-synthetic fluids: These coolants are a mix between synthetic polymer and oil.
  • Soluble oils: They contain a mix of 40 percent or more of oil and the rest is water.
  • Straight oils: These ones are derived from petroleum, they are not diluted with water.

List of common CNC coolant brands

There are many different brands of CNC coolant available. Some of the most commonly used ones are:

  • Castrol
  • Chem Arrow
  • ChemTool
  • Fuchs
  • Hangsterfers
  • Master Fluid Solutions
  • Quaker Houghton
  • Qualichem
  • Tower Coolant
  • Yushiro

Frequently asked questions

Does every CNC machine have coolant capabilities?

Yes and no.

You can expect that industrial level CNC machines will have coolant capabilities.

Home or hobbyist level machines such as CNC routers often do not have coolant capabilities, but they can usually be added on if needed.

cnc wood router
CNC router without coolant capability

Which code turns CNC coolant off?

The M-code to turn coolant off is M09.

However, there are other stopping commands that also turn off coolant such as:

Want to learn more about CNC G Code?

Quick Guide to CNC Compensation Modes

a graphic of a cnc machine with text that says learn g code today compensation modes

Types of compensation

CNC machines have three main types of compensation:

  • Cutter compensation/tool diameter compensation
  • Tool length compensation
  • Work/fixture offsets

These compensation modes allow the machine to accommodate for things such as the location of a part in the machine or the size of a cutting tool.

Compensation allows the machine to adjust how it reads the CNC G code so that the same program can be used in multiple ways.

Using compensation modes allows the CNC to run the same program and get the same results even if the factors we mentioned above (cutting tool, workpiece location) are changed between runs.

The machine will have no problem adjusting for a new cutter as long as we tell the machine the diameter and length of the new cutting tool.

The values that tell the machine how long the tool is or what its diameter is are called offsets.

There are multiple compensation codes and offset codes.

Luckily, the list isn’t long. Let’s go through them one by one.

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Cutter compensation/tool diameter compensation

The first type of compensation is compensation that accounts for the size or diameter of the cutting tool. This is often referred to as simply cutter compensation.

There are two types of cutter compensation.

Before we talk about what cutter compensation does when it is on, let’s talk about how to turn it off.

G40 - Cutter compensation cancel

The two cutter compensation modes are both modal commands

This means that they stay on and in effect until they are changed or cancelled.

Selecting G41 or G42 switches between the two modes. If you want to turn off cutter compensation you will need to use the cancel command.

G40 is the off button for cutter compensation

Calling it in your program will cancel any active cutter compensation.  

Because modal commands stay on until changed or turned off, you often see cancel commands used in safety blocks of code found at the beginning of the program or a new section of the code such as when changing tools.

The illustration below shows how the CNC will move when cutter compensation is off.

illustration that shows how a CNC will act when there is no cutter compensation mode active

G41 - Cutter compensation left

G41 is the most common cutter compensation. It is used when climb milling.

The G41 code tells the CNC to shift the cutter to the left of the cutting path to account for the size of the cutter.

See the pic below for help understanding what that means in practice.

illustration that shows how a CNC will act when using cutter compensation left with the G41 code

G42 - Cutter compensation right

G42 is used when conventional milling.

The G42 code tells the CNC to shift the cutter to the right of the cutting path to account for the size of the cutter.

G42 is not used nearly as often as the G41 code. 

illustration that shows how a CNC will act when using cutter compensation right with the G42 code

D offsets

illustration of a cnc cutting tool that shows what an D offset is

Diameter (D) offsets are the location where the size (diameter) of the tool is stored in the CNC control.

D01 will be the offset where the size information is stored for tool #01. D02 will be for tool #02 and so on.

D offsets are set with the D code.

Tool length compensation

G43 is the command to turn on tool length compensation. 

Just like G40-G42, G43 is modal which means it will stay on until changed or canceled.

G43 is for positive tool length compensation. You should be aware there is also a negative tool length compensation mode (G44) but it is rarely used and not something that beginners should be worried about.

G43 is used frequently and you can expect to see it used in 99.9% of the CNC programs you will come across.

Just like G40 cancels cutter compensation based on the diameter of the tool, G49 does the same for tool length compensation.

Like many other cancel commands, G49 can be found at the beginning or ending of different sections of code to ensure the machine is in the correct mode as tools are changed and different operations are performed.

H offsets

illustration of a cnc cutting tool that shows what an H offset is

Height (H) offsets are the location where the length of the tool is stored in the CNC control.

This value is the difference in location between the end of the spindle and the end of the cutting tool.

H01 will be the offset where the length of tool #01 is stored. H05 will be for tool #05 and so on.

Height offsets are set with the H code.

Fixture/work offsets

Work offsets are used to tell the machine where it should reference all program values from.

For example, imagine if you wanted to machine four separate parts to be all the same. You could load all four parts into your CNC machine and set a work offset location for each separate part.

Once the work offsets are stored, you could call out the first work offset and then run your program.

Next you could call out the next work offset and run the same program again. This would run the same program in a new location resulting in two of the same part. And rinse and repeat as much as needed.

visual to show cnc work offsets G54-G59 with the zero locations shown
Example of a CNC machine set with 4 work offsets

G54 through G59 are the standard work offsets that you can expect to find on just about any CNC machine.

Work offsets identify an X, Y & Z coordinate zero location. Work offsets go by many other names such as program zero, part zero, zero location, etc.

Some machines may be capable of storing many more work offset locations, but it is best to concentrate on the most common codes first. Check your individual machine documentation to learn how to program with more work offsets.

If you are very new to CNC programming with G code then be on the lookout for a G54 code. 

This is the first work offset and as a result is the most common one used. Often shops will only have a need for this single work offset. As shops and machine become more advanced you can expect to see more usage of additional work offsets.

Just like the other offset modes we have talked about; work offsets are also modal commands.

Expect to find them in the safety blocks of code and because they are important enough to be included in the safety block section, you should be very careful about making sure you have identified the correct work offset at all times in the program.

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