Learning the full build lifecycle before your X-Carve arrives?

My X-Carve is being shipped either today or next week (yeeha!) and I’ve been spending a lot of time on this, and other related sites. I’ve learned a ton about the hardware platform, gotchas in assembly, etc. I’ve used both Easel and V-Carve desktop to create some test carvings so that I could see how they should look when the rubber hits the road.

What I feel like I’m missing is the part that starts with “OK, now that you have the thing assembled, plug it in and go through the setup.” My background is in software development so I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble, but I sense that there’s a huge knowledge void right now and that I’m going to have to do a lot of learning in short order next week. I’m also afraid that I really don’t have a full grasp on the work stream after the design stage. For example, I know that the next steps are CAM and G-Code, but not having been able to put my hands on those steps to see what they’re really all about is bugging me. To give a specific example, I’ve read a hundred references to things like “…send the $G command…” but I have no clue how that’s done - through a telnet-type session, through some IDE, etc.

I realize that I’m going to need hardware to “feel” some of this stuff but I was wondering if there’s any way to get ahead of that while I’m waiting. Are their emulators out there (like I could get if I’m looking to develop an iPhone app) so that I can get familiar with these downstream tools? How did you learn about this stuff before you plugged it all in?


I was so scared at the beginning, but nothing hard really. All computer tricks. I’m using VCarve Pro, when finish drawing (which is the easiest drawing software I’ve ever seen), there is a section says tool path. It generates GCodes automatically. Al have to do is save that Tool Path, open Universal Gcode Sender (Could be another Gcode sender) Zero your bit to work surface, hit send button, sit down and watch. It’s all fast learning curve. After break couple bits, waste some woods, it becomes part of your life. Besides, this Forum is god giving goodies. You can put your question to search, read previous problems, you’re good to go. We all help each other. Don’t be worry too much. Welcome to community.

Go ahead and download/install a copy of the Universal Gcode Sender (UGS)

I am using version 2.0 - So I recommend that version.

If you are going to be using software other than Easel you will need to have a way to send the gcode you create from the CAM side of the tool (toolpath) to your X-Carve. UGS is a simple and reliable way to do this.

UGS will connect to the Arduino via your USB cable and communicate with the Grbl software installed on the Arduino.

The UGS software is a simple Java program that not only allows the gcode to be streamed to the X-Carve, but allows manual movement of all three axis (jogging), the sending of manual commands to the Arduino (via command tab). Manual commands are necessary if you want to force the machine into imperial units (G20) or metric units (G21). You can also send commands like $$ to have the Arduino list all the configuration parameters (like how far a motor step will move each axis)

UGS also provides a visualization of the toolpath and shows tool position while cutting.

If for some reason you don’t like UGS you can also use Chilipepper which does all the same stuff with a more advanced User Interface in the browser. http://chilipeppr.com/grbl

Personally I think the Chillipepper interface is way to cluttered and difficult to set up but that is just my opinion, many people like it much better than UGS.

You should also be seriously considering the software you will use to design and create your tool paths.

Inkscape is a very very good vector drawing program that will create SVG files. It is a free download.

MakerCam http://www.makercam.com/ is a good free browser based tool for importing your SVG file from Inkscape and creating a toolpath and gcode.

You can also import your SVG files directly into Easel and cut them without any other software.

All of these tools are good and will let you get started carving quickly.

I recently purchased Vcarve Desktop and have never looked back. It is relatively expensive ($350) but the amount of power it provides is amazing. I can design a project, create the tool path and be cutting it in under an hour. Plus the tool paths it creates are very efficient so the time to cut is also reduced.

MeshCam is also a great software tool that is cheaper than Vcarve but does not offer all the same features.

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Thanks a MILLION, Allen. I’m sure I’ve read similar advice, but it’s nice to have it all in one place.

I’m planning on V-Carve desktop - I’ve really taken to the trial version. For the design stage my preference would be to use SketchUp because I’m already much more familiar with it, but I’m missing something, conceptually, in my initial attempts to use SketchUp to output SVG and then turn that into something usable: I tried a couple of times to create toolpaths within V-Carve from imported SVGs and I think that I just haven’t had that “oh, I get it” moment yet. I still think I’ll use V-Carve for the CAM stage because of the intuitive interface, and its “knowledge” of v-carving in general. Put differently, I think they’ve done really well at abstraction with this tooling. Unfortunately I can’t yet export to GCode using the post-processor because of the limitations of the trial version (and, I don’t have the provided sample files that the GUI refers to).

