Best Option for a Total Beginner?

I am looking to get my first CNC Machine. My goal is to document the journey of novice to proficient on Youtube and other social media platforms to encourage others going through a big life change to pick up a creative hobby. I am a 33 year old former nurse that is very tech savy, but have limited woodworking experience and absolutely no CAD/CNC experience. I had a stroke earlier this year that took me away from bedside nursing so I’m looking for something to do with my (too much) free time. As a hobby initially, but I wouldn’t mind earning a small income from it in the future if I were able to successfully learn how to make money off of my projects.

I don’t want to start too small and regret not buying a bigger model, nor do I want to overspend and bite off more than I can chew. What’s a good place to start with Shapeoko? Is there a learning curve with bigger machines vs smaller? Besides project sizes, is there any advantages to the larger models that I may be overlooking?

Thank you for any feedback provided!


So first things first. Decide what you want to produce. There are many ideas on youtube about making money woodworking. Yes CNC work is woodworking. After you get an idea of what you want to make then start looking at options to fulfill that. If you have the room the bigger the better. I will not lie and will tell you there is a steep learning curve. It is not impossible to overcome but will take a good deal of time to become proficient enough to make things that people want to buy.

As stated earlier CNC is woodworking. You must feed the CNC. I would recommend a table saw but a circular saw with a shooting board would be enough to get started. You will need all the things that are required to finish your work. When the projects come off the CNC they are raw and need sanding and finishing. Much of that can be done with hand tools but a good 5" random orbit sander and some assorted chisels and other hand tools are needed.

If you are on the forum you likely have a computer. You will need to be able to download software and images to manipulate into projects. There is the free Carbide Create and Carbide Motion to feed your C3D machine. You will need a few programs that are either bought or are free. Inkscape is an open source graphics program that is free. You need to turn bitmap images into svg (Scaleable Vector Graphics) and that is a good start. You can buy programs like Vetric or have subscriptions to Fusion 360. those have capabilities that the free Carbide Create do not have but start with Carbide Create and get your feet wet.

So if you have the time and energy using a CNC is very doable and is fun and can be financially rewarding. The community is here to help and is a friendly place. The forum is moderated and is family friendly. So ask your questions and you will get answers.

As I stated earlier the Shapeoko 4 and 4 Pro are good starting points. The SO5 and HDM are heavy duty machines but not really good starting machines. If you can have the room for an XXL or XL I would go that route. It is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. For small precision projects the Nomad is a good machine but is limited by size. So again start with what you want to make. Jewelry and engraving are in the Nomad’s lane. Those same projects can be done on the larger machines but are more general purpose than the Nomad’s intended purposes.


Thankfully that’s one thing I don’t struggle with. :slight_smile: Thank you for the input! I do have a little bit of experience with similar software as I have a vinyl cutter and already export to SVG for that. I messed around a bit with Carbide Create and found it pretty intuitive and didn’t struggle navigating around making my first design. I do have basic woodworking tools, and the ability to finish rough cut projects. Seems like I’m off to a solid start, although I’m sure there are things I will need that I can’t think of right now.

I will look into the 4 and 4 pro. I absolutely have room for a large model and was leaning more towards that as I don’t want to be limited in future projects.

What sort of woodworking projects do you want to make?

What is your budget?

Our machines range from the SO4 Standard size (belt-drive XY, lead-screw Z, 16"x16" working area) through the SO5 Pro 4x4 (ball-screws all-around and 4’x4’ working area), with the option of the Nomad 3 (lead-screws all-around, 8" x 8" x 3"), but what one machine can do, another can, w/in reason and patience — just you trade the expense of the machine against how fast it can cut, and the need for some preparation such as calibration.

The Shapeoko Pro is basically an SO4 w/ linear rails (some refer to it as an SO4 Pro), so it trades Delrin V wheels for linear bearing blocks which have to be lubricated.

