In February of 2015 I had the opportunity to get a free Shapeoko 2 CNC machine from Inventables in exchange for a video with my honest thoughts of the unboxing, assembly, and working process. Since then, Inventables released a newer version of their desktop CNC machine called the X-Carve.
In May of 2015 I ran a giveaway on my website to give away the Shapeoko 2 to someone else as Inventables sent me a fully loaded X-Carve. The new machine was sent to me at no charge with no requirements on my behalf. I was not asked or required to write this article or say anything about the machine. I will not do a review on every detail of the machine as there are plenty of other sources out there for that kind of article and I really don’t like to do those reviews anyway. Instead, the following text is my thoughts and opinions on the machine now that I’ve had it for a while.
X-Carve CNC Machine
I got the 1000mm x 1000mm rail kit which allows a cutting area of about 31″ x 31″. I opted to go with the larger rails as I found the small size of the Shapeoko 2 a little limiting at times. On paper it’s a no-brainer to go large but after assembling it I ran into a problem of where to put it. That’s one thing I never really thought about.
The power supply has a circuit board interface that you attach to it. I liked this as it will eventually cover up all of the 120v terminal blocks on the power supply.
I think the same belts are used that were on the Shapeoko 2 but this time I had a problem with every one of them slipping out of their mounting brackets. I couldn’t get them to hold under normal use so I had to carefully secure every belt connection with two zip ties to get them to properly hold. I read other people having the same problem and their solution was zip ties. The actual tightening system is much improved on the X-Carve over the Shapeoko 2 though.
With the help of drag chains and certain holes here and there the wiring from the motors through the machine is very tidy and easy to keep organized.
Limit switches were included with my machine but I never used them while using the machine. A little soldering is necessary to install them. I remember installing one backwards due to the instructions and had to disconnect and reattach it after assembly was complete. That was four months ago so they’ve probably updated the instructions since then. I haven’t checked.
The wiring from the motors through the machine and drag chains is pretty tidy by default but after that cable management is necessary. By simply following the instructions and connecting this here and that there I was left with a bit of a rat’s nest of wires. I ended up using garbage bag twist ties to tie everything together and make it somewhat presentable.
The stock spindle left me wanting more. It’s underpowered in my opinion. When using my Shapeoko 2 I mounted a trim router and it made a huge improvement in cutting speed. I’m sure the vast majority of people using one of these desktop CNC machines will upgrade to a trim router.
My unit doesn’t have a way to mount a manual crank to the top of the Z-axis. I do believe this has been changed (?) but for me it means I have to use a wrench to spin the drive rod when manually moving it which takes forever. (Bob Clagett just made a 3d printed knob for this very purpose. He also has a limited quantity for sale in his store)
I haven’t had any of the motors slip on the belts. No problems there.
I had a random problem with my Y axis suddenly only moving in the negative direction. After a few days and a forum post I found that this was caused by the G-Shield not seating properly with the Arduino. The extra limit switch pins sticking out the front were hitting the enclosure. I had to use a dremel tool to carve out a larger opening for the pins in the mounting housing which would allow the G-Shield to sit down further onto the Arduino.
Final Thoughts On The X-Carve?
I’ve had the machine for four months now and I’ve done a 180 on my initial excitement for CNC machines. I honestly can’t find a use for it in my workflow. For me personally, I think It’s slow and inconvenient to use. The only thing I seem to be using it for is simple signs and decorative stuff for friends and family. There’s plenty of videos out there showing decorative stuff being cut on a CNC so there’s no need for more in that area. I’ve made about 5 or 6 signs and otherwise I’m just scratching my head to incorporate it into a project without it being for decorative use. I feel like I’m trying to force myself to find ways to incorporate it instead of saying “this is my first solution to solve this problem.” One major influencing factor to me not using it much is that it’s really slow with the stock spindle. Yes, it can be a “set it and walk away” kind of tool but it still takes a while to cut just about anything. Yes, that can be solved by upgrading the spindle to a trim router. But because nothing I make requires CNC precision I find it much more convenient to use a bandsaw or table saw to cut out what I need for a project and the added decoration that I could carve with it feels more like an inconvenience than being worth the time. Things may change, but for now it’s literally sitting and collecting dust waiting for me to incorporate it into a project. I actually feel a little bad for accepting it now.
