Yet another Shapeoko vs XCarve question... from a guitar maker

Hey gents / gals -
I should first introduce myself. I’m Mike from the Okanagan BC, Canada where I live w/ my wife and two daughters. I’m a 42-year-old woodworker with a specific interest in guitar building. My hope is to compliment traditional build methods with a solid CNC that won’t break the bank.

My primary uses (as I can see from this point) will be to radius fretboards, cut fret slots, inlay headstock logos and cut / cavity electric guitar bodies. Also, I want to use the CNC to cut perfect templates out of acrylic / Lexan.

I’ve been longing for an XCarve for a few years now and admittedly was seduced by their slick marketing. I like the ‘package’ approach and the idea of essentially getting a plug-and-play machine (barring assembly time :wink: ). What seems to be the general consensus is that the Shapeoko is just a far more robust system and that the upgrades I’d need to do to the XC to get me in the same league as the Shapeoko render the decision to be a ‘no brainer’.

At this point, I’m trying to gather as much info as possible and would love to hear from fellow guitar makers or users of both machines to help me dial in this decision. I’ve watched everything I can find on YouTube comparing the two and also read the document:

The pros for the Shapeoko seem to be that it’s more robust with better rails, 9mm belts as a standard feature, and the ease of use of the software (albeit limited).

Cons tend to be that the community may not be as robust as the XCarve’s but I have no idea… (this may be biased). Also, I’ve heard that the spindle / router mount on the Shapeoko could stand an upgrade (but I believe this is more in reference to cutting aluminum).

I’m considering the XXL unit ordered from Canada (RobotShop) and would like to get some feedback from this community:

  • Why the Shapeoko?
  • What are ‘must-do’ mods right out of the gate? (I’d like to dial these in / order to have the best experience right out of the gate).
  • Is the Shapeoko robust enough for guitar building (admittedly my needs don’t see like they’d come near to ‘pushing’ any machine
  • Thoughts on the community (I’m sure I’ll get a sense of this over time
  • Anything else I should know…?

I was considering the Axiom and CNC Router Parts Desktop Pro until I started adding everything up. These machines are just outside my budget right now. My real concern is from the Fusion 360 / CNC community on FB who all tend to say that I should be looking at a more robust machine… some have gone far enough to say that the XCarve and Shapeoko are glorified engravers built on printer parts… sheesh!

I’m sure many if not all of you have been through a similar research phase and can understand where I’m at.

I thank you in advance.

P.S. I forgot to ask about homing switches and z-probe - are these standard options?

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Physics are inexorable — rigidity is good, but past a certain point it costs — the SO3 is as rigid as it can be at its price point.


Thanks for your detailed reply and linked resources, Will. I’m leaning toward the Shapeoko by virtue of it having many of the upgrades being recommended as ‘must haves’ for the XCarve.

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The X-Carve is a nice machine (it’s essentially a Shapeoko 2 w/ some cosmetic changes, and the new extrusions to reduce parts count / reduce cost), but it’s important to remember that it was originally designed to fit in a flat rate box and cost less than $300.

An interesting contrast on the rigidity <–> price axis is that the Nomad 883 Pro has exactly the same working area as the original Shapeoko 1, 8" x 8" x 3" but is over 8x more expensive.


What I really like about Carbide 3D is the enhancements they make over time. Whilst the S3 is just known as a shapeoko there have been loads of tiny revisions to make it into what is is now. From belt upgrades, limit switches, tapped holes etc. They don’t just say it’s good enough, they make it the best it can be.


Hey @mbhwhitney! Welcome.

Anything is possible if you take light enough passes :slight_smile: However, with a S3 and it’s better rigidity, you can take bigger cuts.

As Will said, the community for the S3 is split. The forums are a great store of tribal and historical knowledge, but I’ve found this ‘Community’ site to be a little more with the times when it comes to the latest/greatest. I’m also a sucker for a slick interface :smiley:

Homing switches are now STANDARD on all models, no need for an additional purchase. C3D also sells a z-probe, but personally I don’t find them necessary. I can go into more detail here if you like.

The current iterations of the machine don’t really need many mods, but there are mods a plenty of you feel the urge.

My recommendation out of the box is to buy Vectric’s vCarve and use an aftermarket gCode sender, but both of these things go out of the “beaten path” that C3D support will be able to easily help you with. If you’re wanting to radius fretboard, I believe you’ll need 3D toolpathing for that, which Carbide Create (C3D’s CAD/CAM package) cannot do. Fusion360 is also an option here

That being said, C3D’s support is really top notch. I can’t think of a single issue I’ve had that they didn’t go above and beyond to assist with - even issues of entirely my own making.

However, keep in mind that IMO this is a Hobby machine. It’s built like a tank and is a great thing, but it’s still not a $7,000 professional CNC. It uses a palm router, embedded consumer-level electronics and plastic guide wheels. There is a ceiling on it’s “production” capability, albeit a VERY high ceiling given proper care and feeding.