The Shapeoko 5 Pro goes to linear rails and ball-screws on all axes (note that it is possible to put a ball-screw HDZ on our other machines).

Linear rails and ball-screws have the advantages of being more rigid and allowing finer steps in motion for better precision/accuracy.

That said, I make similar projects on my SO3 as my SO5 Pro — it just goes faster on the latter, and no calibration was necessary.

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Looks like the 5 Pro is ticking most of my boxes. Faster, plus a lit work area for recording projects which is important to me. I’ve budgeted about 4k for this.

Well, that just leave the matter of size — my recommendation has always been:

  • get a Standard/2x2 if you work on smaller projects which fit that working area
  • get an XL/4x2 if you work on boards
  • get an XXL/4x4 if you work with sheet goods
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I don’t like limitations. I think the 48x48 5 pro is the choice for me!

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I have a S5Pro 4x4 and have had one of every Shapeoko for the last 7 years. I think the S5Pro is the easiest to get and go. :slight_smile: Don’t underestimate the 4x2 version as that is 90% of my jobs. It fits on a Husky/Harbir Freight/etc tool box which is convenient. You can tile the occasional deeper job.

I’m not trying to dissuade you from the 4x4 as it’s the best for me. But the 4x2 is easier to place and reach the whole bed.


I totally agree with Josh. The SO5Pro is a great machine to learn on. As for as size goes, to me the only reason not to get the 4x4 would be a space constraint. Definitely don’t underestimate the size as it’s a very big machine and takes up a lot of room, including room for you to be able to walk around it.


Yeah, we can all look at the dimensions of the 4x4 on b the site, and we all know what those numbers mean, but are all surprised at the size when we build the bench. :smiley:

Might be good practice to start recommending people lay-out the bench size with painters tape on the floor to get an idea. :slight_smile:


Plus a maintenance/work zone around it.


That’s a great idea. My work area will be a two car garage, minus the cars.


Plus the lawnmower, snowblower, kids bikes, wife’s gardening tools, … LOL!!!

That’s my case, I’ve outgrown my space long ago, need to convince wife and kids it’s time to move so dad can get himself a decent workshop for his CNC hobby and more shop tools :slight_smile:


Yep. My slightly oversized 2 car garage is 98% filled with my tools. But that at her 2% really all it’s me.

I used to have a 1200 sqft workshop at my last house and would love to have that space again. My wife is sick of the summers in GA and Inwork remotely now so maybe a move to a location with a shop is in my future.


My bench top is minimal with almost no area around it. Maintenance is easy and you don’t really need table top for that. I also have a roll-around tool box for storage and a work top. All the accessories are on/in holsters I have designed and 3D printed.


When I lived in Kingwood Texas I had a 2 car garage crammed with tools. We had a hurricane coming and I put my Miata inside by moving all my tools to the side. Everything in my shop is on wheels. I then parked my pickup across the two garage doors to keep the wind from crashing in the doors. Everything went well but sometimes the cars need protection. So put your tools on wheels that make it easier to clean and do maintenance even rearrange occassionally. Even an SO5 should be on wheels so it can be maneuvered around for cleaning and maintenance and tiling jobs.

I have a much larger shop now and most of my equipment sits in what I call the tool coral. Because they are on wheels I pull the jointer or drum sander out in the middle and use it and then store it back in the coral. Works well. I wish I had the room to have a stationary place for everything but if you have enough tools that does not work. Just remember if your shop cannot go out then you need to go up. Utilize wall and ceiling space to store things that are seldom used.

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Lol, that’s a good point. Fortunately our garage is pretty empty - for now!

You must have a longer reach than me. I need to get to the front and both sides of the machine periodically.

How big are these machines?! A two car garage is 18x20 feet. Cutting surface is 48x48. Surely I won’t have trouble moving around it in one car spot, will I?

Please see the images at:

I would suggest mocking up the machine and table with some cardboard and/or masking tape.

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