I’m not saying the machine is incapable though. It’s one of the less expensive routes out there to get a capable CNC machine in your shop. Steve Carmichael just used his X-Carve to make a complete guitar. If you’re into sign making, prototyping, or projects that require CNC precision the X-Carve might be a good buy for you. That’s your decision to make and I honestly don’t care one way or the other as I have nothing to gain or lose by you buying or not buying one. But knowing what I know now, with the way I work in my shop, and the typical woodworking projects I like to make I personally wouldn’t buy it with my money. Even right now with my current shop and the tools I have in it I think my money would be better spent on other shop improvements. Just my opinion.
Hi Jay – great article, as usual!
One of the secrets of CNC is that they were actually intended as production machinery: if you have to make 200 of something, little can be quicker or more manpower efficient than a CNC with a dirty great motor. A tiny motor on a machine that only does the odd job, well, you’re 100% right – if you don’t need the precision, manual methods on larger machines are faster. Thank you for bringing that out!
Of course. CNC machines shine in production environments. Other than that it’s just a matter of if you need something precise.
Or complex, or sometimes its quicker. But mostly its for mass producing or doing complex decorative work.
I looked at the x-carve. I saw the guitar build. Man is that thing SLOW. 6 hours for a simple body plus 5 more hours for the neck and it didn’t even do the rough shape for him. I used a lower-end production AXYZ at my university and I can get both done in under an hour each, including set up and cleanup if I take my time. I can push it a lost faster without hurting anything if I’m confident in my programming. That’s without optimizing my program. When I get done, it just needs a light sanding before its ready for finish.
If you really need a CNC, there are better options. Maybe not at that price point, but the xcarve just seems like a toy to me. I can route bodies by hand faster than it can, so what use is it.
I would love to have one to make puzzles and other small children’s toys to sell and make a little bit of extra money. But of course the smaller X carve would be just fine for that.
Well since you don’t use it. I’ll tkae it off your hands. :) I build outdoor funrinture and it would be great to have one of these for engraving names, schools and sports teams. Since I don’t have one I can’t offer those services. But to rich for my little wallet to handle. Thanks for the honest review though.
Jay, really appreciate your comments on the X-Carve. I was mulling over buying one due to the exposure they have received but you’ve re-enforced my gut feelings over use and storage. Appreciate your thoughts.
Jay, good honest feedback, thanks. YouTube is flooded with CNC, but I haven’t seen anything that makes it look like it belongs in a woodshop yet.
I like the stuff you make and the clip editing is great.
Great channel, and appreciate your work.
All the best
Thanks Jay for your review. I felt like you really tried to find a use for it but just couldn’t and almost to the point of agonizing over it. Honesty always prevales. Thanks for the in-depth review, so much more details than other I have read. Your channels and web site stand tall above the rest!!! Thanks again for all that you do.
Could you make a base for the x carve that slid in and out from under your assembly table, slide out to load material and start it running, then push it back under the table when its working.
Matt, I like that idea. Maybe putting it on full extension drawer slides which would great for smaller shops.
Thanks for that review Jay. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a CNC and read lots and watched lots of videos. I never pulled the trigger because I couldn’t plan any projects where I would really NEED it. Thanks for confirming I probably made the right decision.
Jay, thanks for the review, I think I’ll just keep using my old fashion modern tools.
Thanks for confirming a lot of my thoughts Jay. I considered buying one but couldn’t justify, or find, the space and cash. Looking back at a few projects I’ve completed over the six months or so, I honestly don’t think there is one that would have turned out better or quicker with the tool. There are a couple that might have been slightly easier by delegating some repetitive tasks but I find that I tend to design based upon the tools I have. For example I am just about finished building my version of your mitre saw station and need to make over 20 drawer pulls. I don’t have a CNC so those Red Wings pulls are out, I don’t have a lathe so turned knobs are out, but I have a plan for cutting multiple pulls on a table saw https://goo.gl/photos/AZ4Uc1WrdcynTABF6
I bought an X-Carve hoping it would allow me to produce more projects efficiently and boost my barely-scrapping-by hobby into a profitable business to support my family. I was swept away with the positive responses on youtube for the machine and the promises all the Inventables adverts made.
I wish I could get my money back.
All-in-all I’ve spent around $1,500 and in return all I got was a LOT of headaches, WAY too much wasted lumber from screw-ups, and a real sense of defeat for spending blood money on a tool that doesn’t seem to deliver on it’s basic advertised promises.
It took me months after setting up my X-Carve (and seeing the disappointing results time and time again) to get back into my shop and make something, even by hand. I was too damn depressed to even be in the same room with it.
