How to choose your tabletop
The table top, also called a cutting bed, on your CNC router is where the cutting takes place and your projects come to life. Choosing what table top to use can make using your CNC router easy or a nightmare. Many people who buy or build a CNC router overlook what type of table they purchase or consider it unimportant. While you do need to be knowledgeable about what to use you can rest assured that there is a design that will suit you needs. For example, if you work with many different kinds of materials and shapes you would likely want to get a T-slot table top for its numerous clamping options. Alternatively you would want a different style of table top if you plan on making the same kind of item regularly. Higher end CNC routers can have table tops that combine multiple individual styles of table tops. Smaller machines used by hobbyists tend to have more limited options, depending on what you have budgeted for. There is a lot of material to know when it comes to choosing your table top and today we will get you started by reviewing the details of a few of the many options you will have when selecting your table top.
T-slot table tops are what you often see on traditional CNC milling machines. Those tops are usually extremely heavy, being made out of steel. The variety available for an at-home CNC router is usually made of extruded aluminum. T-slot table tops work well for many projects because they use bolts and clamps to secure your piece and hold it in place while you work on it. T-slot table tops tend to be durable and light weight. If a piece of the table is damaged you often have the option to easily slide the damaged piece out for a replacement. You even have the option to expand your work space by putting multiple tables together if you ever need to work on a big project. T-slots tend to be easy to use and they are also inexpensive and do not use much electricity. On the downside you often need to modify your traditional clamping methods so that the spindle head does not hit the clamps. Making these modifications may also mean that your software lacks the programming to create cutting paths through your revised clamping system. All in all t-slot table tops are a great solution for keeping your projects stationary and stable while they are on the table but be aware of their possible limitations before making any final decisions.
Another option is using a disposable table top. Disposable table tops are ideal for beginner hobbyists. They are usually made of particle or MDF board and can be cut to the size you need when you purchase them at a hardware or supply store. Being made of cheaper material they are not built to last but they are not intended to last anyway. Generally the disposable table top is put on top of your main table top so that the main table does not get damaged while you are working. This way if you accidently bypass a limit switch, sensor or one of the other safety mechanisms you are not cutting into your main table top. Many hobbyists use disposable table tops for woodwork and if you are new to using a CNC router disposable table tops can be a good safety net. There are not many feelings more awful than realizing you just cut into your brand new t-slot or vacuum table top and having a disposable table top in the way can stop that from ever happening.