Need to understand toolpaths

Hello All, I am really new to this type of automated woodworking and will be purchasing my Shapeoko xxl within the week. I have already set up a few projects but got confused when I had to make a tool change. Not sure how I go about that. Was hoping someone would be kind enough to fill me in on what the sequence of events would be. Another question I have is about the cutter. When the cutter moves from say one hole to another does the cutter retract to Z0 automatically? Thanks in advance!


Toolpaths contain commands to move the cutter relative to a given predefined reference point (X0, Y0, Z0). You first need to set this reference point, and particularly Z0, manually, usually somewhere on the top surface of the stock material (lowering the cutter until it barely touches the surface, or using a touch probe to do the same automatically). Then you run your job for that tool. The file generated by the CAD/CAM tool (Carbide Create) includes commands for retracting the tool automatically whenever that is required (e.g. when going from one hole to another hole). When the time comes to change tool, to run a second toolpath with the new tool, you need to adjust for the length of the new tool compared to the length of the original tool. To do this, you do the zeroing again with the new tool (manually, or using the brand new BitSetter device), then load and run your second toolpath.

If you want to have a wider look at the overall CNC process on the Shapeoko,

  • you should watch all tutorial videos on Carbide 3D site
  • you may be interested in reading this

In addition to what @Julien said, please see:

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A few more tidbits, unless you have a BitSetter, you need to create a GCode file for toolpaths using the same endmill, you cannot have a file with toolpaths using different endmills. They also have to be saved in a logical order to be machined.

You also need to both save your project and your toolpaths separately. If you save only your toolpaths, you will not be able to reopen your project to make changes.


Russel, you’re getting good info here from everyone. Welcome and don’t be afraid to ask questions once your machine arrives. One of the things that helped me was just watching YouTube vids. Not all of them were on the Shapeoko using Carbide Create/Motion but the workflow surrounding toolpaths is similar no matter what setup you have, so watching others set up their jobs and loading the toolpaths is helpful not mater what is being demonstrated.

Once you get the machine and run a few jobs, things will get a whole lot more intuitive. As Luc says, there is a logic to how you will lay out your toolpaths (which one should run first, second, third, etc.) and in grouping them so that you are not having to make multiple tool changes between files. With CC, you have an option to run each toolpath as a separate g-code file (by disabling/enabling toolpaths when saving g-code) or running several toolpaths as one file. When doing the latter, the machine will run the toolpaths in the order shown during the save process.

The retract height can be, I believe, (re)set in CC when you set up your files (I typically leave mine at the default). In actuality, it will be in reference to Z0. So, if the retract height is set to 10mm, then the machine will lift the bit from Z0 (which you set at the start of each toolpath run and after changing bits) to 10mm above the Z0.


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