Could Someone Give me Advice on CNC Machine Selection?

Hello there,

I am in the process of selecting a CNC machine for my workshop and would greatly appreciate your advice and insights.

I am primarily interested in a machine that offers a good balance between affordability and functionality, as I am a hobbyist looking to expand my capabilities. I plan to use the machine for a variety of projects, including woodworking and small-scale metalworking.

After some research, I have narrowed down my choices to a few models, including the Shapeoko and Nomad from Carbide 3D. However, I would love to hear from those who have hands-on experience with these machines or other similar options.

How user-friendly is the setup process for these machines?

What is the overall durability and reliability of the machine?

How does the software interface compare between different models?

Also, I have taken some help from this: which definitely helped me a lot.

Are there any notable accessories or upgrades that significantly enhance the machine’s performance?

Any advice or recommendations you can provide would be immensely helpful in guiding my decision.

Thank you in advance for your time and assistance.

I have the XXL Pro. Love it. She does wood, plastic, and aluminum very well. I do not make intense aluminum parts with a super smooth finish.

For what I make, I would do it again in a heartbeat. Like any machine, there is maintenance, BUT mine has kept square and provided me with the accuracy I demand on certain projects as long as I take the time to maintain it.

Good luck with your ventures. Remember we are just a few clicks away

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We have tried very hard to make setup easy, and there is now a Setup Wizard for this:

it’s as close to automatic as we can get with the wide variety of models — note that for the SO5 Pro, we are able to detect the controller and the HDZ is standard, so it’s only size of machine which is selected, and BitSetter position which is adjusted for.

What is the overall durability and reliability of the machine?

They are all quite durable and reliable, so long as they are assembled correctly and maintained — I’ve crashed all of mine hard enough to be scary and they keep trooping on — worst case is one has to do a bit of maintenance:

How does the software interface compare between different models?

Software is the same for all machines, save for the differences/specifics of size of size.

For that, my recommendation has always been:

  • if working with sheet goods, get an XXL or 4x4
  • if working with boards, get an XL or 4x2
  • if working with smaller stock and your parts will fit in their working area, get a Standard (16" x 16") or 2x2 — if you need to push things hard for material removal rate or want the best surface finish, get an HDM
  • if working with tiny things which require precision, get a Nomad

Then, get the machine type which suits your budgets:

  • an SO4 is the best value
  • an SO Pro is a good compromise, allowing for an increase in material removal rate and potentially better surface finish
  • the HDM doesn’t compromise on anything but size
  • the SO5 Pro is the all-rounder which wins on all categories (save for price compared to the SO4/Pro)

Are there any notable accessories or upgrades that significantly enhance the machine’s performance?

First is a spindle — this affords on/off and speed control as well as greater torque w/ a brushless motor:

  • A spindle is standard on the HDM
  • A VFD spindle in 65mm diameter, 1.2KW and runs on 110V
  • an 80mm spindle (and matching mount) is in development for the SO5 Pro

if you don’t get a spindle, then it’s a compact router or something similar — if you get the BitRunner accessory you can get on/off, but the speed still is adjusted by a dial — lengthy discussion on this at:

The balance of the accessories are the BitZero and BitSetter:

  • the BitZero allows setting the origin relative to the corners or the surface of rectangular stock
  • the BitSetter manages tool length offsets and allows having multiple tools in a single file — but it’s no longer an accessory, it’s now standard on all our machines

A further consideration is work-holding — the Hybrid T-track is an option on an SO4, and we have various clamps — unless you have something very specific in mind, get the T-track.

Any advice or recommendations you can provide would be immensely helpful in guiding my decision.

We have a page at:

My recommendation has always been:

  • decide on a project which is typical of what you want to do
  • draw it out — on paper at first if need be, then select a CAD program — for us that’s Carbide Create:

  • once the project is drawn up, decide on a material to cut it out of, decide what tooling would be appropriate to cut it out of:
  • and work up toolpaths — we have a couple of starter videos for them:

  • then preview in 3D — we have a test version of Carbide Create which has an animation of how the project will cut:

which may help to envision things.

What sort of work do you wish to do?

How do you wish to approach it?

Note that we have a standing offer — if you get stuck on a file or project let us know at and we will either find a suitable tutorial or walk through it with you here on the forums (that’s where a lot of the tutorials: Tutorials - Carbide 3D Community Site come from).


Purchased the (original) Nomad 883 in 2014. It’s needed some maintenance over the years, but even 9 years later Carbide 3D still helps me whenever I send them an email.

When I wanted a larger CNC (early 2020) I looked around at the competition, but the choice was easy. Got a Shapeoko 3 XL, and it’s been very reliable, highly recommend.

While the machines have improved over the years, the software has really evolved. Carbide Motion has probably the easiest learning curve in the CAD market. And while there isn’t a linear instruction manual, this forum makes up for it.

But all that said, there is still a learning curve and it just takes time. Don’t expect to bolt together the CNC and dive into a complicated project. Highly recommend you watch EVERY (34) YouTube video @45rpm has made, in chronological order. You’ll be watching him use the older versions of Carbide Create, but it’s still the best way (in my opinion) to learn the basics of the Carbide 3D software and hardware.


I did write up:

but it seemed kind of unnecessary given that most of the text is along the lines of:

click Connect to Cutter to connect to your machine

and I’m pretty sure no one has ever read it to the end, since there’s a typo I haven’t fixed which no one has ever reported.

