CNC machines are machining tools controlled by computers. Traditionally CNC machining is used to shape pieces of metal or other rigid materials – for example, to make parts for cabinets, boats or cars. Some creative types have used their CNC routers to make things that are unexpected and often inspiring.

Pen and ink drawing

By swapping out the cutting tool of the CNC router for a traditional ballpoint pen, artist Mike Lyon has found a way to create photorealistic drawings – a totally new way of “printing” portraits.

Wood bust

It would be almost impossible to achieve this level of detail by manually chipping wood away from a block. Using a 5-axis CNC machine has allowed the sculptor of this abstract bust to include precise nuances, from the wrinkles around the eyes to the contours of the hair and eyebrows.

Drag engraving on steel

By drawing an original piece of line art, importing it as a jpeg and then vectorizing it, this artist was able to render an artwork onto a sheet of steel. The artist goes a step further and fills in the cuts with black paint, to make the drawing really “pop”.

Reaction / diffusion

A portrait of the artist with his pet parrot is realized in a particularly clever way. First the artist created a half-tone image of a photograph of him and his parrot. He then wrote his own program to grow reaction / diffusion textures of the half-tone image, and used a CNC machine to cut that finely detailed pattern out of a plastic sheet. Finally the artist added a layer of paint, effectively creating a highly detailed stencil.

Relief rose

Cutting into a copper workpiece, the incredibly fine tip of a CNC router’s cutting tool accurately creates a three-dimensional image of a rose. The beveled edges included as a finishing touch add to the depth and appeal of the artwork.

Solid aluminium helmet

Although this helmet would likely do more harm than good to a person wearing it, it’s interesting to watch this 5-axis CNC machine create this complex form from two rectangular blocks of aluminium.

Face bust

In this example, a CNC machine is used to carve a bust of a face. The process begins with scanning the model to be replicated.

Fastest 5-axis in the world

The sheer speed at which this enormous 5-axis CNC machine cuts this curvy model is incredible. The time lapse speed is one frame per minute; still impressive considering the size of the workpiece.


Nothing can show off the precision of a 5-axis CNC machine like working on an oval or spherical object. The glossy finish achieved by the machine in this example is amazing.

Musical CNC instrument

There’s probably nothing as original as setting your CNC machine to move and spin at certain speeds to create musical notes. This one has been configured just in time for the holiday season.