Router vs. Spindle: Which To Choose for Your CNC

Router vs. Spindle: Which To Choose for Your CNC

Every business has its own tools of the trade that serve its purposes. Also, similar businesses may have unique tools. For example, in the food industry, a bakery may have a rolling pin, cookie cutters, and an industrial oven, while a steakhouse may have a set of high-quality knives, pans, and a range stove.

The same is true in manufacturing. Two different businesses may need to carve, shape, and mold materials. However, that doesn’t mean they will use the same tools. Typically, they’ll have to make a choice between a router vs. spindle. Which to choose for your CNC is a matter of your business’s needs.

A Brief History of Routers

While we have written extensively about spindles on our site, we have not spoken much about routers. So it’s useful to address some of this machine’s background.

Pattern-maker Henry Cope designed the router for use in woodworking back in 1884. However, this original design could only cut a small variety of designs in wood. As electricity came into even wider use, companies began designing and producing electric wood routers, first in 1905 and then again in 1915.

Later, in 1949, the company ELU created the plunge router, a design that more closely resembles today’s models.

What Is the Difference Between Routers and Spindles?

Manufacturers use both routers and spindles for similar purposes, so it’s natural that many people find themselves confused about the differences. Both machines carve or shape various materials from wood to acrylics. However, where the machines differ is how you build them. These structural differences impact their functionality.



A router has a spindle built above a plunge base that allows the user to determine the depth of the spindle’s cuts. Some routers will also come equipped with a dust extractor to suck up the dust as the machine works. However, the motor is the most important structural point in the discussion of what to choose for your CNC between a spindle and a router.

Routers typically have a vertically mounted electric motor. As the motor runs, the machine cools itself by sucking cold air through the bottom of the machine and releasing it from the top.


Unlike routers, you don’t use spindles by hand or on a CNC machine. Because of this, they don’t typically have a plunge base on them or a dust extractor. Instead, they normally consist of the spindle itself and the motor. Spindles generally have one of two types of motors: an electric or air-powered motor.

Electric CNC spindle motors, like those of routers, also have a cooling system. This system uses a tank of water and a small set of tubes to help carry heat away from the machine, cooling it efficiently. On the other hand, air-powered spindles use compressed air, which powers the spindle and cools the system simultaneously.

Spindle vs. Router: Performance and Cost Specs

Speed and Durability

Spindles and routers are equally as effective when run at a slower speed. However, when most routers reach a certain speed, they become less effective. Generally, spindle motors can maintain higher speeds without the drop in toque or effectiveness.

You can also see this speed barrier in router motors reflected in their durability. Because of this, you can’t push a router motor as hard as a spindle motor. If you need a machine that works at high speeds for longer lengths of time, the spindle outperforms a router.


Earlier, we mentioned that spindle and router electric motors have different cooling systems. Both systems are effective in cooling their respective motors. However, the router motor’s systems use fans, producing a loud noise similar to a turbine. It can be harsh on the ears, especially after an eight-hour workday.

On the other hand, the spindle uses a water-based cooling system. This system is almost silent, meaning the only sound the spindle produces is the quiet hum of the spindle bit turning. This fact alone has led many people to choose a spindle over a router.


With all this said, spindles do tend to fall short in one area compared to routers: cost. Overall, spindles tend to cost more than routers. This makes routers a popular choice for those working out of small shops or hobbyists.

Choosing Between a Router and a Spindle

When To Choose a Spindle

Spindles can run at faster speeds, making them more effective on a wider variety of materials and for more rigorous workloads. They can also run for longer periods, so they can better handle the trial of an eight- or nine-hour workday.

This makes spindles the tool of choice for those using CNC machinery on a commercial scale. And since commercial companies typically have the funds to invest in a more expensive machine, this setting works well for them.

When To Choose a Router

Routers have their downfalls when placed in situations where they have to run faster or for longer periods. But this doesn’t mean they are ineffective or without their own uses. As we’ve pointed out, routers are still useful at lower speeds and for shorter bursts.

This makes them the better choice for those doing CNC milling work on a smaller scale, such as in a home shop or as a hobby. They also work well if you’re carving wood specifically, hence their typical moniker of the “wood router.”

Note on Sound

If you choose to work with a router over a spindle, keep in mind the volume of routers. Even in short bursts, it can be grating on your ears at best and damaging to your ears at worst. When working with routers, it’s always best to wear protective, noise-blocking earmuffs to protect yourself from hearing loss.

Whether you’re using a router or a spindle, it’s essential that you keep your machinery operating at full capacity. That means you should have all the parts that your shop or facility needs. If you need extra spare parts, Industrial Automation Co. has CNC Spindle motors to keep your equipment up and running.

Router vs. Spindle: Which To Choose for Your CNC