New to CNC - I don't know which product is right for me

Hi! I’m brand new to CNC and woodworking in general. I bought a scrollsaw a short while back and got totally hooked. I’d like to get a CNC machine b/c I would like to add some more detailed design elements, some machined cut-out pieces, and engraving… and I would also like to make metal yard signs (more details below).

I’ve got my selection down to 2 machines - the X-Carve or the Shapeoko 3 XXL. I have read almost all of the comparisons - but many of the responses are above my “pay grade”…so I’m hoping someone will be willing to dumb it down for me a bit. Which would be best suited for someone new to this craft and for the types of projects I’m interested in doing?

Also - can someone give me a really honest rating on how difficult these machines are to put together?

Project/machine capability questions:
What type of metal is the most commonly used for custom signs - like this
I know it says “steel” - but what type of steel and at what gauge?

Can the X-Carve and Shapeoko 3 XXL cut this type of steel? If yes - can they do so out of the box or do they need modifications? What type of bit would be required for this type of work?

Thanks so much for any information you can provide that will help me make my decision and start working on all of the projects I have in my head!

From what I read on these forums, typically the hardest material cut using the X-carve is aluminum. (Someone has attempted to cut stone with it if you search). I have yet to try aluminum myself.

I believe it is mild steel, in whatever thickness you desire. And I don’t believe the X-carve would be a good choice for doing that. Most effective would be a plasma cutter.

Find a metal fabrication shop in your area and see if you can get a tour. I did and all it cost me was a $20 for a bar of aluminum. They have some really neat (and big) toys!


Do you think the X-carve can move fast enough to drive a plasma head?

Yes, the X-Carve can move fast enough to drive a plasma head — it was actually tried once or twice for a Shapeoko — the problem is that plasma torches put out an awful lot of EMI, more than a typical USB-controlled system can cope with.

Agree that a plasma cutter would be the best option for that sort of thing.

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Thanks for the info! Can you make signs like the one I posted out of aluminum? Would they hold up?

I found this video last night:
In the comments he says he did mount a plasma cutter in another video.

Plasma cutters are probably in a whole new crazy price-range, right?

YES!! That’s whose video I watched last night.

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Can you make signs like the one I posted out of aluminum? Would they hold up?

depends on what you call crazy? check out this guys web page he makes a reasonable plasma cnc system. a 4 foot by 4 foot seems to be the entry point system for around $2,995

If you want to go the cheapest route for plasma cutting you can get a CUT50 plasma cutter from ebay for around $200. If you plan on using a xcarve with a plasma cutter the set up is fairly easy if you dont mind doing some simple mods to the plasma cutter. the wiring for the trigger can be connected to a relay that is powered by the spindle control. The mount I used was made from aluminum on the xcarve and mounted to the side of the spindle holder. I made a plasma table that sat on the wasteboard and thermally insulated it. the hardest part is insulating the xcarve and nearby connected electronics from the RF energy given off by the plasma discharge. Best recommendation is ground everything and run the plasma on it’s own circuit with the plasma cutters ground isolated from the rest of the system.

Here are a few of my projects that were made from steel. I will tell you the x-carve don’t really like it and the machine could suffer damage if done incorrectly and even if done correctly but really there is no correct way to pull this off many hours and dollars went into testing and plenty of let downs along the way.

here is a nice little fail

Here is the sign

first plasma cutter test

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Thanks - that’s what I’m doing. Researching and asking questions.

Thanks! I enjoyed your videos…found a bunch of them last night. Can signs like your survivor camp sign be made with aluminum?

Sorry - one more question - do you have any thoughts about the x carve vs Shapeoko 3 XXL

Yes they can be done in aluminum
this stuff works pretty good

I could not give a honest answer to that as all I know is based on the xcarve. If I had to do it over I would still buy the xcarve. it has been a great experience and great support.

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Thanks so much! You’ve been a huge help!!! I think I’m gonna go with the x-carve.


Yaay!! One of us! ONE OF US!! :beer:


Ok, I watched the plasma cutting test and my thoughts were, “Screw that wimpy little laser! I’m gonna mount a PLASMA CUTTER!!”
{insert picture of the Terminator asking for a Phased Plasma Rifle in a 40 watt range}

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