I’m going to download the UGS and start playing around with that, to whatever extent possible. Samples online look to be plain-text / procedural, so it looks like I’ve got some new syntax to learn!

Again, thanks for the help. I’m going to do my best to contribute on the forum too - what a great resource!

I have started playing around with creating 3D shapes in Sketchup and then importing them into Vcarve. Vcarve will allow you to split the 3D image in half and generate tool paths for each side. So you can really carve some complex 3D shapes. You just need to glue the two sides together.

I also really like the 3D warehouse of shapes from Sketchup https://3dwarehouse.sketchup.com/index.html

Any of those items can be imported directly into Vcarve.

I come from a 6 year background in CNC machining. I have CNC machines that run Mach3 and LinuxCNC. My tormach 770 CNC mill will do up to 4 axis work.
When I get my X-Carve assembled and running it will be running on LinuxCNC through gecko G540 driver and 280 oz stepper motors.
Software I use is Alibre/Geomagic for 3D CAD and Draft Sight for 2D CAD. CAM software is SprutCAM 9 for 3D work and CamBam for 2.5D work.
I’m not saying this to impress you or convince you to change what you are planning. I am just showing that there are other ways to run and control your machine.

The stock machine using Easel and UGS and chillipeper can do very good work and has a much lower cost point that the $ I have invested in my machines and software.

Once you get your machine up and running you will soon work out most of the ins and outs of running a CNC machine.


thanks @DavidSohlstrom. I’m not sure how this only hit me, but I didn’t realize there wasn’t a fire-and-forget method for loading the gcode into the x-carve (“baud rate”, “COM port”, duh!).

so now the laptop idea is out (can’t leave it for hours) and I’m going to need to put my Linux box down in the shop. I don’t think v-carve has a Linux build and it would be good to have the ability to make tweaks to a design while I’m down there. D’oh. I’m looking at the options out there for Linux now - really appreciate your input!


Grbl is the software that runs on the Arduino to control your X-carve via the gShield.

Although your best bet is to setup your machine for the first time using the Machine Setup feature of Easel you may find that you have to adjust things for your particular situation.

You can send commands to Grbl via any terminal type program like HyperTerminal or Putty.

Here’s a link that will help you modify Grbl parameters.

I’m sure you have plan for changing belt system/V-Wheels/MakerCam ETC. on your X-Carve after using 280 oz Stepper motors. It is sounds like you have Silverado engine in Geo Metro. :slight_smile:

My machine will be highly moded. 1000X1800 raised 50mm over stock. Custom Z axis using linear slides and a 10mm ball screw. Z reversed what would of been V wheels are fixed to carrrage and what would of been maker slide will travel with spindle. Custom made V wheels with true 90 degree angle and bearing bores that are press fit on bearings not slip fit as supplied. Steel spline between maker slides on my Y axis your x axis. at least 2 mid span supports under the maker slide on my X axis 1800mm your Y axis. All stepper motors driven by there own stepper driver no sharing as in stock machine. Possible 2 to 1 reduction gearing on X and Y to increase steps per inch.
Twin 9mm GT2 belts with custome made belt retainers and tensioning system.
Custom made spindle that has a draw bar and easy to change tooling with repeatable seating.
True limit and homing switches. All running on LinuxCNC

So I guess I’ll have a Geo Metro on steroids. :smile:


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Just kitting David, I know what’re you doing. Teasing. :grinning:

I still haven’t built mine (plan to start this week, finally!) but at Newegg I found a small form factor refurb Dell CPU (integrated power supply, Core2Duo processor so yes a little old, 4GB RAM, 450GB HDD) for $119. Since I already had spare LCD, KB, and mouse, that’s practically disposable. Came with a new copy of W7 for refurbs but presume you could Linux it just as well.

I don’t plan on ‘modding’ files any in the garage. Too hot, no real room to sit down and work. I just plan on using the controller as a controller (aside from perhaps the occasional prefix or whatnot). Then again that machine should be plenty to remote desktop into my actual CAD/gaming beast upstairs if needed on occasion.

Not a problem Alan. I figured you were just pulling my leg.