Whether you are looking to make a simple signboard or advanced cabinetry with your CNC, having the appropriate software program can be crucial.
While there are several options in CNC software, picking one that caters well to woodworking can save a lot of hassle down the road.
The best CNC software programs for woodworking offer features like 2D/3D design, V-Carving, inlaying, pocketing, and 2D/3D carving.
Some of them offer readymade templates and digital files for popular products which make things really easy.
They also have presets for specific wood materials (pine, birch, maple, walnut, etc), that choose the ideal spindle RPM, feeds, speeds, and depth of cut for you.
Having presets makes getting into CNC easy for beginners and helps you start cutting quickly.
In this article, I discuss the best CAD, CAM, and Control software available for CNC woodworking.
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Best All-in-One CNC Software for Woodworking
(not OS dependent)
Quick Summary of Easel Software
Inventables made Easel an all-in-one software that can do CAD, CAM, Control, and Simulation operations independently.
It has a simple and easy-to-use interface that is beginner-friendly, it gives hints to different parameters and tools in the software when you move the cursor on each of them.
Easel is free-to-use and OS-independent software that can run on most web browsers of your choice.
It needs an internet connection for saving and loading projects. As it uses cloud-based processing it can run on most computers with basic hardware.
Easel is compatible with most GRBL-based CNC machines out there and it can be used as a G-code sender as well.
It has many different features like machine selection, Inventables library, cut settings, and much more.
For control operations, you'll have to install a dedicated driver on your computer for seamless communication with the CNC router.
Easel has a machine selection feature that helps it identify the machine you are using and adjusts certain parameters accordingly.
Easel software has a dedicated help button that can take you to its community forum, video gallery, learning contents, troubleshooting, and can also introduce to you all features and tools in the software.
With Easel, you can easily make designs in the software and can carve/engrave them onto the workpiece.
Easel software can be used with CNC routers with up to 3-axes and you can carve out the most typical shapes you need in woodworking with such a setup.
You can't do V-Carving with Easel software, for that you'll need Easel Pro which is a paid version.
If you're serious about what you do with your CNC machine then you can go for Easel Pro as it brings a great deal of flexibility to your woodworking.
Combining the powerful features of Easel Pro with a powerful CNC router for woodworking, such as 6040 CNC routers, can help bring your creative ideas to life.
One thing to note is, you can't control machines with rotary axis using Easel software.
That is, if you want to make a chair leg from a cylindrical wooden blank fitted onto a rotor, you can't control a rotor with Easel software.
If you want to control a rotary axis, you need to export the g-code from Easel and import it to any other software like the G-code Ripper which can convert the linear X or Y axis to a rotary A-axis.
A more detailed review of this CNC software can be found here - Easel Software Review - 
Best CAD CNC Software for Woodworking
Quick Summary of VCarve PRO Software
Vectric's VCarve PRO is a paid software that you can use to perform CAD, CAM, and Simulation operations.
It has a simple and customizable user interface that looks similar to MS Paint but with more advanced design features.
VCarve PRO requires a computer running on Windows OS with at least 4GB of ram to run the software. It supports Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 versions.
It can be installed on 32 or 64-bit systems and requires a display with 1024 x 768 pixels of screen resolution for the best performance of its user interface.
Being named VCarve, the software does stand to that promise. You can do V-Carving and various 2D/2.5D designs on wood.
You can also import 3D design files and use VCarve to make 3D carved surfaces on wood.
You can program tabs in your designs using VCarve to hold the final workpiece to the stock. It will help you from making complex fixtures to holding the workpiece.
Tabs keep the workpiece connected to the stock and hold it in place. After you are done cutting, the part can be removed from stock by breaking the tab.
Vectric has an interactive online user manual on their documentation website which makes it easier to learn about each tool and how it works.
VCarve supports rotary machining and wrapping operations. That is, it can take a flat toolpath and wrap it around a cylindrical shape, and then it can be carved using a rotary accessory without switching to the 4th axis.
It can also visualize and wrap the toolpath with the help of its wrapped model preview to give you an idea of how the design would look on the workpiece.
This feature lets you make intricate designs on cylindrical workpieces like the legs of tables and chairs.
You can also import full 3D models from other software which can then be positioned and oriented in a rotary view for doing a rotary operation.
VCarve PRO can create, manipulate, relief-slice, level, mirror, and manage all 3D designs.
