New lurker. Questions on which machine

Hi guys,
Joined recently. Little background, retired engineer/manager by trade. I’ve got a small laser business I started a few years ago.

I’m looking at adding cnc to my abilities and I’m pretty sure a Shapeoko is in the future. (Would love a 4x8 sheet sized machine, but it’s not in the cards.)

I’m leaning towards a 3xxl, but am intrigued by the nomad. Yeah, lot of difference in size and abilities but are there folks here that have or had both and can sway me one way or another.

Oh, if anyone is looking to rid themselves of a machine… give me a shout. I’m in NW Arkansas, so shipping would probably be necessary, but I can travel a ways…

The machines are wonderfully complimentary — I use my Nomad for intricate metalwork, while the Shapeoko gets used for larger scale projects (working up to some furniture designs).

The Nomad is the machine for putting on your desk and small projects (though folks have done some pretty large-scale projects: Nomad - Large Aluminum Part ) while the Shapeoko is the machine to put out in the shop (though I run mine in the basement).

That said, the Shapeoko does small and intricate quite well: Making a Stainless Steel Watch Case and Back on the Shapeoko 3 (Start to Finish) and my first project on mine was a small pair of locking register calipers: Locking register calipers after H.O. Studley

If you want to do small, intricate, 3D parts which take advantage of the fixtures for the Nomad such as the low profile vise or the flip jig, definitely consider it. If not, a Shapeoko should work well, esp. if you invest the effort into an enclosure.

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I have a 3xxl and love it. I have no experience with the Nomad. I bought my xxl used about a year ago. The Nomad as I understand it is more rigid but my XXL has performed perfectly. That all said the weak point of a Shapeoko is the belt driven systems. There are several work a rounds like buying the HDZ Z axis, Steel threaded belts and even upgrading the v-wheels and replacing the gantry brackets with larger (taller) ones.

What I recommend is to buy a stock 3xxl, use it, master it and then decide if you need to upgrade any component. Most users will never need the HDZ or the stiffer belts or any mods.

What I also recommend is using Carbide Create and Carbide Motion at first and grow beyond their capacity before you upgrade to Vetric or other software packages. The Carbide Create has undergone quite a few changes in the last few months and they have added a Pro feature. The competitor Xcarbe has the Easel software with a Pro upgrade. However the Easel is all internet based and requires a good internet connection. You can also get a Startup License from Fusion 360 if you do not use it for profit and that is free. The Fusion 360 is a robust and professional level program but has a very steep learning curve. There are many other free and pay programs but again I recommend Carbide Create and Carbide Motion first before spending money on overkill.

So overkill is a debatable term that means different things to different people. So I highly recommend that you think about what purpose you have in mind for a CNC Router. For a hobbyist and/or semi-pro the Shapeoko is great. If you are going to go into production with metal objects then a larger more robust machine might be better. Do not discount the machining of metal by the Shapeoko but wood is really the sweet spot for the Shapeoko. The XXL will take up a 4’x4’ area due to its size. So in your thinking about what you are going to do with the CNC router consider your biggest projects and buy accordingly. The Shapeoko is open front and back so the length is not a limiting factor but width is. Additionally if you want to product long projects the software upgrade is very handy to tackle the registration necessary for precise joining of the sections.


I started with the Nomad and after 9 months of use I kept wanting to do bigger stuff so I bought the XXL and I still use both. When I do small stuff that has fine detail I use the Nomad, when I have anything larger than it can handle I use the Shapeoko. Both are now an import part of my tool system and I can’t say I would ever give up either.

So, do you want to create small very precise stuff or want larger faster designs?

Also the Nomad comes ready to use out of the box (was cutting in 15 minutes) but the Shapeoko does need to be assembled and if you are not a hands of build it type that might be an issue, for me it was a non issue.

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Ok, thanks for the replies, but you are all still making it extremely difficult to decide.:sweat_smile:

I’ve got ideas for several metal parts, from cutting thin sheet, to aluminum block. All would fit on nomad, but then the 3xxl would fit really well with my laser work. I can see some signs in wood and plastic that work way better alongside the laser. Mixed media…

I have played a bit with fusion, but there is big learning curve there. I’m fluent in coreddraw so converting stuff to dxf is pretty much a breeze.

Ok, any more good pushes either way would be nice. Still leaning towards the 3xxl…

I also started with a small machine (not a Nomad though) and found I wanted to do bigger projects almost immediately. So I now have an XXL and have not looked back. If you decide on a Shapeoko, don’t mess around–get an XXL if you have room for it.

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Room isn’t an issue. Deciding where is more of an issue. Shop has room, but I’d rather have it in my basement with other laser equipment. Nomad would easily fit… I’d have to have xxl in different area, but the only thing I’d have to do is put down overlay on top of my carpet… chips hard to remove from indoor outdoor loop carpet… good enclosure in either place most probably.

Since you mention laser : I have yet to see one post on this forum of someone hooking up a laser on their Nomad (not saying it’s not possible, just saying it does not seem common at all), while you will find tens of people here using their JTech lasers (or other models) on their Shapeoko. The Shapeoko also lends itself more easily to mods/hooking up all sorts of gadgets. Since you also mention “signs”, pretty sure you’ll want the larger work area of a Shapeoko.
I agree it’s a tough dilemna, good luck :slight_smile:

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After I got the small machine (~10" x 10" capacity), I immediately got a request for a sign that was 24" wide. So that gave me a minimum size for the next machine I was going to get. I thought about the XL, but I happened upon an almost new XXL on Craigslist, and I’m happy that I have that now.

I also have indoor/outdoor carpet in my garage where the XXL is, but my table is sitting on top of thick rubber mats that were there for another purpose and those make it easy to vacuum up any dust that escapes my side shields.

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