Working with dimensioned wood

Hi All,

I’m totally new to CNC, but have been a woodworker for awhile, both as a professional and as a hobbyist. One of the things I really enjoy about working with the X-Carve is that it makes hard things easy, and easy things hard. Before you jump on me about the latter, let me explain what I mean. In most of the woodworking that I’ve done in the past, the 1st steps needed for any project are to get the wood flat and dimensioned. However, when working with a CNC router, I can actually glue up a panel that is wider than my surface planer and with a slightly uneven face, clamp it to my X-Carve table and surface-mill it flat, then cut anything I want out of that panel, leaving behind the outline or waste.

I love that ability and it’s particularly great for making a solid-body electric guitar, for example. However in certain cases, like with cabinet drawers for example, this approach is actually “harder”. (Harder in this case means "takes more time to make and requires me to layout more stuff in CAD.) With something like a drawer side, I’d rather just dimension the wood with my table saw and planer and then use the CNC to cut the joints and grooves out. But I’m not seeing this approach used much in the projects and forum posts I’ve seen so far.

I can see how using the CNC in this fashion would require the X and Y Axis to be well aligned with the table, and how you would have to accurately clamp the wood to the table and home the cutter to a precise origin, but that all seems workable. I’m just not finding any examples of that type of work so far.

If any of you are using your machine in this fashion, I would love to hear about your experiences and about your tips and tricks for success.



PS - Why do I enjoy the fact that some things are “harder”? Mostly because it’s making think about processing operations in a completely new way, which I find very refreshing.


I think you don’t see it a lot because of the mentioned setup problems. Lining up a piece perfectly in the xcarve is rather tricky. It’s tough to get ROI out of that versus just letting the machine cut all the critical dimensions.

One exception to that may be if you’re cutting a lot of the same piece over and over again though. In that case, you can spend time setting up a jig to help with the alignment and probably still save some time and effort. For a one-off though I don’t see it being worthwhile.

Ultimately, a CNC router is just another tool in the shop. It can do some really amazing things that other tools would be hard pressed to replicate, but I still find myself going back to my table saw and drill press a lot.

A lot of x-carve owners already have a shop full of other machines so they look at it as another tool.

I think it would be really interesting to think of an x-carve as the MAIN tool in a shop. How much could we get done if we only had a couple of handsaws, a workbench, a sander and an x-carve?

Not sure how this applies, but I do try to treat my X-Carve as the main tool in my limited shop. With the right the right thinking, one can do a lot with it…

Here is a pic of a curved couch arm that needed repairing…

The break and deep crack was milled out and then replaced with a piece milled on the X-Carve and then a new mortise was milled. After sanding and finishing the couch came back together like new.


Why, oh why did I not think of using a clamp like that?




Inception style, clamp a clamp.


actually I believe it is the exact opposite :smiling_imp:

I have the impression the x-carve/shapeoko is the most expensive piece of equipment that a lot of people on here own. Personally my workspace is quite extensive, with a planer, table saw, router table, bandsaw, lasercutter etc, but even for me most of those cost me nowhere near what the cnc did. I chose to have a cheaper version of everything instead of 1 really expensive piece.
The caveat off course is those tools don’t give me the precision I sometimes require. My SO2 is much more precise, although also not perfect. Choosing feeds and speeds wisely helps a lot though.

I’ve seen people say they feel they ‘cheat’ on their machine whenever they do a manual operation to a part. That tells enough about how they look at what place the cnc takes in their workplace. :slight_smile:


folks said that I was going to lose alot of the “hand craftiness” of my woodworking when I started looking at cnc.
I decided that the machine was going to enhance my capabilities in the shop and not replace any other equipment or my hands on abilties.

I agree with what @NicholasKoza states, it would do quite well for repetitive parts where accuracy is important, but for a single item, in most instances it takes longer to set it up than to just do it by traditional methods.

@RogerAndre your thought on making drawer slides has my mental gears grinding though!


Glad I am not the only one :smile:

I am slowly working up to using my XC for some complex wood working.
Part of it is I am new to advanced wood working. I manage to do basic DIY projects and did some wood shop stuff in high school, but not real carpentry. So I am having to (re)learn those principles and apply them to the XC.

I think that may be why you have yet to see a lot of really advanced carpentry projects done on the XC yet. The users who have the XC as their primary tool are still developing the wood working knowledge a skill to take full advantage of it. And those who do have the knowledge and skill, already have the other tools in their shop, so it is much easier for them to use traditional methods rather than spend the time learning how to make use of the XC for the same thing.
(And those with the CNC skills to do so probably have a professional grade machine already ;))

Fortunately I got a copy of VCarve Pro with my XC and I have discovered it has a TONE of features to make this process easier. A tool for applying dog bones to corners (It turns out it is a lot easier to do this with the manual tool than with the “automatic” gadget). As well as “tiling” a project over multiple pieces of stock.

I am currently working on a project using 17.5mm plywood. Cutting everything out on the XC. Even those rectangular / square parts that could easily be done with a skill saw / table saw. Because for me, it is more work to setup, measure and mark everything to do manual cutting than it is to run it on the XC. (Of course for those parts that are larger than my XC can cut I still have too.)

This is one of 8 different panels for all the various pieces for this project

Currently this will be put together using pocket screws and 2x2’s, but later I want to try to incorporate some joinery, and eventually, some advanced joinery so the entire project can be cut out on the XC.

There are some really interesting approaches, like this one for example:

So far I have learned that my waste board is not flat and that is causing some issues. So I plan on reworking that and using my 3/4" bit to cut it flat.

Clamping has not been a issues with the thicker plywood using a down cut bit. 4 clamps right on the edge seem to work well. (The thin stuff needs a better solution and I am considering adding a shop vac and remaking my waste board into a vacuum clamp for this.)