Anything the X-carve does, I can do easier by hand with a router, band saw, or dremel. And while I may not be as precise as a CNC, it’s a hell of a lot faster doing it by hand then wrestling with the machine/software to do simple tasks, then cleaning up the crappy results.
I’d consider selling it, but I’m not mean enough to take someone’s money and hand over such a headache. So 2015 will be a financial loss for my workshop. I’m just now starting to pick myself up again and getting back to making sawdust. Hopefully 2016 will turn out better.
What do u want for it?? [email protected]
Gee Jay, I have use for it if you don’t want it, and it would be put to use helping Vet’s!
Good article, Jay. Very honest opinions, and I appreciate that.
This is one of those tools that you buy only after you have a need for it, I think. Production of multiple complicated and/or precision parts, a lot of signs, etc. I think it would be great for that. But if more traditional woodworking projects are your bread and butter, I totally see how one of these would be more of a burden (re:space, learning curve, etc.) than a help. Glad to hear your take on it. I’ll save my money until I have specific projects and a long term need (and figure out how to allocate space).
i am not familiar with the machine as I am a newbie and have seen a lot of blog post about the cnc. my question is why does it not come already assembled. it seems like a lot of work to assemble, especially dealing with motherboards and the such. too technical.
First let me say I am in no way associated with Inventables beyond being a customer. That said, their XCarve CNC is a kit. It includes all the tools required for assembly. The instructions are clear, concise and include photos of each step for assembly, adjustment and testing. The so-called “Motherboard” connections are nothing more than making less than a few wire and post connections with a screwdriver. If you Google XCarve assembly or look on Youtube you can see how easy they are to build. All you need is a place to work and about 8-12 hours of time depending on your familiarity with kit building. Hope this helps.
A nice honest opinion on the usefulness of the X-carve (after getting one for free) is a rarity, and I appreciate your honesty. I feel pretty much the same way. Mine is collecting dust too. In fact, the last time I used it the spindle kept bogging down and appears to be damaged (over loaded from a previous run perhaps) and might need replacing. Like you, I also can’t seem to work it into my work flow.
I really appreciated your honest article. I have a CNC machine (home built) that I use for carving tombstones (Halloween fetish). I was going to upgrade my spindle to a trim router, but like you I am have been having a hard time trying to incorporate it into my shop. I am a one-offer and do not do “production” work. So at this time my machine is packaged away on a shelf…waiting. For this reason your honesty was very refreshing to me. Thank you.
Jay, when I talked to you about the Xcarve at WIA you told me your feelings on it but you also said that the festool domino was a game changer, could you do an article on it and give your every guy take on it rather the the guys who talk about it as if they are trying to get a spokesperson job for festool? What is it about the tool that you like about it (when you said domino I could see a big smile come out) anything you don’t like? Would love to read it as I am considering buying one since we talked but would like to hear more of your experience. Also which one to buy the 500 or 700. Anyway, great atticle as I think that alot of us on the fence about buying one had a lot of the same concerns that you just confirmed were true. Thank you.
+1 for an ‘Honest Jay’ review of the Domino. I do have one sitting in my wish list at Lee Valley, just trying to summon up the courage to pull the trigger. I have a biscuit jointer that I was never impressed with and is one tool I never use, so I would want to know how different the Domino experience is to that. Having said that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Jay use a biscuit jointer either. I do use pocket holes a fair amount so would also like to know from Jay, no stranger to PH either, how the Domino is a game changer versus them.
I bought a Domino a couple of years ago and I can’t get enough of it my friend. I closed in our patio with cedar and built two cedar doors by using my Domino. OMG, was it a helper. Then I built a shed out of cedar as well and repeated the doors on it also. Only difference is the doors on the patio are 8 foot tall and the ones on the shed are 6 foot. Personally I have absolutely no regrets on this tool. Not only that, but Woodpeckers makes a few add on devices that you can also use with your Domino that will enhance your abilities with this tool ten fold. Money is tight on this home front like any other, but if I had to sell beer cans for this puppy I would have done it. Good luck and happy sawing!!!
Your review of the Xcarve is spot on.
Technology has its place however making it work for the common man has too many obstacles. For example the spindle is underpowered, resolving problems of the setup and the use of a computer with it’s complexity. The CNC marketed to the public will be better in 5 years when all the bugs and problems are worked out. Thanks for your honest review
I feel the same way, the things I build require no fancy carving. It does look good on paper and in some shops I’m sure it would be worth the money but not in my shop.
