Wondering if you can turn your hobby into a profitable business? Many people use their CNC routers to create decor, accent furniture, toys, or tools. Eventually, you may find that you want to take these DIY projects and sell them instead of giving them away to family and friends. If you already own a shop and want to expand your offerings, CNC routers can accelerate the time to bring new items to market.
Luckily, there are many different in-demand items that you can make on a CNC machine, from a simple cell phone stand to a complete chess set. Here, we’ll dive into the world of CNC projects and highlight some of the most profitable options.
Can CNC Machining Be a Profitable Business?
Turning your hobby into a business takes time and effort, but CNC machining can certainly be profitable. CNC routers and laser cutting machines use computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software, which speeds up the design process, results in more precise outputs, and makes it easier to replicate original designs. Look for user-friendly software that has an intuitive interface, such as VCarve Pro, Aspire, Lightburn, and more.
CNC machines support profitability because they allow you to automate many time-consuming manual tasks in applications such as woodworking or metalworking. This allows you to increase your output without taking on additional labor costs. Plus, using CNC machining instead of hand tools reduces the amount of wasted material.
Ideas for CNC Router Projects
Once you’re comfortable using the CNC software that fits your needs, there’s no limit to what you can make. You can stick to one type of project, such as decorative signage, or branch out into different types of decor and functional pieces. Here are a few different categories of project ideas to get you started:
Products for the Home
Home decor items always make for popular CNC projects. Customers can give them as gifts or use them to spruce up their own homes. Here are a few different pieces you could create:
- Coasters: Sets of coasters are a great choice for CNC wood projects because they’re functional, affordable, and they make good gifts. You can also design metal or acrylic coasters.
- Clocks: A wall clock is useful in any room of the home. You can find CNC project files for a wide range of clock styles, from simple to intricate designs.
- Bookends: Sets of bookends are a good decor project for experienced hobbyists. They are relatively simple to design and replicate and you can finish them with different stain or paint options to match a customer’s color scheme.
- Wall art: Here’s where your creativity can shine. You could make abstract art, signs with inspirational quotes, or design made-to-order signs with the image or wording of a customer’s choice.
- Custom furniture: Want to offer customers unique furniture they can’t find anywhere else? Use CNC machining to create custom furniture, including coffee tables, dining tables, shelves, mirrors, bed frames, and similar pieces.
Want to appeal to foodies and home cooks? Try creating items such as:
- Cheese boards: A cutting board or cheese board is a popular gift for engagements and housewarmings. If you want to take on custom orders, you can personalize these boards with names, monograms, or significant dates.
- Knife holder: Knife blocks are an attractive way to safely store kitchen knives. You can offer these in different stains and finishes so customers can find one that matches their cabinets.
- Rolling pins: Another great option for food lovers, rolling pins can be engraved with a family name or a special label like “Baked with Love” or “Mom’s Kitchen.”
- Cabinets: Here’s a slightly more specialized route – custom cabinetry. CNC routers can produce custom-made cabinets, creating one-of-a-kind doors and drawer fronts with unique panels and stiles.
Home organizing is a big trend right now, and customers are looking for storage containers that are both functional and aesthetically appealing. Here are a few woodworking projects you can try:
- Desk organizers: So many people are working remotely these days, and they need easy ways to maintain an orderly home office. Desk organizers can be made from wood or acrylic and have divided compartments to store supplies like writing utensils, notepads, corral chargers, and cables.
- Jewelry boxes: A wooden jewelry box makes a great gift. Many have a removable tray with compartments to store earrings, rings, bracelets, and more. You can personalize the lid with the recipient’s name or with an engraved design.
- Pencil holders: Parents always need help keeping little ones organized. Simple holders for pencils, crayons, and markers keep art supplies in one place in a kid’s room or play area. These holders are an easy project, and they are great for classrooms and home offices, as well.
- Trays: Simple catch-all trays are perfect for corralling items like keys, loose change, and more. These can also be personalized, and you can cut them into interesting shapes like flowers or hexagons.
- French cleat walls: Many woodworkers utilize CNC machines to craft French cleat walls, an innovative and stylish solution to storage. This modular storage solution can be customized with different sizes and quantities of pieces to meet various needs.
Capitalize on the gift-giving season with thoughtful, customizable holiday decor. Consider designing items like:
- Tree ornaments: Unique and personalized ornaments are always a popular gift around Christmas time. Check out Etsy for inspiration. Some woodworkers take orders for custom holiday ornaments that celebrate a milestone, such as a couple’s first Christmas in a new home or a new baby.
- Candy tray: Unique trays and bowls make trick-or-treating just as fun for the adults handing out the candy as it is for the kids. For example, you can use clip art to create a design for a candy tray in the shape of a pumpkin. Or, create a standard wooden bowl but add Halloween-themed engravings around the outside.
- Candle holders: Celebrate Hanukkah, Advent, or Kwanzaa with custom-made holders for taper candles.