The toolpaths can be previewed within the software to see how the cut may look after the actual cutting operation and shows an estimated time for the cut.
Vectric has a good customer support team that you can contact by phone or email. They also have a large online community for you to be a part of and seek help from.
|SketchList 3D||Yes||No||No||No||Windows, Mac||Paid|
Quick Summary of SketchList 3D Software
SketchList software has some professional woodworking capabilities. SketchList 3D's CAD operation works in a way how a woodworker does the job in his shop.
First, you'll provide the software with all the details of the board you're going to work with then the details of the operation that you do on the workpiece.
Like how you may work in the workshop by cutting out each part separately and then building the whole design, you can do all that in SketchList by building virtual projects.
The main advantage of SketchList 3D software as compared to other software out there is its multi-part building feature.
It gives you a list with dimension details of all the different parts you made to build your project. You can also get 3D files of each of these parts.
You have the flexibility of updating any of these dimensions with a different value. When you do so, it'll change all other dimensions of the related parts accordingly and you don't have to adjust them individually.
With the visual feedback simulations, your designing operation becomes much easier with SketchList as you get high-quality rendering results of your design.
SketchList 3D's visual feedback is so powerful that you can even show your design in a 3D visual environment to the customers so that they'll get a detailed understanding of the product you're designing and all its features.
It even shows off the colors and grains of your design as per the materials you used to build it.
You can export the models in DXF file format which can then be imported to a CAM software of your choice to convert them into G-code that runs your CNC router.
If you're a woodworking hobbyist, they have a specific version targeting makers just like you called SketchList 3D V5 Hobby that offers the software at a lower price at the cost of limited features.
SketchList is used by many woodworkers for making contours, joinery, shaping, doors, cabinets, drawers, entertainment centers, display cases, and similar other woodworking projects.
Its simple user interface and easy-to-understand workflow make it much easier for traditional woodworkers who have a hard time working with computers.
It can be installed on Windows and Mac OS computers and requires a minimum of 2GB of RAM to operate.
SketchList provides their customers access to woodworking weekly support meetings where they can flag their issues and connect with other fellow woodworkers.
|Fusion 360||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Windows, Mac||Yes||Paid (Commercial use)|
Free (Personal use)
Quick Summary of Fusion 360 Software
Fusion 360 is a brainchild of Autodesk and is one of the most advanced CAD/CAM software out there. It is widely used by a lot of people in different lines of work because of its capability of giving life to any complex design.
Fusion 360 is also been used by a lot of woodworkers who understood its real potential. It can create 2D/3D models and can generate G-codes for the same.
It has a large library of pre-designed shapes that can be dragged and dropped onto your project to get to some cool designs.
Fusion 360 is only available for Windows and Mac OS-operated computers. It is a cloud-based software that lets you access your projects by just logging into your account.
It also has an offline mode that allows you to use it without an internet connection. However, you will need to connect it to the internet every two weeks for authentication.
With its cloud capability, you can collaborate with your team through its project management platform by removing geographical challenges. All you need is a computer with an internet connection.
Unfortunately, the collaboration option is only available for the paid commercial version of the software.
You can use Fusion 360 for free if you are using it just for personal use and is a great benefit to hobbyists.
The free version can only have ten active projects which have been worked on the software. It also limits you from getting access to rendering, simulation, rapid feed, and automatic tool change features.
You can find a lot of tutorial videos online for Fusion 360 from its community members. There are videos for almost anything you may want to do with the software.
If you're a woodworker who's not always a woodworker, then I'll suggest you go with this software as it has some advanced features that let you test and validate your design before even going to the machining process.
You have the flexibility of designing any complex designs and giving them different material coatings as to how your final product may look like.
It is a professional design tool that is reliable and time-tested with excellent technical support and active community participation.
Best CAM Woodworking CNC Software
(with Openbuilds Control)
Quick Summary of OpenBuilds CAM Software
OpenBuilds CAM is a web-based G-code generator that can convert DXF, SVG, PNG, BMP, JPG, Gerber, and Excellon files into G-code that can be used with your CNC control software.
Since it is web-based software, it needs active internet access to import, process, and export files. But, this also means it is OS-independent and can work on most computers with a web browser and internet connection.
OpenBuilds CAM has an inbuilt parts library from which you can select and import some prebuilt shapes to your project. You can also insert customizable text.
