Choosing Between a Stone CNC Router & Waterjet Cutting Machine

A CNC router on one side and a waterjet machine on the other. The word "versus" is in between the two.

Stone CNC routers and waterjet cutting machines are both powerful, precise, and efficient tools for stone cutting applications. But, despite their similar uses, each machine has its advantages and disadvantages.

If you’re looking for guidance on whether to purchase a stone CNC machine or a waterjet cutting machine, you’re in the right place.

In this article, we’ll compare and contrast these two powerhouses and provide helpful tips on how to find the best machinery for your stone cutting operations.

What Is a Stone CNC Router?

A close up of a CNC router engraving onto steel.

CNC routers are generally used to cut wood, plastic, foam, and some soft metal, but some are specially designed for use on stone—these are called stone CNC routers.

Stone CNC routers are equipped with diamond- or tungsten carbide-tipped bits and use heat and centrifugal force to cut, engrave, carve, mill, and otherwise process different types of stone materials with appreciable precision. However, whatever material is processed will require some finishing work to achieve quality standards, and it can be difficult to cut very thick materials.

CNC routers are most suitable for use in the stone fabrication, decoration, and art restoration industries. Standard functions typically include 3D processing capabilities, chamfering, drilling, flat bottom carving, line carving, and sharp bottom carving.

Advantages:

  • Versatile Applications (Milling, Carving, Engraving, etc.)
  • Precise & Accurate 
  • Great for 3D Applications
  • Automated & Repeatable

Drawbacks:

  • Will Require Finishing Work
  • Hard to Cut Thick Materials
  • Can Overheat
A yellow waterjet machine with its nozzle plunging into water and stone

What Is a Waterjet Machine?

A CNC waterjet cutting machine is a fully automated system that utilizes jets of cool, high-pressure water instead of heat to quickly, accurately, and effortlessly cut through hard materials like metal, stone, glass, and ceramics.

The water may or may not be used with an abrasive substance to simplify cutting through harder materials. This style of stone processing creates highly professional results, with edges that require very little to no further processing. A waterjet machine can also cut through thick materials easily.

A drawback is that standard 2-axis waterjets can’t handle three-dimensional applications as well as a typical stone CNC router setup can. They’re also typically more expensive than a standard stone CNC router and can produce more waste.

Advantages:

  • Will Not Overheat
  • Minimal Finishing Required
  • Can Cut Through Thick Materials
  • Better Material Versatility

Drawbacks:

  • Can’t Mill, Grind, Carve, or Engrave Materials
  • More Expensive
  • Products More Waste
  • Not as Efficient for 3D Applications

Factors to Consider When Selecting a Machine

Materials

When choosing between a waterjet cutting machine and a stone CNC machine, one of the most important considerations is the material(s) you’ll be using frequently. Of course, as the name suggests, a stone CNC router is used to primarily cut stone materials like:

  • Artificial Stone
  • Black Stone
  • Granite
  • Marble
  • Quartz
  • Slate

However, if you also regularly need to process ceramics, glass, or other extra-hard materials, a waterjet cutter will provide more versatility. 

Application

Both CNC routers and waterjet cutting machines can make precise and accurate cuts to stone materials. However, CNC routers offer more versatility because they can mill, engrave, and carve stone, whereas waterjet cutting machines (as the name suggests) only have cutting capabilities. Keep in mind that other types of waterjet machines exist for different applications, including engraving and milling.

Additionally, CNC routers are better suited for 3D machining applications. 

Function/Features

Next, you need to consider the specific features and functions you’re looking for in your cutting machine. If you need to do more than simply make straight cuts, a stone CNC router will offer more flexibility in tooling options than a waterjet cutter. Think about the tooling options you will need to optimize your intended operations.

Some CNC routers also come with laser technology add-ons, which can add a new level of functionality to your investment. Other routers have built-in vacuums to simplify waste control, and some waterjet cutters have built-in wet waste hoppers.

Additionally, consider whether you’ll need a high-speed machine or not. The typical waterjet cutter will be slower than a CNC stone router, but high-speed waterjets are available on the market.

Finally, most routers are 3-axis machines and, therefore, typically display more degrees of motion than standard waterjet cutters, which are often 2-axis. However, buying 4-, 5-, or 6-axis CNC routers and 3-, 4-, 5-, and 6-axis waterjet machines is possible.

Space

Typically, waterjet stone cutting systems require more space for installation and usage than CNC routers. This is mainly because waterjet machines are bigger by design, and they require space to store water and abrasives and a waste management tank. 

Determine how much usable space your shop has to dedicate to your new stone fabrication machinery. Carefully plan out your intended daily output, and ensure that you have enough operational area available to realistically accommodate the work processes that will be repetitively occurring.

Budget/Cost

Waterjets typically have higher initial overhead costs. The average price tag of a quality waterjet cutting machine is about $100,000 and up. You can find less expensive models starting around $50,000, but they will lack the features and quality that many stone fabricators require. Remember that when properly cared for, a quality waterjet stone cutter will deliver 25 years or more of dependable service.

Stone CNC routers are typically less expensive than waterjet cutters—the average price is between $10,000 and $40,000. You can find a basic stone CNC router for less than $20,000, but it may be smarter to go with a larger initial investment to benefit from increased long-term production and profits from your manufacturing operation.

Browse BACA’s Solutions Today

Two BACA employees standing in front of the Robo Sawjet. One employee has his arm on a stone slab that has an airplane engraved into it.

If you’re still not sure which machine is best suited for your application, contact our experts at BACA Systems. We sell a wide range of stone cutting equipment and specialize in manufacturing fully automated equipment that combines traditional saw technology with waterjet capabilities. 

Contact us today to learn more about our products or to get help selecting the right machine for your stone cutting needs. We also offer a Fly to Detroit opportunity to all potential customers, where you’ll learn how to reduce material and labor costs, free up CNC capacity, and improve your profits. We cover all transportation costs! Visit our Fly to Detroit page to learn more.