I came to CNC from almost an identical background - lifelong woodworker looking to compliment and expand. Based on what you’ve said, what I’ve experienced and extrapolating the two - I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with an S3 :slight_smile:


To enumerate on the upgrades since the Launch Edition of the Shapeoko 3:

One thing which I left out is the T-track and Clamp Kit — I think of that more as an option rather than an upgrade:

There’s also: and


Most of it has been said, but I think you’d be more than happy with a Shapeoko 3 XXL, a lot of guys build guitars on the X-Carve and As has been mentioned the Shapeoko is far more rigid. Most people on here would have considered the X-carve when making their purchase, and I for one can say that I now look at the X-carve as decent but quite flimsy in its design when compared to the shapeoko. The customer support from Carbide 3D is absolutely second to none too.

I have also looked at the options from Axiom and CNCrouterparts. In my opinion, the benefits of going with those machines will be around the speed at which you can cut while still maintaining accuracy, and the size of the bed if you want to do multiples for production purposes.

There is no denying the Axiom and CNCRP are sturdier, more professional machines, but as you said the difference in cost is significant. If you intend to just make guitars for yourself and maybe sell a few then I think the Shapeoko will be more than enough, but if you expect to have the machine running 12 hours a day and want to maximise production then maybe a bigger machine would suit better.

If I were in your shoes, I would go for the Shapeoxo XXL and Vectric Vcarve Pro (a lot of guitar builders use this software, and it can still be used if you upgrade your machine) and go for gold. Once you’re comfortable with the machine, and decide you feel you need something bigger, you then have the knowledge to make an informed decision on what machine you need, and the skills to fully utilise it.

Did you ask this question on the inventables forum? I’d be interested to see the response there, I find their forum quite good, I think there are just far more people with X-carves than Shapeokos, which means a bigger community. But I have found this one great for sharing projects and upgrades and troubleshooting

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Thanks Luke - this is good to know. I’m glad to hear there’s some integrity behind the brand and it seems that there is some staying power as well. I’d hate to get into a machine to find support and so forth has dissolved. Cheers.

Thanks for the welcome, Adam.

What appeals to me is that the S3 is an inclusive kit; no necessary upgrades to get it to a reasonable level of performance.

As Stuart mentioned, I think this will be a good ‘jumping off’ point into the world of CNC. If production goes up, I’l no doubt know when it’s time to upgrade to a ‘real’ CNC. At this point, I can’t see running the machine for more than a few hours at a time. Also, as much as I’d like to try my hand at fretting and radiusing fretboards, my guess is that I could probably do these quicker with traditional methods… I still want to play though ;).

Thanks for the notes on software. It seems like a lot of builders are using 360. I’ve downloaded but haven’t dug into anything yet… still on the fence as to which direction I should go in that regard. Thanks again.

Solid feedback, Stuart. Thanks!
I’ll have to look into Vectric VCarve Pro. I didn’t want to pay for software (who does?!) and I currently have Fusion 360 (‘free for hobbyists’) downloaded but haven’t even really looked at it.

I did pose a similar question over at the other forum. The general consensus was to consider a laundry list of upgrades, a reminder that it wasn’t a high-end CNC but that it should be good for my needs. I met a helpful gent over there who I’ve been emailing a bit and he turned me onto the S3 and this community so I thought I’d ask over here. Out of the gate, I’m impressed that the mods recommended for the XC are standard features on the S3.

I’m not sure if there are any Canadians in this thread but I’ve only found ‘RobotShop’ as a distributor here. I’ll have to do the conversion method to see what makes more sense… ship from within Canada or ship from Carbide and make a trip across the line…


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Happy to help, it’s not an easy decision if you’re new to it.

Software really comes down to personal choice and what package does what you need. For the price, Fusion360 is by far the best option, and I use it a lot myself for any complex parts. the learning curve for making parts and toolpaths is steeper than other software, but it’s very powerful and excellent if you’re making parts that match up or fit together.

Carbide Create is simpler and the best place to start, as you can be sure your toolpaths are going to do what you want them to while you learn about the machine. though it is simple, it is powerful and advancing at a rapid rate, while still being easy to use.

I use Vectric Aspire, its a different style of software but very simple to use. it has very powerful nesting(fitting lots of parts on a sheet most efficiently) and relief carving features.

I shipped My standard Shapeoko 3, then later on my Shapeoko 3 XXL from Carbide 3D to the east coast of Australia… Neither of which were a cheap exercise!

have you checked out this series of videos? he covers the ins and outs of both machines side by side
Shapeoko vs X-Carve 1 of 3


The biggest problem with the Shapeoko 3 is the lack of tech support for the control software (Carbide Motion). After more then a year of release Carbide 3d still wants to put it of as being in Beta.
The newest version has serious problems, unless you are just clicking run. They sell (when available) the probe that only works with V4.xx C.M but again don’t address long standing issues like not being able to view a current Log after a $H command. Makes it very difficult to calibrate a machine when you cant home in between changes and verify said changes with $$ command.
The machine is much more rigid than the X-Carve but I believe X-Carve tech support (software) to be FAR SUPERIOR than Carbides 3D.
When I purchased my XXL I had an opportunity to purchase the larger X-Carve in basically new condition for $1000.00. This was before X-carve upgrade and the rigidity was severely lacking. I know the X-Carve upgrade has helped their rigidity but the S3 is still going to offer better.
You just have to deal with a lack of supported software (with Shapeoko3).
Good luck either way.

