What did you wish you knew about shapeoko 3 before purchasing it? (newbie)

I’m thinking about purchasing shapeoko XXL, but I’m completely new to CNC. It will be more of a hobby, with wood cuts mainly.

What are some gotchas you wish you knew prior to the purchase or after in relation to Shapeoko?

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Let me first say I’m happy with the machine and would not consider getting rid of it because it does work great and is accurate enough for everything I have done so far including Aluminum parts that fin in a car all the way to wood sign making.

However I had only an inkling of what I was about to get into when I purchased it. My only similar experience is 3D Printing which I own and have owned about 2 years prior to purchase of the CNC. Although the machine itself moves according to gcode like a 3D printer, it’s completely different when it comes to producing something. Additive vs Subtraction technologies require a different mindset.

Ok now things to think about…
(Although Carbide create is a fairly easy tool and can do many things, more then likely when it comes to something super advanced you will probably venture off to serious CAD and CAM software there are free options but there are paid versions also may want to consider them and try them before making a decision)

  1. You will be using CAD software to draw things.
  2. You will use CAM to define tool paths on the drawing.
  3. Expect the build to put the machine together to be intimidating when you open the box but within about 3 to 5 hours you will probably be done!
  4. Expect DUST everywhere! (Look into a dust enclosure or some dust collection methods right away)
  5. There are other controller software options out there aside from Carbide Motion that have more capabilities. You can still use Carbide Create and export the gcode, then switch to a different machine controller software.
    I use IntelliG-Code for instance because it has built in probing and makes leveling work fast with some built in gcode generator functions. http://www.softwareredefined.com/ but there are other options out there also.
  6. When planning your projects think inside first, outside last.
  7. You will need to purchase end mills!!! and they can be costly so expect to spend more.
  8. A dedicated switch and outlet to turn the machine off in an emergency is a must make sure you can get to it quickly.
  9. You will need a way to HOLD work down so look into the many options out there, all cost money to some extent.
    (T-Tracks, bed of screw holes, vacuum plate, etc…)
  10. Slower is not always better. If you are burning wood move the machine faster and slow down the router. When it comes to plastics go for 1 or 2 flute bits and make sure you are cutting fast or it will be a melted mess.
  11. You will probably need a large table to put the machine on. Most people build one dedicated to the machine.

Specific to SO3, XL and XXL
They use belts that can slip and stretch. Plunge rates are some what critical on the belt so these should always be slower. Also consider re-calibrating summer vs winter because of temperature and belt fluctuations. May not be much but it over time can drift.

Check the v-wheels and belts and all other screws from time to time to make sure nothing got loose, I had a v-wheel get loose and ended up messing up a project 2 times before I discovered it.

Running the wires can be tedious, take your time and pop off the plastic parts on the drag chain and put them back after all the wires are in. It’s faster then you think to do.


I just got one about a week ago.
It’s not my first CNC, but first router cnc.
I’m very pleased. I’ve only used it on pine and plywood, but its fast and strong enough.
It didnt lose steps on me yet, so the factory default settings seem good.

The gotchas, well -They forgot to send the extension cables, but shipped them out immediately after I told them.
It seems pretty common to have to adjust some GRBL settings with the MDI (manual data input) to get your machine moving right. Mine homed in wrong direction, but it’s pretty easy to program, and the support is pretty good to.
Here’s the GRBL settings and what they mean-

You might want to decide on a clamping system while youre waiting. There’s a good file on here for a 2" grid pattern, and hold down clamps for threaded inserts I’m going to try. I just got the inserts yesterday.
Long story short they seem very honest about their products, and helpful. I would recommend.


I wish I didn’t wait to buy mine. I had been eying them up since the original S3.

The best bit and worst bit is there is so much you will likely want to do to it after purchasing, as above clamping systems, upgrading the bed, dust extraction, enclosures etc. You have to be prepared to treat the Shapeoko as a project as well as your projects - personally this just adds to the fun in my eyes.


