Shapeoko VS X-Carve VS Heavy Mill – Choosing a CNC router

Looking for a CNC router – you’ve got options.

We have followed entry grade CNC machines for many years before producing kits for them.  CNC was always that little bit out of reach – for many years buying an end of life industrial machine from a closing sale was the only way to get our hands on a CNC machine and they were always still to expensive and by that time… well used.  

Recent maker scene developments like the Shapeoko 1 & 2, the OX, now the X-Carve opened the door to build your own CNC without months of research, design, parts sourcing and trial and error. With the new breeds of hobby CNC machines, you can have a machine to enable your hobby instead of a machine to be your hobby.  The simplicity of these machines could barely have been imagined until such kits were designed and the great open source GRBL firmware was released. The magic that was CNC became a simple technology that we could build and operate unlike any other tool in the shed.

If your considering a hobby grade CNC router, a few great options:

Shapeoko / Shapeoko2  / Shapeoko 3

    Originally designed and released in 2011 by Edward Ford, was not the first  hobby CNC kit but will be remembered as the mother of all hobby CNC, it changed the hobby CNC scene for good by bringing CNC to any home.  A considerable amount of user uptake and modification lead to the Shapeoko 2 that launched late 2013 – which until recently was the buzz product in hobby CNC.

    The Shapeoko 3 followed (Q1 2015) with some controversy around the design and license. It has addressed one of the main concerns with the Shapeoko lineup which is X rail strength.  With the S01 having a single maker slide X rail, the S02 doubling the maker slide rail back to back, now the S03 is beefed up with an all new box extrusion to again further stiffen the machine. The new rail, looks pretty tough.  Other design choices in this machine, such as the spring loaded belt driven Z-axis and yet again disappointing lack of limit switches were unexpected.

    Pros and Cons:

    • Pro – Support – heaps of user based support.  S01 and S02  are well documented and have a large user base, someone else has had your problem before and there will be 10 different discussions about the fix. We would expect S03 to be the same.
    • Con -Price – until recently the Shapeoko was an affordable option.  Shapeoko must have heard Australians are used to being gouged, but they may want to rethink a 475 USD shipping price tag – that’s $626 AUD (today) for 25kg via snail mail, the S02 from Inventables was 130’ish USD for 14kg. – Very uncool, bad Shapeoko.
    • Pro – Rail – it’s so pretty and it looks strong! Nice.
    • Con – Limit switches….not just a safety thing, how do we restart a job after tool change without a repeatable 0???  No limit switches makes the S03 borderline useless and the lack of them is unacceptable – no punches pulled there;)
    • Pro – 4th driver.  For some time our own S02 has shipped with the 4th driver.  It was about time this was recognised as an issue and the dedicated driver for second Y-axis motor was included.  You can now actually power the Nema23 upgrade! Good work.
    • Con – Upgrades.  With the new less open – open source conditions, others can’t make the profile. That means upgrading to a larger footprint may be difficult and expensive – if the shipping for a small kit is $626 AUD, imagine the 1000mm rail shipping cost?!?


    The Ox

    Prior to the release of the Shapeoko 3, the open builds ‘OX’ might have been the strongest of the plate and extrusion based bolt-together hobby mills.  With the double 20*60 extrusion gantry, V extrusion and wheel system, and a tougher Z-axis – the open builds kit could have been the leader in the field… except it didn’t ever seem to be released as a kit and instead was just a fantastic build log.

    • Pro- strength – By most accounts stronger than a Shapeoko 1&2.
    • Con – kitting – never released as a kit and so difficult to source in comparison
    • Con – price – not any more expensive, difficult to budget for though and more postage sourcing things form everywhere

    X Carve

    Then came the X Carve,  is it just a Shapeoko 2? NO it’s much more!   It seems the Shapeoko & Inventables names are no longer synonymous and we for one lot are happy about it, as the Inventables X Carve has in our view actually addressed more concerns with the Shapeoko line-up than the new Shapeoko 3 has its self.  With a seriously reduced parts count, one piece X carriage extrusion, the inclusion of a trapezoidal Z-axis and limit switches (albeit as upgrades), an actual spindle holder amongst other additions – the Shapeoko is finally a product that you can use to enable your hobby rather than being a hobby in its self – only its not a Shapeoko its the new X-Carve!

