Is a Shapeoko Right For Me?

Hi All,
I’m completely new to the world of CNC machines, i’ve been doing tons of research and while i think i have a pretty good understanding of the basics, i don’t have any actual real world experience. On to my question: I have a small business making custom gifts out of sheet metal, things like key chains, necklace pendants, dog tags etc. Up till now, i’ve been using a combination of a benchtop shear, disc cutters and corner rounders to make my products. This has been fine for small orders, but i’m starting to sell pieces in much higher numbers and having a way to mass produce pieces would be a life saver. I was originally looking at the nomad but i don’t think that gives me a large enough working area to produce pieces in the numbers i would like. I’m now looking at both models of the Shapeoko and i’m a little unsure of what would be the best fit for me. Cost isn’t really a issue, i just don’t want to pay for more machine then i need as all the pieces i intend to make are pretty basic 2d shapes. Any guidance anyone can offer would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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What metals are you using in your products?

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Material, part size, and needed production time/material removal rates are the big concerns.

Paying for more machine will get you larger working area/faster material removal rates, a less-expensive machine will just need to run a bit longer to make the same parts.

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I can’t speak on steel but I know those items made with aluminum would be very doable - cutting and engraving.

Depending on your background, the learning curve may be less steep

I would recommend looking at a used SO3 (at least XL) with at least a Z-plus z-axis carriage. Get your feet wet with a lower cost of entry and if it doesn’t work out you can just flip it.

I make my products mostly from .064 and .080 thick aluminum sheet, occasionally I’ll use brass and copper but not very often. In a perfect world, I would love to make say 100 peices at a time or something like that. Not sure if that’s a reasonable expectation though. Is there much of a difference between the 2 machines when it’s comes to time and workholding/removal for my application? I also wouldn’t mind playing around with engraving text as well.

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What size are the parts?

Just to show the feasibility, my first project on my SO3 was engraving (V carving) and cutting out 1/8" thick alu.:

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Assuming a dog tag is about 2" x 1", you should be able to fit close to 100 pieces in the work area of a standard Shapeoko (16" x 16" but some of that is overhanging the front of the machine slightly, so a bit less). This should help keep shop space requirements to a minimum.

And then the choice between SO4 or SO Pro probably boils down to whether you need to optimize cutting time aggressively or if it’s ok for you to let it run for 1-2hours while doing something else nearby.

The real challenge regardless of the model is workholding, but when cutting 100 pieces at a time I think spending 10-15min attaching the stock (large sheet of 0.08" aluminium ?) is ok, and therefore I would go for blue tape and glue method. It will be solid while cutting, and only take a few minutes to peel off afterwards.


If I might suggest a third option since you mentioned that cost is not an issue…pre-ordering the Shapeoko HDM. I don’t know if cost is kind of an issue, but that gets you the larger work area, and exceeds the precision of the Nomad.

If it were me, I’d go HDM. I know it’s slightly over double the cost of a Standard Size Shapeoko Pro, but you do get more surface area with the HDM too. My second choice in your situation would be the Standard SOPro.

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Another option to explore is having the parts cut via waterjet or laser, depending on the quantity it may be more cost effective to farm the work out.

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This is exactly the kind of info i’m looking for, thanks. Right now it take me approx a day to produce 100 dogs tags start to finish so if i could do that in 1-2 hours, then i can certainly invest a little more time with work holding.

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I was actually looking at the upcoming HDM as well but I’m in Canada and i saw that shipping is only available within the US right now. It is a great looking machine though and looks like it would be the best of both worlds.

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Since you’re a professional I would network with others in your business group or through a local supply shop that talks to a lot of other folks. I find that when I dabble in a new profession its a completely different world and I realize how little I actually know about day-to-day issues in their world. I suspect Shapeoko wouldn’t be a great fit IMHO given your description but I would buy the counter guy at the local supply a Starbucks (oops Tim Horton) and see what they say.

