New to CNC and interested in the XXL, I have a lot of questions

Hi I am a disabled Veteran and hoping getting into CNC router can be a way to earn some supplemental income. I have not touched a wood working tool since I was in high school in the 1980’s. Is my interest in learning this hobby in the hopes of minor income foolish and above my head?

I watch a lot of videos on YouTube they show projects roughed out then switch to a finishing ball bit but none explain how to know when to switch bits, or what bits to use for what and when.

Also I build my own computers but wonder if I will have the ability to build a shapeoko, I have no electrical or programming skills.

Whether or no you can make money w/ a Shapeoko is a more a matter of your abilities at marketing and product development and how well those things synch up with the local market, or your ability to sell on the internet. Marketing is hard/difficult.

That said, a CNC can be a game changer in terms of enabling one to do fast/accurate/repetitive work — it’s an employee you don’t have to pay, or provide insurance or benefits for.

Bits are known as endmills — one of the neat things about CNC is that rather than the multiplicity of bits which routers require, one can do most work w/ just one or two or three basic types. This is discussed here: Shapeoko CNC Router, Rigid, Accurate, Reliable, and Affordable

One of the goals of the Shapeoko project was to define a CNC design / system which removed the need to understand stepper drivers, and G-code at a low-level. You’re exactly the sort of person a Shapeoko is intended for, and really, the only skills needed are the ability to follow directions (and to be patient with the current state of the directions) and turn a bolt/screw, and to use some simple software — for 2.5D projects we’ve reduced that to just two pieces of software:

Both are programs which you install locally and which are not (quite) copy-protected (we use the machine control board as a dongle) — you can try them out in advance of purchasing a machine: Downloads (but Carbide Motion won’t do much until you have a machine — still a good idea to make sure that it installs and loads before committing)

You may want to consider a full 3D workflow if that suits the sort of projects which you wish to do and it’s something which you can wrap your mind around. My son uses SolidWorks, but it just gives me a headache, so I do my 3D modeling in OpenSCAD (which gives him a headache) — but that’s another level of complexity and may not be necessary — one can do a surprising range of work with 2.5D.

I will guarantee that Carbide 3D (I’m part-time support staff) will work with you to ensure that the machine is working to your satisfaction and its specifications. If you’re willing, I’d love to collaborate with you remotely (or on-site if you’re willing and local to south-central Pa.) to improve the assembly instructions (I’d be doing this on my own time reverting to the volunteer status which I used when doing the Shapeoko 2 instructions — I believe that they give one an idea of exactly what’s involved in assembling and using a CNC machine as a true kit: Project Shapeoko (but note that the SO3 now comes pre-assembled in just a couple of components (see Shapeoko CNC Router, Rigid, Accurate, Reliable, and Affordable. ) — let me know).

Rather than the wiki which many people complain of, you may find a book to be a useful overview:

Since you’re willing to watch videos, you may find our video tutorials of interest: — even the Nomad ones apply in a general sort of way (esp. if you’re willing to do 3D by buying MeshCAM, or to add a touch plate/probe to the machine).

If any of the terminology is confusing, see Shapeoko CNC Router, Rigid, Accurate, Reliable, and Affordable

There were a couple of other threads like to this, see:

Edward, it’s not too difficult to assemble a Shapeoko. If you do have any problems the folks at Carbide 3D are very helpful and take the time to help. Also, the forum here is your best friend. Lots of good folks ready to help as well.

Yes, you can make money selling items you make. Get yourself an Etsy account once you are comfortable with your machine and turning out projects. Etsy is a storefront for handmade products. There is a learning curve to learn the machine and software but if I can learn it anyone can. I use V-Carve software for designing my projects. It’s very easy to learn but there are lots of other options out there. The Shapeoko comes with software to design and carve your projects.

As far as changing end mills, you will learn which one to use, why to use it and when to change to a different one. Use the Wiki link below to help learn more on the subject.

If you do decide to get one, you won’t regret it.



Thanks for the replies,

My first thought was to go the laser engraver route but after seeing a demo and falling in love with a Epilog I found the cost heart breaking.

One of my desired projects was to design led edgelit acrylic images of certain Astrophotography images like the moon or sun to sell at star parties.

I made a sampler on the laser but not sure a CNC engraver has the ability to do fine detail.

1 Like

A CNC can do as fine a detail as you’re patient to allow it to cut.

If you could work up the right software toolchain, those should be cuttable with a V-bit — not quite as fine as a laser, but nicely enough for a good effect. See the various project galleries to get a feel for what the machines are capable of:

Lithophanes are quite popular, and the images you show are like to that.

It is possible to add on a laser to a CNC — Carbide 3D doesn’t support it out of liability concerns, but the community has some notes on this:

1 Like


I posted on Sawmill Creek forums about my laser desires and several people replied that if I was interested in income potential that CNC Routing would be easier, better and more versatile and most of all more affordable than a laser system. I had several ideas on things to try on a Laser now I need to rethink and research the router potential.

1 Like

Lithopanes are pretty common, the software is easy to get, and they produce nice effects with just a V-bit. What you’re looking to do is certainly achievable with a router based CNC machine.


Wish I had access to a Shapeoko to test it on these images prior to ordering. But $2,000 is way less than the $19,000 for an Epilog Laser.

You might ask @ApolloCrowe to give it a try. Would make a cool tutorial/demo.

1 Like

@AstroEd here’s a forum post discussing the Lithophane workflow with meshCAM:
Lithophane Fabrication