It has a simple user interface that is quite easy to understand in the first run itself. It has a grid-based job window with measurements in millimeters.
You can simulate the toolpaths from the workspace window and can even speed up the simulation.
OpenBuilds CAM works in tandem with OpenBuilds Control for controlling your CNC machine. Being open-source software, both of these programs can be used for free.
In the initial setup window, you have the option to connect to OpenBuild Control, select your controller (including generic GRBL controllers), select your CNC machine, and other different details.
OpenBuilds CAM has a large and active makers community from where you can get most of your doubts and errors cleared.
The software is best suited for woodworkers, hobbyists, and small businesses who don't want to put their hands on advanced CAM software.
Quick Summary of MeshCAM Software
MeshCAM is an advanced CAM software developed by GRZ Software. It is a paid software that works on systems running on Windows and Mac OS, it requires a minimum of 4GB RAM for its smooth operation.
It can import 3D designs from different software and it can import files in STL and DFX formats to generate G-codes for these files.
MeshCAM has a simple user interface that can be easily understood and it minimizes the learning curve for beginners and traditional woodworkers who are switching to CNC machining.
It gives minimal controls at first, but when required, you can dig a little deep into the software to find all the different parameter controls an expert CAD/CAM user would need.
You can even directly open images in JPG, BMG, and PNG file formats to convert them into a 3D surface to generate tool paths.
This feature will be a great help if you want to engrave an image that a customer gives you onto a piece of wood.
MeshCAM has an automatic toolpath wizard which creates the easiest and most efficient tool paths for your machine automatically.
The generated toolpath can then be manually adjusted or you can even choose to manually map every piece of the toolpath without going into the automatic toolpath wizard.
With MechCAM you can generate toolpaths for 2D/3D parallel roughing, 2D/3D contour offset roughing, parallel finishing, waterline finishing, and pencil finishing.
These features will be a major advantage for you as you'll be able to get fast stock removal rates with clean cuts on wood and wood composites.
To minimize complicated fixtures you can set tabs/supports. These keep the part connected to the stock while cutting.
The post-processors that come with the MeshCAM software allow you to make G-codes that work on most CNC machines/routers.
You can get help for most of your doubts from MeshCAM's large and active online community. The software itself has a help tab to guide you through your problem and show you the possible solutions.
GRZ Software provides support through e-mail and you can get answers to any of your software-related questions directly from their developer team.
A more detailed review of this CNC software can be found here - MeshCAM Software Review and Guide - 
Best Control CNC Woodworking Software
|Mach 3||No||Yes (with LazyCAM)||Yes||Yes||Windows||Yes||Paid|
Quick Summary of Mach 3 Software
Mach 3 is only available for 32-bit Windows OS and requires a minimum of 512MB of RAM for its smooth operation.
You'll need at least a 1GHz processor and 1024 x 768 pixels of screen resolution to perfectly display the user interface the way it's been made to see.
For controlling CNC machines directly through a computer without the support of an external controller, you'll need to have a PC with at least one parallel port.
It uses a parallel port to do real-time operations, unlike a USB. If you're using laptops, you'll need to make use of an external controller as they don't generally come with a parallel port.
You can overcome this parallel port dilemma by using the Ethernet Smoothstepper, USB Smoothstepper, or any other compatible external motion controller.
These are the most popular choice to run Mach 3 software on computers without a parallel port.
Mach 3 can import G-code files from other software to control your CNC machine. You also have the option to add LazyCAM as an add-on plugin.
With the LazyCAM add-on, Mach 3 CAM can perform CAM functions and it can create G-code directly from .dxf, .bmp, .jpg, and .hpgl files.
You can get work simulations in Mach 3, but you'll have to uninstall the parallel port drivers to get access to it which means you can no longer control your CNC until you reinstall the drivers.
Mach 3 can map controls and buttons like E-stop to your computer keyboard if you are using your PC as a controller.
It can control CNC routers with a maximum of six axes. This brings a great deal of flexibility to woodworkers as they can do simple carving to complex sculpting operations.
Mach 3 is a paid software but you can try the demo version before you buy it. It is used by a lot of people because of its versatile nature.
|Mach 4||No||Yes (with LazyCAM)||Yes||Yes||Windows||Yes||Paid|
Quick Summary of Mach 4 Software
Mach 4 is the latest version available in the Mach series and is made to stay on par with the time by providing users with more simplified controls.