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Ha, I’m already very used to bringing in coffee and donuts whenever i need one of my local material suppliers to do me a favour. I completely understand that i’m facing a pretty steep learning curve as i’m a newcomer to the CNC world and i’m sure there are 100’s of little problems i’ll run into that i never even thought about. In your opinion, is there anything in particular about the shapeoko that should stop me from purchasing one for my application?. I wont be trying anything to crazy in the beginning, just a series of pretty small basic 2d shapes from aluminum sheet. I’m at the point with my business that I really need to have a way to mass produce pieces in house ( or garage in my case) :slight_smile:

Best thing is to draw up a design, then work out the feeds and speeds and toolpaths, and get a 3D preview, simulating the G-Code — if you find that comfortable to do, the balance is just a matter of sourcing and prepping the stock, securing it in place, setting zero relative to it, and cutting it out.

My context is I have been using the Shapeoko for about 7 years with many upgrades. For me it is a hobby machine working mostly with wood(s) and plastics. I do signmaking for folks but mostly gifts like ornaments.

My impression of what you were looking for was:

  1. Improving your throughput. – I consider the Shapeoko a highly manual machine. Lots of fiddling needed to set things up in spite of all the add-on boxes they keep inventing to make things a little quicker. Industrial machines tend to have a lot more process automation built in (automatic bit changing, etc).

  2. Working with metals. – there are folks doing this but I think the reality is that if you are focused on metals you probably want a machine with coolant and a powerful spindle (i.e. not a repurposed trim router). The nomad actually seems to be more of a metal machine.

You didn’t mention software but for me that is at least as much of an investment as the machine. Knowing what software you use/plan to use would narrow the choices.

I am happy with my Shapeoko for doing my hobby work but if I was earning a living doing CNC work, particularly metal based work, I would probably look for something a little more tuned to my application.


That said, a lot of folks do well w/ metals:

and the industrial metal machines are quite a bit more expensive.


Do you need or would you like to run any 2.5D or 3D toolpaths or do any engraving? Or do you need to change the designs very often?

One question you might ask yourself is whether a router/mill is the right tool for the job. If you just need to cut out shapes, you might be better off with a laser or plasma cutter instead (or in addition).

You may also consider some kind of automatic punching machine that just stamps the parts out of sheet metal in one go. You’d need custom dies for your designs but you’d only need a few of those so you could outsource them.


I don’t have any intentions of tackling anything too complex, just very basic 2d shapes out of .064 and .080 aluminum sheet. Maybe a little engraving text as well. I have looked at plasma and laser cutters but they all seem a little out of my price range.

I would stick with a higher rpm that a router gives you for this type of work. You would be surprised at how much an rpm jump from 30k Router to 24k spindle is in terms of feedrates.

There’s also the question of acceleration difference from belts (s3,s4, Pro) to ballscrews. While stuff like this doesn’t really matter on one piece, when you start doing decent quantities like planned, every bit counts. The HDM does have fast travel screws though, so we’ll see how it boogies when they start rolling out.

I’ve seen this first hand when doing production runs of polycarbonate at work. Started out using a Tormach 24r (ballscrews, spindle) then moved the job to the Shapeoko Pro XXL because of increased feeds with higher rpm. Also, the strength and rigidity differences in machine won’t really start to be seen until you start pushing end mills over 1/8". By the sounds of what you need to do, I would think you would rarely use anything large regularly.

Imo a Pro Xl would be my pick. That way you aren’t so deep into a machine purchase before you find out how cnc integrates into your workflow. If that works out, go HDM and drop in a 36,000rpm spindle for a speed demon with small tools.

These machines are great force multipliers and the hardest part will be trying not to watch it work the whole time.


Thanks for the advice. For the kind of work i mentioned, you think going up to the pro instead of the 4 would be worthwhile? I know the added rigidity of the linear rails would likely help with cut quality. The only reason I ask is one thing I like about the 4 is the option of the standard 17 x 17 size which would fit a little better in my shop. I can make the xl work however so that’s not a deal breaker. Also, and apologies if this is a stupid question, but are recommending a more powerful router then the Carbide?