No truer words, Luke": “You have to be prepared to treat the Shapeoko as a project as well as your projects”

Still monkeying with controllers and controls, bed leveling and clamping, dust control, machine managements, etc…


I agree with what has been said, and found the quality of the machine and parts to be excellent, the directions still need some work, but are close enough that the unsung hero that is this forum, Normally personified in WillAdams, can make up for anything lacking in short order.
The only two real surprises were clamps and the overall size!
"The Shapeoko 3 comes with everything you need to make accurate parts from wood, plastic, and aluminum. " The quote is almost true-while a bit is included, there are no clamps of any kind included. You have no way of holding down your choice of materials to machine it-as it is shipped. Because of that, I ordered a combo pack of the wax with my XXL. Personally, a set of 4 pan head wood screws and a two lengths of metal hanger strap would do for a first set of clamps and be seriously inexpensive-given we have MDF spoil boards. On replacing the spoil boards, add some Tchannel, 4 Tnuts and appropriate thumbscrews and you have a cheap, low profile clamping system with plenty of spares and adaptability.



I am completely happy with mine. I just use the software provided by Carbide for now. It’s easy to learn.
I have the basic Shapeoko 3. It’s a great tool in my workshop. The Shapeoko is a project in itself. I look for ways
to improve it all the time. The support has been very good.


I’m a newb and I just put my XXL together a few weeks ago and i still am stuck on the Hello World as it seems to ghost write after zero in. I got frustrated and gave it a rest for a bit but still working on it.
-Make sure all cables and belts are correct size for XXL. I was sent incorrect belts and step switch cables (it seems) but i was quickly sent the belts (that is all i requested). My step switch cables come into the box on the right side instead of with all the others on the left, not a big deal for me.
-Squaring and calibrating the machine is very tedious.
-If you do not need the huge cutting area opt for the XL maybe, a lot of flex in the middle.
-label all cables before, both ends, so when you plug them in you don’t have to use a meter. Mine worked correctly at first power up after setting homing and size.
-make sure you enable homing in the gcode as well as size of the machine.
-board is labeled where step switches attach, pic somewhere for the motors
-XXL assembly guide not greatest, look at XL assembly for X carrier (found this out after)
-wiki is a wonderland and easy to get lost in but a ton of information. I have spent more time online then touching my CNC.
-make sure PEM nuts are correct
-verify on the motor pulley set screws are on the flat area before getting all together (search for that)
-i actually removed 6 or so links from the plastic cable guard near the power area so it would dress the cables better and not stick out over the front of the machine when forward. Wasn’t clear in the instructions.

ton of things i am still learning myself but the build is important so hopefully from my newb experience it will help with your build. Good luck!


The instructions have one remove 12 links from an XXL, (and should have one remove 20 from an XL).

The should also note that the VHB requires some time to cure before setting up and becoming strong enough to stress, and that one should test the cable setup to ensure that it tracks properly through the entire range of motion.

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Will you are correct it does say 12 links, i was using memory instead of written facts.

I did what another person recommended for VHB tape on the rail, i drilled a small hole and used a screw to hold in place.

The machine is great, though as others have mentioned it is a constant tweakfest as you figure out how to work with it. I also own a Nomad which I had for some time before the Shapeoko XXL. Nomad is much more ‘turnkey’ – but of course it is much smaller.

The two biggest gotchas for me were the pulley set screws and the USB disconnect problem. It is really important to get these sorted out if you don’t
want to have extremely frustrating, seemingly random problems.

The stepper motors have a flat spot on the shaft. One of the two set screws on each pulley has to be tightened against that flat spot. Because it comes already assembled you would expect this to be already done at the factory, and perhaps they have gotten better at it. Nevertheless, check them carefully. They are tiny little boogers and it is easy to have both tightened (2 per pulley) while still failing to have one of them per pulley tightened against the flat spot in the shaft. I also put a drop of blue loctite on mine.

The USB disconnect problem did not come up for
me at first. Smaller projects so less current spiking, newer router, who knows why it was a “late onset” problem. There are suggestions on the wiki for how to deal with it. The machine just randomly stops for no apparent reason and with obscure or no error messages, usually hours into a job that you have to restart from the beginning unless you have thought out a “resume strategy” ahead of time. More on this in a moment.

In my experience there were four critical items to avoid USB disconnect: a powered USB hub, connected to an industrial USB isolator (Amazon, about $30 IIRC), and a short (3 foot) standard USB cable (surprisingly hard to find) from the powered hub to the Shapeoko. The fourth is routing the router power off the opposite side of the machine from the stepper control cables and plugging it (the router) and my dust collector into a separate circuit. I zip tied the router cable to the vacuum hose that goes to my dust collector (since yeah, you’ll need a dust collector).

Having a basic “resume strategy” thought out ahead of time will help a lot when, not if, things go awry in the middle of a long job. I don’t generally edit gcode or whatever, but I do separate a job into multiple toolpaths which can each be run as individual steps.