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Thanks for your input, Ray. Would it be fair to say that said software issues would be negated if using something like Fusion or Aspire?

Also, it’s been recommended that the probe is not worth the cost as one could be had cheaply from China or even made.

Any thoughts on this?


pretty sure he was reffering to the motion software fusion or aspire dosent offer motion control

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The community has notes on alternative software at:

and commercial alternatives at:

That said, we’ve worked very hard to make Carbide Create and Carbide Motion simple to use, reliable, and capable, and they work well for the majority of our customers — you can see how they work out in out tutorials: and if you have any troubles with a project or file, let us know and we’ll do our best to work things out with you — in some instances, we have made up custom tutorials for customers.


Hey gents -
As an update, Robot Shop offers free shipping on orders over $75 which puts me close to the Carbide 3 price once converted and that’s with buying a router separately (the only item they don’t include).

This said, I have a few more questions:

  1. The XXL ships with the Makita adapter / spacer as a standard item. wants $119 CDN for the Makita but $169 for the Dewalt. I’ve watched the comparison video on YT and the only slightly limiting factor I can recall for the Makita was depth of cut. Any thoughts on this / router choice?

  2. DUST BOOT: I haven’t seen one in the shop… are most of you using the ‘Suck It’ aftermarket boot? Thoughts / comments / other recommendations?

  3. BIT RECOMMENDATIONS: I have no idea what would be a good ‘starter kit’ for my needs (cutting out fretboards, radiusing fretboards, bits for headstock logo inlay, position markers, hogging electric cavities, smoothing transitions., etc.). Is there a good ‘general’ starter kit to get a guy going / must-have bits? How about ordering from China by way of AliExpress or Ebay?

  4. 1/8” Collet: Is this requires for finer bits? If so, any recommendations to source one? Are they specific to router manufacturer?

  5. T-Track and clamp kit: worth it?

Thanks guys!

1 - the community has notes on this at:

2 - there’s supposed to be one in development by Carbide 3D, but no idea when it’ll be released. The community has notes on options at:

3 - suggested starter set at: — folks have had good luck w/ the Kyocera endmill from drillman1 on eBay as noted at:

4 - yes, if the endmill has a 1/8" shaft. Carbide 3D has one for the DeWalt at: and Elaire Corp. makes them for either at: and and Precise Bits makes a nifty ER-style set available at:

5 - The T-track and clamp are a nice convenience — lots of folks make up their own despite the chicken-egg situation. We have instructions at: and further notes at:


Ray’s not wrong. CM has the tricky job of having to be REALLY easy so as to lower the barrier to entry, however in making something so simple, it really hamstrings it’s capability for anything more than the basics.

The good news is the Carbide Motion Board (not to be confused with Carbide Motion the software) is still grbl at heart. This is the motion control software and it can be controlled with many (free) g-code senders. I’m a personal fan of the grbl-panel project and have got a training video floating around youtube on it. Using a solution like that completely negates the drawbacks of CM (since you’ll no longer use it).

Bits: Grab a 1/8 + 1/4 up and down cutting endmills (4 bits total) and I think you’ll be able to do 80% of what you’ve talked about. The materials you work in and the work you want to do will be the best predictor of what bits you need and sometimes it’s easier to just get the basics, then see what does and doesn’t work.
Check out the ebay seller “drillman1” - he has a huge selection of cutting tools and almost-unbeatable prices, and they’re great quality.

A word on beginner expectations; lower them. Not for the S3, but for CNC work in general. Even for the already-capable woodworker and technical person, CNC has a wallop of a learning curve. You’re not going to nail a tapered & radiused fretboard 20 minutes after setting the machine up. You’re going to mess things up, the machine will behave in ways it seems like it shouldn’t, etc. Not a jab against you, just a reality (IMO). Start basic with some of the C3D tutorials. Then work into some 2.5D CAD/CAM to get the hang of offsets/zeroing/homing/workholding. Work your way up to the 3D CAD/CAM you’re aiming for and life will be better :slight_smile:


This is solid info, Adam. Thanks for this and the reality check ;). I found your video on YT and will need to sit down and digest it. Currently, I’m in shop reno mode as my machine arrived late last week. The table is complete, shop looks / feels great and I managed to get as far as the wiring last night.

As you say, I’ve resigned myself to jumping into some basic projects, getting a feel for the ‘landscape’ and will no doubt gain greater clarity around bit choices and so forth as I scale up my understanding of the machine. Thanks for the bit recommendations as well. Everything you mention makes perfect sense.