    • Pro – parts count – the reduced parts count simplifies assembly and reduces build time significantly.
    • Con – Z-axis acme upgrade, quite a lazy implementation.
    • Pro – wiring – the new design for wiring layout with good support for dual drag chains, its great!
    • Con – Limit switches and acme thread are upgrades and not standard issue
    • Pro – power – simplified and safer with a single supply that’s enclosed, the exposed 240v pins have always concerned us, to the point we have refused to sell power supplies.
    • Con – power – at 400w the spec’d power supply will never run a 400 or 600w spindle while also running the steppers, so either limited to the 300w spindle or source a second power supply.
    • Pro – single piece waste board – its harder to ship but now you don’t have to throw it away and buy a new solid piece!
    • Con – while open source, the use of highly specific custom extrusions mean they are the only supplier, much like the new S03, not a big con but I’m running out of cons as its pretty cool!

    And of course – our new ‘Heavy Mill’

    The heavy mill is unquestionably the strongest hobby CNC router kit soon to be on the market.  It was triggered by the endless apologies to prospective customers about the fact that a Shapeoko 2 kit would not be strong enough to work the jobs they had planned for the machine. 3DTek has always encouraged prospective users to contact us about their use case to understand if the tool is right for them, and we would have rather lost a prospective sale than sell a machine that wont do the job – until now!

    The Ox, Shapeoko 1,2,3 and X-Carve are relatively cheap machines that can do allot, however for many hobbyists the price tag driven designs come with a lack of ability that makes them an inappropriate choice.  We have fielded many conversations about buying one to modify, bolt on extra strength, use larger spindles, upgrade motors, retarding speed to compensate for lack of rigidity. Basically hoping to use these tools well outside their design because any other options were just too expensive.

      • Pro – Strength – you can see the strength!
      • Con – Price – It can never compete with the X-Carve or S03 ;(
      • Pro – Size – can be configured to take a 1200 * 2400 full sheet of stock!
      • Con – Weight – you need a decent bench she’s heavy!
      • Pro – T-slot Bed – with the t-slot bed its configured with a coolant / lubricant system to both cool and clear chips from the work piece, makes alloy milling so much easier.   Work clamping is also a breeze using T slot nuts like any other industrial T-slot system.
      • Con – Build – with the included single to three phase spindle motor driver, cooling pumps, extra fans etc, there are more parts to the system to connect and configure.
      • Pro – Industrial motion control system and drivers, with price not the defining factor, its optioned with industrial grade CNC and Driver boards to ensure maximum compliance with software and G-Code, maximum upgradeability and future proofing with both USB and Parallel options on the controller
      • Con – sorry out of cons;) maybe you can identify and send us some
      • Pro – Cutting ability – with 2.8 tonne static load rating on each linear bearing block,  industrial linear motion block and rail system, 1.5 and 2.2 KW ER16 spindle options, work cooling and industrial grade controllers – believe that you can do more than hobby work without the industrial price tag.


      Finally Our Advice

      If you’re a die hard Shapeoko fan, stick with Shapeoko 3, the few issues it has we hope to make an upgrade kit for in the near future.   Not sure about being able to help with extended profiles though.

      If you’re more interested in the tried and true get the X-Carve, while new – it is an upgraded version of a project with years of refinement and consumer discussion.  In our opinion it’s more of a Shapeoko 3  than the Shapeoko 3.  We also will be stocking this soon and plan a few cool upgrades.  It can be ordered online from and we have also produced our own kit from this great design and called it the 3DTekXYZ-Carve

      If your working with alloy or other harder materials more than once in a while or thinking about higher production output, take a look at the heavy mill.

      If your ready to chase down the parts and maybe save a dollar, and work out your own electronics, look into the OX.

      Regardless which option and whether you buy through, we have allot of replacement parts and upgrades that suit all of the above and can help with the niggling issues.

      What ever you do, give yourself time.  You need to assemble, tune, and learn the software tool chain. You wont put out your first finished product in a weekend.  Theres allot to learn but you will be amazed how simple cnc has become, how much support is out there, and how relatively easy it is to pickup without ever having done a project of its kind before.