Thanks Jay, great and honest review.
Jay, an excellent review and realistic evaluation of the XCarve and CNC woodworking in general. I don’t have an XCarve, but I own an original Shapeoko purchased two-years ago. I upgraded it to 500X1000mm and added a DeWalt trim router. It performs as advertised for projects like inlays, signs and plaques, jewelry and keepsake pieces, and many types of carved objects that I would be unable to do otherwise. If your projects are mostly furnishings or larger pieces a CNC won’t get much use. I also want to say I have had nothing but positive and responsive interactions with the Inventables Company. If you’re considering a CNC router you can’t go wrong buying from them.
Great review Jay. I think some people get a CNC and then try and think of things to use it for when they should have a need for one before they get it.
I can mirror virtually everything you said. I’m primarily a scroll saw user and 9 times out of 10 I make pictures out of wood. That’s all I found myself doing on the X-Carve. I may do some signs and keychains down the line, but, same as you, mine is collecting dust.
As you and others have mentioned, it’s likely best for precision work. I also feel like many of those little headaches could have been ironed out before they sent them out to folks. They did a good thing and I was hyped to get one…it didn’t live up to my excitement, but, maybe in time it will.
I bought the small X-Carve after building two of my own, to learn from my own mistakes. The belt issue is normal, and heat shrink tubing is the best answer and looks cool too. I’ve had mine for a while, to do custom mirror work, and have a few issues myself. First, is that I lost all control of the spindle on/off, and speed. It is either on when the machine is, or not, when it is shut down. Their Easel program seemed great, but it runs better using EFL’s free program, and another to write G-Code from some pen company doing lithographs. I have not had any successful results to date, but I don’t give up easy, so time will tell. Lucky for you, they gave you the right directions for the limit switches, because I now have a dangler that can’t be put on, without a total rebuild on the X axis, though it is wired up. As for the Z axis, I purchased a screw on knob so that it can be manually turned and tuned, and yes, they are going to be adding their own handle soon. As for the two I built before purchasing this one, they are still in development, and someday may get the needed upgrades to put them to use. I like the detail they can do, and see many uses, but not sure if the time and money spent will be worth it in the end. Thanks for the honest review. Sure wish I could have read this before taking the plunge with both feet.
Good article, Jay. You’ve been very honest and that is appreciated.
Thanks Jay for your always honest thoughts on these machines. If your not going to use it,you could donate it to a school workshop, and take a tax deduction while your at it. The more I read about these from you and a few others I follow,unless your a tech Genius even with instructions, it sounds to difficult to get assembled. Then once assembled, there are always other problems. I’d rather take that $1500.00 and put it towards a Saw Stop portable saw. (I don’t have room for a full size). Thanks for confirming what I was already thinking.
PS. Loved the shots from the Video Wood Workers get together.Where was that held?
Kansas City MO
Thanks for the honest review Jay! I have been looking into a CNC machine for almost a year. I believe your review of the Shakeoko got me started.
I make custom cutting boards, cheese boards and bread boards out of hardwood and I wanted to start producing a higher level board with inlays and custom engraving, so my first choice was a CNC. My dilemma is whether the upgraded boards would fetch the 50% higher cost I would have to charge? Another consideration is space and I would have to have a separate room for the CNC..
X-carve recently increased their prices and with a Canadian dollar difference of 33%, it puts a machine out of reach.
My other option would be to cut patterns out in plywood and route the inlays by hand, but I would have to test the market before I take the plunge.
Thanks again Jay.
Always like your honesty. JimE
Nice writeup Jay! And your conclusions help reinforce my own stance on the issue. Inventables contacted a long time about about sending me a unit and I quickly declined. While I have great respect for all the things CNC can do, I just couldn’t think of reasons to have one in my shop. Everything I do is one-off pieces and while I do save my jigs and templates, I rarely make more than one of anything. And speaking of jigs and templates, I absolutely see the value proposition there but that’s an awful lot of work and space for a “template-maker.” Instead, I just decided to leave the CNC to the folks who actually have a routine need for it. And thankfully I have a friend locally who has a business that relies 100% on his CNC, and he can knock out just about anything I need in short order. Well worth the small fee for not having to do it myself.
A good honest review of this machine.
