Dumb questions!

I’m really close to ordering a Shapeoko. I’ve got some dumb questions though that I just can’t find answers to.

My use would be just hobby. Doing inlays, building jigs for wood bending projects, joinery, maybe some 3D relief, Knick knack stuff.

Say I’m cutting a part out of plywood. Will it route all the way through the ply, or does it stop short and I have to finish cutting the piece out. If it cuts all the way through does the wood, ply or solid, splinter? If it cuts all the way through how do you keep from tearing up the wasteboard? If I cut a piece out of a larger clamped piece, what keeps the cut out from moving and getting thrown off square or getting similar to kick back on a saw?

If I want to do a 3D contoured relief thingy, is it difficult (I know that’s subjective)? Does the software to do that cost money or are there free options?


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Hi Jeff,

In 99% of cases you will want to cut all the way through, and yes it will cut slightly into the wasteboard, but that’s exactly what it is there for. As your material is clamped down onto the wasteboard and you cut into both the bottom of the stock and the top of the wasteboard, there is usually no problem of splintering on the bottom.

There are two main ways to hold the piece in place after the cut:

  1. when using clamps as a workholding method, you can use “tabs”, i.e. small sections of material that are intentionally left at the bottom of the cut. Think of it as a shallow “cut-here” dotted line around your piece. The CAD/CAM software (Carbide Create for example) allows you to put a given number of these tabs around the final outer cut. Tabs work fine, but then you do have some manual clean-up to do, cutting these tabs to remove the piece from the surrounding stock and a little sanding where the tabs were.
  2. using the “tape & glue” workholding method, in which case most if not all of the bottom surface of the stock is glued to the wasteboard, and then you can do profile cuts all the way through the stock and all around the piece, and it will not move away. You them pry the piece apart from the wasteboard (it sounds bad, but the tape & glue method is such that it holds things in place really well during the cut, while taking very little force to remove the piece afterwards). The only downside is that your endmill will cut into the tape+glue near the end of the job, and you will have to clean-up the glue from the endmill (just a swipe with alcohol and it’s gone).

3D jobs: I’ll let others comment as I have no experience there.

Don’t think twice, the Shapeoko is a great machine and the community here is awesome, you won’t regret it.


For 3D the community has notes on free/opensource software at:

Sort of free and widely used is Autodesk Fusion 360: https://wiki.shapeoko.com/index.php/Commercial_Software#3D_CAD

If you’d let us know what sort of 3D work you wish to do we could better advise you.


I second the comments from Will and Julian and would also throw in a recommendation of using downcut bits for milling wood. This pushes the fibers down as it cuts and will prevent a lot of splintering on the top side of the wood.

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There are sometimes many approaches – some are bad ideas, but others are just different. When I’m planning to cut all the way through, I’ll use a sheet or two of railroad board (basically poster board) below the piece. It’s cheap, dimensionally uniform, and not really a noticeable increase in effort for a hobbyist like me. If I’m cutting a paddle trail sign out of rough-cut cypress, I’ll use something like chipboard so I have a couple extra millimeters play. So, basically, I cut into a “wasteboard” all the time, but I cut into a very thin temporary “waste…piece”, greatly extending the useful life of my more complicated “real” wasteboard (which has threaded inserts for attaching fixtures and is made of panels that fit between my T-track setup).

With plywood, I’ve been using compression bits, which are upcut near the end with the rest downcut. That means both the top and bottom are being cut toward the middle, giving you nice edges on both the top and bottom. There’s a bit of thought involved, of course, as you have to consider your depth of cut and where that puts the up and down sections of the compression bit, but it gives excellent results.


I’m about 4 months into my SO3 XXL. It’s so big that I had to get rid of a few rigs and jigs to make room for it (and still need to get rid of a bit more), but I do not regret getting it at all.

I tried Inkscape at first (before I got the XXL) and had a bit of success with it using my first CNC machine…a little CNC 3018. I then got a trial version of Vectric’s VCarve software. Ohhhh man! I needed to drop a few pounds anyway, so I got the Pro version. Another “glad I did that” thing.

Get the Shapeoko and you won’t regret it. VCarve Pro works for me, but listen to what the other guys on this forum have to say. Keep your browser tuned to this forum. These guys are a valuable asset when it comes to getting answers to our “dumb questions.”

Happy carving!



It is called a spoil board for a reason. You spoil it and resurface periodically. There are many spoil board designs. Most people put a 3/4" piece of MDF on top of the factory MDF boards that come with the Shapeoko. I just made a design from Myers Woodworks on youtube and it works fantastic. After building the spoil board you usually use a fly cutter, in my case a Whiteside 6210 1" 3 Wing cutter, to surface the spoil board and get it flat in relation to the router.

As far as bits there are many choices available. I have a mix of Whiteside, Irwin and the Carbide3d bits. As with razors many times Gillette gives you a razor but makes you buy the blades. The router bits are the same. The total investment in a CNC router is usually around $2000.00 + $1000.00 in accessories (computer, software, router bits, sanding, finishes, calipers etc…). That may seem shocking but if you count up everything you need that is the reality. You can cheap skate and still make many things but there is no way to do it for nothing.