Mostly, I justified it as a place to store screen grabs for support purposes/reference.

I did take the challenge searching for the typo 6+ months ago and could not find it. I read through twice. Maybe another read is in order as I am more seasoned now.

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Here is my (heavily positively-biased) take on your questions, speaking as someone who got hooked into the world of CNC by the Shapeoko, enough to feel compelled to write a book about it.

Setup is straight forward, but like @ColdCoffee said, it’s a CNC so don’t expect it to be quite as easy to use as a 3D printer.

I have a Shapeoko3 from 2017 which has endured lots of projects and various upgrades, and that I passed on to my nephew, it’s still getting used regularly with no issues. I then upgraded to a Shapeoko pro XXL a couple of years ago and it works like a charm with minimal maintenance. I’m not a power user though, just a hobbyist so I am not using it 24/7

As will mentioned it’s the same software for all Carbide3D machines. I’ll add that a number of folks here also/alternatively use Fusion360 to create toolpaths. A Shapeoko is fundamentally a GRBL-driven CNC so any third party software that supports generating G-code for GRBL machines will work with a Shapeoko.

A couple of years ago I would have said “upgrade the bed”, but the hybrid table that is now used in recent machines is rock solid already. So I’m with Will, a VFD spindle is the killer option if you are going to push your machine (or even if like me you don’t need to push it but you do appreciate the relative quietness compared to a screaming router). The rest are quality-of-life accessories (quite useful in that sense, but your question was machine performance itself)

And of course this forum is a significant part of the reason why I initially chose to go for a Shapeoko. 7 years later and this is still true.


If you’re into woodworking, I feel like size is going to be a desirable trait unless you’re making… teaspoons or something small. For that reason, I’d recommend one of the Shapeokos over the Nomad 3.

Regarding setup, I would recommend scrubbing through some of the assembly videos for the machines, to see what you’re getting yourself into. All of them are pretty straightforward to put together, though the 5 is the easiest IMO, having built on the improvements of each successive generation of machine. Generally, if you can build Ikea furniture, you can build a Shapeoko.

Between the different Shapeoko’s, there’s basically nothing you can do on one machine that you can’t do on another. The only difference will be how fast you can cut. Fundamentally they all do the same things. If this is an experiment/hobby, I would have no qualms recommending a Shapeoko 4. If time is money, or you really need the size, Shapeoko HDM or Shapeoko 5 respectively would be worth considering.


To some on the forum this may seem like heresy but most CNC machines are pretty much alike in their capabilities. I think the main difference is support and software. I would suggest you get a log in to xcarve (inventables), one infinity and any other forums from the OEM maker and check out the forums. I have membership on several of these forums and can tell you from experience this forum rocks. The forum is moderated by C3D employees and beyond that the officers and developers chime in on a regular basis. Every forum you will a few percent of disgruntled members that things did not work out for them. That happens even with cars. 99% of people like what they purchases but 1% hate what they bought. That can happen because of design, manufacturing mistakes or just because some people are never happy. The forum has disgruntled members like every forum but people are trying to help them both just regular members and C3D employees.

Personally I think the C3D Shapeoko machines along with the support are great machines. That does not mean that other manufacturers make crap but for my it hits my sweet spot.

So check out the other OEM forums and see what the involvement of the members and staff are and if they are answering questions in a timely manner and giving help where needed.

As far as what machine from C3D is best that depends. The Nomad is used for small projects and many jewelers and craftsmen use them. The larger machines can do almost what a Nomad does but can do it on a bigger scale. So if you want to build cabinets a Nomad would not be a good fit. The SO5 Pro can do up to 4’x4" and you can go longer by tiling.

As far as software it depends on your capability. C3D has Carbide Create and is loaded locally and everything is in your control. Xcarve is cloud based. Both C3D and Xcarve has a Pro upgrade but both have free versions that are quite versatile. Moving up you have Carveco, Fusion 360 and Vetric. You pay for those upgrades but personally I would not move up to those until you have exhausted the native software and feel it is limiting you. For my personal work I have the Pro Carbide Create and it does everything I need. However if you are into advanced design and prototyping the F360 or Vetric might be more suited to your uses.

The bottom line for any CNC machine your choose there is a steep learning curve. That curve is a double whammy. There is the software CAD/CAM software and then the other steep curve is learning to master the physical machine.

Like people that buy exercise equipment some use it to its full extend and some use as a clothes horse. So what you buy and use is up to you and the time you put in. There is no magic button you push and poof a project appears like a StarTrek transporter. It takes work to learn the software and hardware but it is not insurmountable as almost everyone here on the forum has some level of mastery.

Just be real about your expectations of what you want to accomplish and are willing to invest the time, energy and money to accomplish your expectations. Any C3D machine you buy would likely make your happy and our forum is second to none.


I bought the Shapeoko 5 PRO under the life-long credo of “Buy Quality, Cry Once”.

My woodshop is pretty packed with rather large machines (Jet, Powermatic) so I bought the 4x2 but believe me so I would have gotten the 4x4 if I could have fit it.

It’s built quite well, like a tank. Very solid.

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Owning the SW was a very high scoring element in my decision matrix, along with the testimonies of customer support, which have not yet failed me. xCarve is a very nice machine, but Carbide Create Pro absolutely rocks the stage IMO.

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