As many have already said, CNC is great for precision or mass production work, but with it’s small under powered spindle this machine has limitations. But it’s designed as a home workshop machine, not as full size industrial machine. That said the other limitations I see for home use is the steep learning curve if you’re not already using CNC machines. Also the amount of waste timber around an item so it can be securely clamped to the work surface and from the cutter diameter can be a limitation. Using a router, bandsaw, jigsaw, even a scrollsaw to cut out the shape often means the next cut can be on the same line, or very close to it. This means more items from the same size timber, an important saving when using exotic timber for the home workshop.
At the time you made the “Redwings” handles for your mitresaw bench, I thought how much easier & quicker it would be to make a suitable jig and use a router for the same result, maybe even easier with a bandsaw. But that was part of the leaning curve for you.
At the start of the year I was interested in the X-Carve and was even investigating to cost of getting one to New Zealand (about twice the US $1500 price), but seeing a video of Paul Sellers on your “interesting stuff” I’ve gone the other way now and are getting into Hand tool woodwork, still using machines when needed, but not CNC.
Ever thought about making cnc-style locking fingerjoints.
The possible uses of these endless.
Sure, not fastest way, but they look just sooo … nice.
Here an example: https://studiomakedo.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/unlock-finger-joints-via-cnc-machine/
I wonder, if i would be possible, to make these on whole sheets of plywood, before cutting the sides to size on the able saw.
i just cant stop thinking about the undreamed-of joint-possibilities …
i totally need one, not 4 massproduktion, i sooo need one 4 style ;)
Hey Jay, I have been thinking about buying a 1000mm X-Carve, but If if want to get rid of yours I would be willing to buy it minus the waste board if the price was right.
Thanks Jay, I have kept looking at them, for me it was a budget issue, however having read your article, I am now sure it would be a total waste of money for me, it is rare I need such precision, and like you I have other tools that can do the job. If I had one, it would spend 99% of the time gathering dust. I am glad there is one Woodworking Video Maker we can rely on not to keep churning out CNC projects! :)
Never used one for wood but used many for metal In a production enviroment before retirement. Never thought they would be useful in my home wood shop. Thanks for your honest opion, I agree.
Jay, as always great review. Thank you for your in depth honest opinion. I make a lot of items for fellow veterans and most of the time, as soon as one of their friends sees it, they want one also. So I’m duplicating projects quite often. This is where I think that a CNC would come in handy for me. Most of the work I do on scroll saw and/or router which is time consuming. With a CNC I could get more detailed than what I do now. But I just can’t justify the cost right now. And after reading your thoughts on this, I think I’ll wait till they get some of the bugs worked out before I lay out the cash for one.
Hey Jay. I tried the ziptie fix also, but was still having the belts slip from time to time. I finally landed on adding a section of heatshrink around the folded over belt. This in effect locks all the teeth together and since doing so I have not had any slipping problems. Thought I’d toss that out there in case you have any more slips happen.
Hey Jay…I’m really glad I waited and saved the extra money to buy a DWC “Digital Wood Carver” It’s the same one Laney Shaughnessy has. It comes with a FULL size 2hp router. I couldn’t be happier with it unless it had the automatic tool changer…lol
A good honest review from your perspective. We have one at work in our sign shop and it gets lots of use but that is something it is good at. As for all of you that regret purchasing if you feel the need to give your toy away I would love to have a personal one at my house.
To be honest, I had issues with the documentation being sparse towards the end of the assembly, and I realize I will be doing a lot of customizations on the build(wiring with terminals to disconnect the power supply/gshield/arduino from the cnc to move it around without ripping wires out, electronic storage is changing as the case around the gshield/arduino sucks, and building a custom storage table to easily get it out of the way and pull it out). I think you have to be creative in any automated machine you work with. I personally do 3D printing as well, and I think it depends on what you’re trying to create in your personal life, as machines are definitely more accurate and save much more time when doing precise/complicated work.
I think I heard this saying and I think it should be said, “In the right hands, anything can be a weapon”. In regards to your experience, thanks for sharing. At the same time, if you like to build things I would assume you should have seen the value and reasons why you would have bought it before having a negative opinion about why you would be using it. If you can’t see the value behind having a cnc, definitely sell it as others see the value in it.
My opinion, there’s a reason why people love the automation, especially in cutting material, as it is more accurate and less time consuming as you can still allow yourself to work on other things at the same time. I can spend a lot less time drawing up complicated detailed designs that would be extremely hard to replicate and output
Jay, Could you use a CNC machine as a planer where you have a wide glue up like a table top?
I am currently putting one together and feel it is horrible to assemble. Something this expensive should not require soldering, wiring, etc. I hope to return it.
Do you want to sell your machine
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