- Place cards: Make everyone feel welcome around the Thanksgiving table – or at any holiday meal. Customizable place cards are small, easy to produce, and can be made with wood or acrylic.
Note that holiday products are seasonal, so you’ll need to include other designs in your business plan if you want to sell year-round.
With the amount of time we all spend on our phones and other devices, you’re sure to find customers looking for handy accessories. You can make these from all kinds of wood:
- Phone or tablet stands: A stand that holds your phone or tablet in place is simple and convenient, allowing your customers to do hands-free video calls. These stands are also helpful in the kitchen when you’re using an online recipe.
- Passive amplifier: Also known as a mechanical amplifier, this is a useful item for people who like to listen to music on their phones. It consists of a wooden phone dock with a concave carving near the phone’s speaker. The shape of the carve-out increases the decibel level without an external power source and can improve sound quality, too.
While this guide is primarily focused on CNC projects made from cut wood, metalworkers also use CNC machines to produce finished products. Here are a few popular projects you can try with a CNC mill:
- Metal signs: You can help other small businesses promote themselves with metal signs featuring their name, logo, or other branding elements.
- Pet tags: Personalized tags for dogs and cats are ideal for pet lovers. Plus, they’re small, so they don’t require a lot of raw material.
- Backyard fire pit: Help your customers create memories around the campfire. You can find DXF files for laser or plasma CNC machines to create outdoor fire pits.
- Fabrication: Going a step further, you can use CNC machines to accomplish metal fabrication and create more complex designs.
There’s no shortage of classic games you can design with a CNC machine and the right template. Fun for both kids and adults, game boards are a popular choice for many woodworkers and hobbyists. Try your hand at designing wooden games and toys, such as:
- Tic tac toe
- Checkers or chess boards
- Brain teasers and mazes
These are just a few ideas to get you started. Once you’re comfortable operating your CNC machine, you can take on even more advanced projects.
How to Get Started with CNC Machining
If you’re a dedicated DIY hobbyist, scaling up your production can make woodworking into a lucrative business. Here’s how to get started with professional CNC machining for the first time:
Set Your Business Goals
Start by defining your objectives and formulating a business plan. Do you want to create CNC projects as a side hustle, or are you ready for this to be your full-time job? Do you have enough space to work out of your home, or will you eventually need an offsite workshop? Are you planning to sell your products at in-person events like craft fairs, online, or both?
An online store means that customers can buy from you at any time, but you will also need to set aside time for order fulfillment. Participating in in-person events as a vendor can take up your evenings and weekends, but you don’t have to worry about shipping the products that you sell. You’ll also need to decide how to price your products and how much turnaround time you’ll need for custom orders.
Choose Your CNC Machine
Once you have a business plan in place, you’ll need to determine what type of CNC machine best fits your needs. There are several factors to consider when purchasing CNC machinery, including:
- The type of projects you want to take on
- The square footage of your work area
- The type of CAD/CAM software you prefer to use
- How much do CNC machines cost and your budget
If you plan to work primarily with acrylic instead of wood, note that you should look for a tooling kit that includes specialized bits for cutting plastic. Bits designed to cut wood may create rough, uneven edges when used on acrylic.
Review Financing Options
Small CNC machines designed for hobbyists and 3D printers do not always have the capacity for commercial-level production. Thus, you’ll likely have to invest in upgraded CNC machinery if you want to begin selling your projects for a profit. Fortunately, many equipment dealers offer CNC financing so that new businesses can make monthly payments instead of purchasing machinery in full upfront.
Additionally, small and medium-sized businesses may be eligible for Section 179, an incentive created through the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015. Section 179 allows a business to deduct the full purchase price of qualifying equipment during the tax year in which it was purchased, instead of writing off the depreciation each year.
Find Project Templates
While you can make custom designs from scratch, sometimes it’s easier to follow or modify an existing project template. Laguna Tools is proud to offer a wide range of CNC resources, with instructions for projects including:
- Holiday decor
- Games and children’s toys
- Furniture and storage items
Or, check out sites like YouTube and Pinterest, where you can find plenty of tutorials and templates to use for your designs.
Build Up Your Customer Base
Once you’ve decided how you want to sell your products, set aside time to build up your marketing efforts. There are many ways for small businesses to promote their products online through Etsy and Facebook Marketplace. Eventually, you may even want to set up an Amazon storefront to reach more customers. Social media platforms can be an effective, low-cost way to get the word out. You’ll find that many small businesses use Instagram and Facebook accounts to showcase their products and cultivate a client base.
Choose Laguna Tools for CNC Machinery
Looking for new CNC machinery to take your business to the next level? Laguna Tools is an industry leader in woodworking and metalworking equipment and accessories. We’re on the cutting edge of CNC technology and provide advanced machine performance at all levels of production. From desktop CNC machines to multi-tool series options, Laguna Tools can help you find the solutions you need to execute CNC router projects and bring your visions to life. For more information, contact us today.