I am also eyeing a compression bit to minimize the little bit of tear out on I am getting on the bottom of the board. My goal being no tabs, no sanding. Have some project that can go from XC to assembly with little or no extra labor. :slight_smile:

As far as the XC being the main tool debate? I think a big part of that has to do with your workshop and design skill level.
For me the XC will always be my main tool because it is always setup and accessible. All my other tools are packed away. So to use them I have to pull them out, set them up on the drive way, then put them away when done. So, for me, the extra work it takes to make a cut file for the XC is still less then breaking out the skill saw, etc

If I had a full shop with a nice cabinet style table saw always set up, I would probably be using that as my main tool and only taking the time to build a cut file for stuff that I can only do on the XC. :wink:

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Totally stealing that! Ok, not the butterfly, but the idea. I have been working on some box designs, and sussing out the joinery has been a tough one for me. I’ve been trying so hard to figure out how to hide it, and it never occurred to me to make them a part of the design.

Hey Aaron,

That looks like an interesting project you’re making there. And yes, you have some parts in it that wouldn’t normally think to use a CNC for, but I can see how it would work well to do so.

I’m going to see if I can do something similar using a slightly different work flow and will report on how well it works.

There’s so much to get a handle on with this, but I do appreciate how easy Easel and this forum makes it to get started.


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Exactly why I bought my x-carve.

We all have different shop tools , experience, space, needs and designs.
Traditional joinery can be handled easily with other tools in my shop. The x-carve has started me thinking about other methods. This forum has provided many thought provoking ideas. I don’t think I would have thought of using butterflies as “butterfly” keys .

I think a bit of my point is being missed here. Cutting some half-blind pockets in very specific locations is something I am definitely going to do with my X-Carve. Cutting the piece of wood that gets the pockets into a rectangle that is 24" X 8" - I’m doing that on my table saw. It’s going to take me a fraction of the time it will take on the X-Carve and I won’t have an entire perimeter of waste to deal with.

Now if I didn’t have a table saw, it’d be a different story. My whole point in starting this topic was to find out how people were using their X-Carves’ with pre-dimensioned wood that had been prepped using traditional means, not to invite a discussion about which technique was better. “Better” or “worse” implies a debate like Emacs vs. Vi, which I am not interested in.

Angus, you’re right that the butterfly inlay on a mitered corrner, that’s perfect for the X-Carve. So to answer my question, how would you go about doing that if you had already created a dozen mitered frames, without the inlays, on a table saw?

Not wanting to step in Angus’s toes by answering.
I would want to create a jig to hold the 2 pieces together in a fixed location on the wasteboard. Maybe even have the x-carve cut it in place. Position it so that the corner could be used as the project zero. For a picture frame it might be nice to have a jig for each corner if the design is corner specific. Create the file with the same zero, and cut.

For me, on a few test projects I have done (I’m still pretty new here), I just cut the wood, marked the center by drawing crossing lines from the corners, and used the intersection as the home point.

The issue is that you need a perfectly flat and true surface to secure that to in order to get the best results. What I have seen a lot of people do is secure a piece of wood to the bed, and use the X-Carve to plane it perpendicular and smooth. That way, when attaching a piece of wood with perfectly square edges and perpendicular faces, the top plane of the wood matches the travel of the bit.

Brad and Alex,

Yes, thanks! Those are exactly the sorts of things I was interested in hearing about. I like the idea of using a fixture to index the workpiece. I also like the idea of using the XC to mill the indexing marks. I’ll need to run some alignment tests to see how well aligned the carriages are to the table, but I suspect it’s pretty good. I’ll find out tomorrow.


Yes, that’s very true. And I even like some of those organic shapes a bunch. But there are also some old Arts and Craft style pieces that lend themselves well to CNC machining, if not for the entire piece, at least for parts of them. And at the moment at least I still want a bookshelf with straight sides and a roughly rectangular cabinet in my shop. I’ll work on the Hobbit-Hole shaped cabinet later. :wink:

For repetitions sake, it would be useful to either make a fixture board with a profile cut into it to inlay your matched pieces, or to mill just the outer edge into a board that you affix to your current spoilboard prior to cutting it. Then you can use the freshly attached and cut boards as a match fence. This allows you to keep your material in one location, even if you need to do multiple runs, especially if you need to do multiple runs. But it doesn’t solve the x,y,z of the milling bit. For that I would use a bit of wax at the start to set a clearance height that I put into a notch on my ‘future set fence’.

So sequence: Attach two pieces (1/4x1/2) to my spoilboard trying to stay true to my S2/XC’s true axis by simple alignment of the board while manually moving the axis back and forth. After my fences are fixed (not trued) I need to determine if I need to set a fixed x,y,z, or if I am okay with the built in ‘error’ of manually setting the zero by touching off the set pieces at a certain point, versus setting up a zero with a set program that I would have to reset, but would be precise.
The manual method of setting zero to be the center of a cut is one thing, but only useful on some types of designs, if the manual method was chosen I would only need to run the mill bit down the ‘fence’ pieces and I would have myself a true x,y axis.
For the fully auto method (assuming I have true boards that are a known thickness), I would attach a piece of machine wax a set distance off of the corner of my fences, then start my milling op to true all of the faces from that new 0,0,0. This would allow my to have tool change due to wear or operation needs, and continue with my work or multiple pieces.
If it was a common operation, I might be convinced to cut a permanent track in my board for fixturing, or a fixture sled with mount points/pins on my spoilboard.

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bbbbut, Emacs rules! how could you be uninterested… ?

@KellyHickel Vi FTW ^w ^x