Things to consider when buying a CNC router:

CNC Router it self {Shapeoko is a good choice:) }

  1. Computer to run the CNC Router (You may already have one but it is required to have)
  2. Software to run the CNC Router (Carbide Create is free and a good beginner choice Comercial software is from $200-2000.00.
  3. Spoil boards and screws, nuts, bolts, clamps etc to feed the CNC Router
  4. Material to feed the CNC router
  5. TIME, above all else is the time spent learning how to properly use your CNC Router, the software to program it and the many hours of watching the machine run.

If you are not prepared to make the financial and time requirements I suggest you do not get into this hobby. If however you are prepared financially and time wise you will enjoy it immensely.

Just be sure you go into this or any other endeavor with your eyes wide open.


Well said gdon_2003.

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. :wink:

Here is a pic from my software showing how tabs hold pieces together when cutting through the workpiece. When you’re finished with the cut, simply cut through the tabs from the back and sand the edges. Hope this helps clear things.



Everyone works on different material. Some plywood, some solid wood, some plastic, some aluminum. It all depends on what you are making. Plywood will cut just fine but you will most likely graduate to solid wood pretty soon. When you are designing in Carbide Create you input your stock thickness. When you cut out a part with or without tabs you specify how far down to cut. It is best to use tabs because on the last cut and the part becomes free the router will try to spit it out. The violent throwing of the part can break it, chip it or possibly break you. If you use stock bottom then the part will be cut all the way through. Do not concentrate so much on the spoil board being marked up. It will get cut to pieces and you will surface it and/or replace it over time. For me locally a sheet of 4x8x3/4" MDF is about 32.00. Occasionally I miscalculate the thickness or I did not have the wood clamped all the way down and it will not cut all the way through. I use a Dremel oscillating tool with a wood blade to cut through the bottom and separate the project from the waste. You can use a Japanese trim saw, a knife, Xacto Knife, chisels or any number of other tools designed to cut wood. Even if you cut all the way through you have to remove the tabs.

One last piece of advise. What happens in the garage stays in the garage. If you make a mistake you just fix it and move on. If you have to scrap the part and start over there is no woodworking jail for making mistakes. Mistakes are a part of the learning curve and you will get better each time you make something new. If you make a mistake just dont tell anyone but us here on the forum. We will help you to figure out your mistake and how to fix it. I enjoy this community very much and have gotten very good advise.

One more thing is I suggest that you get a journal when you get your machine. I have one that I update my progress in and paste pictures and instructions on making projects in it. By documenting your progress you can go back and review and improve what you are doing. The journal is invaluable if you cannot work on the CNC for several months you have a written record of how and why you did something. Go over to cutrocket.com and checkout the projects and documentation. When you make a project try to document your procedure, steps and notes similar to what they do on the cutrocket site. It will help you to duplicate a particular project. You dont need to re-invent the wheel for every project. You can take the basic template and apply it to modified design, just document the changes in a new template. I have a projects folder and put each project in a separate folder. In each folder I make a word processing document with the instructions. In the folder I save the Carbide Create file. In that same folder I create a “gcode” folder and save all gcode (Carbode Motion) files there. As an example I made 4 3"x5" boxes. On the top of each box I put a different carving. So in the gcode folder I made separate folders for each box top. If I want to recreate a box I have the basic box instruction and file and just reuse the existing gcode for a duplicate. This may seem redundant but file management is an important thing to consider. I make rather long files names that describe what it is. A file namesd “gcode” does not tell anything about what it is and more importantly you will most likely have more than one project in your career. Plan ahead and be organized and document what you are doing and why.

Sorry to be so long winded buy you need to start off right.


Great tips @gdon_2003!

I have had a lot of ‘what happens in the garage stays in the garage’ moments, it’s all part of it! - it makes it all the sweeter when you get your projects perfect!

Definitely agree with the journal, I have a sketchbook and a projects log to keep it relatively tidy. everything in there from issues with the design to material/speeds and feeds, what can be improved for next time.

Also a big fan of having a projects folder with all job files in folders in there, I even include any pictures used as art in the making of each project, and sometimes a screen snip of the preview so I can quickly work out if its the job I’m thinking of.

I’ve recently started having a folder for each software (i.e Solidworks, Aspire etc) then at the start of each project folder putting the date and half of year e.g. /Projects/Aspire/2019 H1 - Cat engraved box - helps me keep it clear

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You know it is only 81 years till the turn of the next century. You dont want a Y3K problem with dates. Better get right on that update. :wink:

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I keep everything pretty much organized in folders too. However, I do it on Dropbox. I have VCarve Pro on my PC at work, in my home office, and in my garage where I do the actually carving. Makes it easy to keep my projects\files nice and tidy. I also have a folder for the tons of clipart items and snips of plaques and stuff that I see on Pinterest and other places.

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