Dust collection yeah, workholding yeah. Not even a little bit like 3D printing, where you can get away with lazy designs (especially now that two-extruder printing with dissolvable support has gone mainstream – Ultimaker 3 ftw).

A lot of folks build enclosures, but be aware of one bit of CNC deliciousness that you give up when you do that: tiling. The XL/XXL have a max width of 33-ish inches, but the length of your project is potentially unlimited if you use tiling. I used tiling to make the spoilboards for my XXL out of four foot MDF stock, and that was when I decided that there would be no dust enclosure for me. Mine is in a shop so I just wear hearing protection, and the dust collector keeps the air quality good (which I monitor).

I’m lazy and kind of spendy, so I bought Vcarve Pro. I haven’t tried everything and I refuse to use “cloud” software (e.g. Fusion) - the way I see it, my own work product should remain mine no matter what some arrogant !$)/(:! in Cupertino decides to do to licensing terms or server farms. With those caveats, the Vectric stuff is really great (though expensive), especially when combined with Openscad for some occasional 3D or parametric seasoning. VCarve 8 will make nice 3D toolpaths for Openscad-produced 3D models.

Good luck, and have fun!


I agree that one thing carbide motion needs BAD, is a Run From Here option.
I just found my bed bows 1/16" from front to center, one can resurface so it’s true to the machine spindle, but I was running the grid pattern for the threaded inserts last night, and had to reset at least 3 times.
First the z kept losing steps, even tho it didn’t seem bottomed out on the belt.
2nd when I started the holes it went all the way through and hit the braces. Just skimmed them, but I had to reset zero to the highest point.
Like mpfreivald said, break your files up, so if you have to start over, you dont waste too much time.
I did get it done tho.
I also had to add a piece of metal for the Y limit switch to hit. I actually used a small magnet, and just stuck it on where the limit switch would hit it.
I didnt check my pulleys, they havent slipped, that I can tell, but I’ve not checked them.

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Good comment, thanks.

I have built a table and plan to make a type of enclosure as well with a shelf for my laptop shelf.
The emergency power off is important for safety.

Depending on the stock material being milled, a dust enclosure could be optional, although it could also be a good safety measure if a part gets loose and is thrown across the room.

The software issue:
Fusion360 can be run just on the desktop offline, but the services that are cloud dependent make some sense as they tend to be resource intensive. Also you’d need to login about once a month to get bug fixes and updates.
I understand that each person has their views and different needs so “use what works”.

BTW, I like your rant, and the license issue needs to be rethought.
I appreciate your comments!

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Yes I am aware that Fusion can run in desktop mode. The issue is precisely that the license can be turned off remotely, bricking the software, and – here is the important bit – making all of your own existing work product in the software useless.

If you use cloud software, you not only don’t own the software. You also don’t even own your own work product which you produced with the software. The owner of the cloud software can effectively destroy all of your own work product, or decide to charge you rent simply to have continued access to your own work product. It is as if Microsoft could revoke access to all of your Office documents that you have accumulated over the decades by changing the Office license terms.

So the fact that Fusion and the like will run on the desktop - as long as the Mother Ship grants it permission this month - doesn’t really solve the problem, which is that cloud-based (even just for recurrent licensing) software is a form of stealing, wherein the software developer takes your own work product and only grants you acces to it on their terms, whatever those terms happen to be today.



Shorter version: cloud based (even just for recurrent licensing) is a form of legalized ransomware:

“Wow. That internet argument fundamentally changed my belief system.” Said no one. Ever.

I’m not suggesting what God you ought to worship or what political party you ought to vote for. I’m pointing out a disadvantage of certain product architectures. I don’t know about you, but I change my mind about what to buy and invest my time in based on Internet reviews all the time.

If it doesn’t matter to you, nobody is holding a gun to your head.

I think that if anyone wishes to discuss licensing considerations further, they can do so on some other forum.

We now return our discussion back to things which people wish they’d known before purchasing.

Just to be clear, are you saying that software architectures and licensing terms are off topic for this particular thread (which is fair enough, although it isn’t immediately obvious that it doesn’t pertain to where newbies might or might not want to focus their efforts); or are you saying that it is off topic for the forum in general?

I think that discussion of licensing has run its course for this thread.

If someone can come up with some polite, non-controversial, and interesting way to discuss it in some other thread which seems likely to shed some interesting ideas, that would be fine.