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The 5 Must-Have Bits and End Mills for Your CNC Router

If you’re a woodworking enthusiast, having the right tools for your machine is extremely important. One machine that has recently gained great popularity among woodworkers due to its ease of use and versatility is the CNC router. To unleash the project potential of your CNC, you must invest in several types of quality cnc router bits. These bits not only ensure precise cuts for various materials and applications, but they also allow the operator to make the most of their machine. In this article, we will explore the top 5 must-have CNC router bits for woodworking enthusiasts.


1. Spiral End Mills: 

The spiral end mill is a staple for CNC woodworking. There are two primary types of spiral end mills: upcut and downcut.

  • Upcut end mills are versatile in their applications for roughing operations, pocketing, profile cutting, and surfacing. This bit is most commonly used for bulk removal of pocketed areas, roughing 3D carvings, surfacing work areas, and for cutting profiles around project components. In hardwoods and sheet plywoods, it is common for upcut end mills to cause some splintering around the edge of the cut; however for its designed application of bulk stock removal, splintering should not come at too high of concern. The upcut action allows chips to effectively eject from the cut channel, which reduces heating of the tool and the potential for previous chips to be re-cut. Quality dust collection is needed in every shop, but for CNC it serves a vital role in removing the material that has been cut away. Recutting previous chips can cause end mills to overheat, accelerate in wearing the cutting edge, and can potentially cause the tool to break. 

  • Downcut end mills work on the principle of cutting into the wood, which always leaves a sharp edge around the cut channel. The downcut bit can be effectively used for bulk roughing and pocketing as long as your machine has adequate dust collection. Chip removal is vital in ensuring that the tool is not re-cutting chips, which will lead to excess heating of the tool. A quality downcut end mill is my personal choice for roughing and pocketing operations because it leaves a sharp edge with no splintering.


2. Compression End Mills:

Compression end mills serve a special purpose - creating a clean cut on the top and bottom sides of stock material. Typically used for profile cuts, compression bits can also be used for pocketing. Compression bits have a much shorter upcut length at the end of the tool, and a longer downcut length up the shank. The cutting action of this bit shears down into the material, creating a sharp surface edge (like the downcut end mill), but also upcuts at the bottom of the cut. The upcut section prevents splintering on the bottom side of the stock material, leaving clean cut edges on both sides of the stock material. Compression end mills are most commonly used for sheet goods - laminated plywoods, veneers, and thin hardwoods. We have customers that use our compression tools for tray pockets and profile cutting large parts for furniture.


3. V Bits:

CNC V bits are the perfect solution for engraving text, designs, and cutting perfect stars for your wooden flags. There are many different angles for V-bits which serve different purposes. 15-degree or less V bits are perfect for intricate, detailed engraving. 30-degree V bits are more versatile - great for detailed designs, but are also the perfect choice for hardwood inlays and end-grain inlays. 60 and 90-degree V bits are great for full-depth engravings and cutting perfect stars in wood American flags. 


4. Ball Nose End Mills:

Ball nose end mills come in two primary varieties: straight-shank and tapered-shank. 

  • Straight shank ball nose end mills are the preferred choice for less detailed 3D carvings. Some examples of this include rounded profiles found in guitars, large decorative panels, and wavy designs that do not require high-detailed cuts. The cut diameter of straight-shanked ball nose end mills are significantly larger than the tapered versions, and this significantly decreases the cycle time needed to finish the carve. 

  • Tapered ball nose end mills (TBNs) are the 3D workhorses of the CNC world. Varying from small-diameter to large-diameter, the size of the cutting diameter is directly correlated to the final detail and overall cycle time of your carve.

The 1/32" TBN produces extremely fine details, which is mostly used for ultra-fine details in 3D shields, fine topographic carves, and other use cases that require the finest detail. Be warned, 1/32" TBNs require very long cycle times - sometimes taking days to complete.

1/16" TBNs are a great combination of fine detail and faster cycle times, and are my preferred 3D tool. The 1/16" TBN is a perfect option for topographic maps, wavy flags, and other designs that need quality detail without the extra cycle time. 

1/8" TBNs are a great middle ground between quality detail of 1/16" TBNs and the fastest cycle times of straight-shanked ball nose end mills. 1/8" TBNs are a great option for large 3D carves, roughing passes in preparation for 3D finishing passes, or for 3D carves that do not require higher details. 


5. Carbide-Tipped Shaping Bits:

Carbide-tipped shaping bits have a wide variety of purposes, and there are many shapes and sizes that can be manufactured. The unique profiles of these tools allow for a multitude of different routing shapes, intended primarily for moulding, frame edges, and rounding profile cuts. The rounded edges of these tools let the user make efficient and accurate cuts that normally would take many hours using ball nose or TBN tool paths. 


Having the right CNC router bits is critical for any woodworker using a CNC router. Investing in quality, purpose-built tooling is essential to creating quality products that you are proud to build and sell. The top 5 must-have bits include upcut and downcut spiral end mills, compression end mills, V bits, ball nose and tapered ball nose end mills, and carbide-tipped shaping router bits. 

Caleb G

HCT Partner

Thanks for reading! For more information and quality, affordable CNC tooling

High Country Tools Industrial Quality Everyday Affordability

CNC Tools & Accessories | High Country Tools

(720) 410-5757

Denver, Colorado

Welcome to High Country Tools! We strive to provide industrial quality CNC and woodworking tools at everyday affordable prices.

High Country Tools was built on the principle of delivering quality tools at prices that everyone can afford. Our CNC tooling is designed to be used for hobby, business, and heavy industry purposes. All HCT end mills are solid, Japanese carbide.

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