Having a smooth and more advanced user interface than Mach 3, Mach 4 requires at least 512MB of graphical memory and 1GB of RAM. It only runs on Windows OS.
Using an external motion controller, you can work with a laptop or desktop using the USB connection.
If you want to connect to the controller using the parallel port you'll need to use a 32-bit version of the software on a PC running 32-bit Windows OS.
Mach 4 can import G-code files from other software to control your CNC machine. You also have the option to add LazyCAM as an add-on plugin.
LazyCAM plug-in will help you build G-code files directly from .dxf, .bmp, .jpg, and .hpgl files making Mach 4 CAD/ CAM compatible.
Like Mach 3 it can also run machines with six axes and are available in many different versions as per your need of usage.
For most of your hobby woodworking applications and small businesses, you can go for Mach 4's "Hobby" version.
If you are running a business with a much larger production capacity you can choose the "Industrial" version as you can get on-time support from the software provider if any software problem erupts.
For differences between Mach 3, Mach 4 Hobby, and Mach 4 Industrial refer to Mach3 vs Mach4-Guide.
|OpenBuilds Control||No||No||Yes||No||Windows, Mac, Linux||Occasionally||Free|
Quick Summary of OpenBuilds Control Software
OpenBuilds CONTROL is a free open-source software from OpenBuilds that can interface with your CNC machine through a computer.
It can be installed on Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. The installation files are available on the OpenBuilds software website for you to download.
OpenBuilds CONTROL has a clutter-free user interface with neatly placed simple buttons. It allows you to import, preview, simulate and edit G-codes.
The G-codes you import have to be GRBL compatible and it accepts G-code files with .gcode, .gc, .tap, .nc, and .cnc file extensions.
You can combine OpenBuilds CONTROL by integrating it with OpenBuilds CAM to have a combined CAD/CAM software experience.
If you lack the necessary drivers to integrate with the controller you are using, you can install them directly from OpenBuilds CONTROL to connect with the CNC machine.
You can simulate the toolpaths from the control window to analyze the machine movements. You can also edit the G-code using their in-built G-code editor.
OpenBuilds CONTROL has a probing wizard to easily set up the tool positions using a touch probe and can also calibrate the steps per mm for each axis using the in-built calibration wizard.
The jog widget allows you to jog your CNC machine remotely through your mobile phone or any other device using a network connection with the computer on which you are running the software.
OpenBuilds CAM has a large and active makers community, you can get most of your software-related problems sorted out by them.
|Universal Gcode Sender l||No||No||Yes||Yes||Windows, Mac, Linux, Raspberry Pi||Occasionally||Free|
Quick Summary of Universal Gcode Sender Software
Universal G-code Sender (UGS) is an advanced G-code sender which can interface with controllers like GRBL, TinyG, g2core, and Smoothieware.
It can be installed on devices running on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Raspberry Pi operating systems. The installation file can be freely downloaded from the UGS Github page.
There are two versions of UGS, the Classic and the Platform. The Platform version is the most recent and more advanced than the Classic version.
UGS can read, visualize, and edit G-code generated from other third-party CAD/CAM software that you use.
It has a simple user interface that can be easily mastered by spending some time experimenting with the software.
UGS being a free software, there are a lot of people using it and hence has a large community to support you.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What's the advantage of Woodworking with a CNC machine?
One of the major advantages of using a CNC machine in woodworking is getting automated precision cuts. A CNC machine also helps minimize human errors and make similar-looking products with great repeatability. CNC machines shine in designing intricate shapes that are else complex, they are also faster when you need multiple copies of the same part.
What's the best CNC machine for woodworkers?
Some of the best CNC machines for woodworking are Onefinity Woodworker, Shapeoko 4, BobsCNC Evolution 4, Avid CNC- PRO4896, Shopbot PRSalpha 96-48-8, and CAMaster Stinger 3. These machines are rigid enough to mill on non-ferrous metals and are also used by a lot of woodworkers.
Can I customize my design in a CNC machine?
Yes, you can customize your design in a CNC machine. In fact, you can greatly customize it according to your need by using the right software. Other than what you do in the software, you can use different tool heads and CNCs (3-Axis, 4-Axis, 5-Axis) to achieve your desired result.