X-Carve vs. Homebrew CNC Router Questions

Hello everyone,

I have been looking through these forums for a few weeks now since I am very interested in the X-Carve and CNC Routers as a hobby in general and I finally decided after doing quite a bit of research to post some questions I have regarding these systems. These forums are full of incredible projects and so many talented hobbyists and makers and I would be grateful for any advice and guidance you can provide!

To start off, the X-Carve seems like a very well designed and economical entry into CNC Router / Desktop Mill projects and is undoubtedly capable of producing high quality cuts right “out of the box” and especially after some simple upgrades. The price does not bother me except for the cost of shipping relative to the overall cost of the kit itself. Through my research it seems as though the quality vs. price point is phenomenal however as the projects become more intricate and the capability to produce more accurate cuts with fine details and especially when beginning to work with aluminum it appears the general trend is to perform extensive stiffening upgrades and some even opt to buy a completely new pre-built z-axis from a third party source such as Amazon, Ebay, or sites like OpenBuilds. I am very much the type of person who likes to tinker and put time into my projects and having a background in Mechanical Engineering I love the aspect of designing and upgrading my tools however I have an aversion to buying a system which I will inevitably have to rebuild to the point where it is no longer recognizable from the original kit.

With that being said, I figure if I am going to spend the money to enter the hobby and buy or configure a machine I may as well put the time and effort into it at the beginning to assemble the best possible carver. Therein lies my question of the benefits of buying a kit such as the X-Carve and performing all the suggested upgrades or whether it would be advised to use use the C-Beam rails with acme screw drives to build a homebrew system with generally stiffer axes with the potential for higher accuracy movements. My current plan is as follows:

1000mm C-Beam rails with acme screw drives and anti-backlash nuts (OpenBuilds)
250mm C-Beam acme screw driven Z-Axis (OpenBuilds)
Solid polycarbonate v-wheels with eccentric spacers for a rigid carriage plate on all axes (OpenBuilds)
140oz-in or 170+ oz-in Nema 23 Steppers
X-Controller (Inventables)
Drag Chain and other assorted hardware (Inventables)
Dewalt DWP611 Router w/ Precision Collets
Most likely a Home Depot source MDF wasteboard

What are the general thoughts and comments on such a system compared to an upgraded X-Carve kit? For those of you who have upgrade to third party z-axes or c-beam x-axes do you wish you had implemented them from the very beginning instead of later on?

My biggest motivation for such a system as outlined above is that I have built linear motion systems as part of college projects using belt drives and in general they seem to be much more prone to belt stretch, belt skipping, and accuracy concerns as compared to lead screw driven systems.

If anyone can provide guidance or recommendations for what they think the best approach would be for someone looking to start off strong in this hobby I would greatly appreciate it!

Thank you in advance for your responses (and sorry for the long post :slight_smile: ) !

Price and convenience those are the two things to consider. You can also factor in time in trial and error when you do a DYI. Some people like to tinker, some just want to get er done and start playing. If you read the strengths and weaknesses of the xcarve and be able to make up your own mind if you want to take the time and make it your own.

I was in the same boat as you when I started considering the XCarve. I read the forum front to back, to get an idea of the experiences people were having and what, if anything, I should change.

Ultimately, I decided on the XCarve because I would have a “complete” system that I could start using almost immediately, versus a system that I built based on spec and parts from other sources. At the end of the day it came down to not knowing what I didn’t know.

In retrospect, even with the few upgrades I’ve made to my XCarve, I would still go with the XCarve base model and a few upgrades.

Everyone is different, but for me, had I decided to build one myself I’d probably still be building and not actually doing carving.

Regardless of what you decide, this forum is an INVALUABLE tool when it comes to understanding the machine and getting the most out of it. Everyone here is happy to lend help \ options, and that, at least for me, was a very big deal.

What do you want to make ? Material, dimensions ?

One of the thinks that pisses me off about this site, is that if you read it, you would come away with the impression that the base machine as shipped by Inventables is unusable. But there are many people who never come to the forums who are happily using their machine to make great things. Out of the box,if you just want to cut out parts, it will do fine. After a minimal amount of setup, my 1K by 1K machine is putting out parts within 5/1000’s. That is fine for what I need, and much better than by hand. It’s fine by me.

The first question to answer, for anything in life, is what do you want to do ?

And the caveat is that my measurements are made with completely uncalibrated parts. As I’m guessing are many peoples claim of accuracy. Based on my personal experience, unless you have a NIST traceable calibration, at best you are talking about 1/10th of an inch at best.

Thank you everyone for your responses!

My current ideas include cutting carbon fiber for various projects (GoPro Gimbal, Quadcopter frame, etc.) and also making signs and boxes with inlays or various gifts mostly from wood. I would like the ability to cut some reliefs in aluminum or brass as well for gifts and ornaments. I would guess that the carbon fiber would be about 10% of my cutting with 60% being wood and the remaining 30% being aluminum/brass. For carbon fiber the plates would be 1/8th inch or less while wood I would cut up to about 1 inch and similar for aluminum and brass. When cutting aluminum and brass I would stick to smaller work pieces, probably smaller than 12 inches x 12 inches. The accuracy you mention, especially on the 1k x 1k machine sounds more than accurate for my needs so thank you for the verification!

Very well said regarding not knowing what you don’t know. I have to admit i’ve jumped in over my head in the past with this specifically being the cause so thank you, I think that serves as a good cautionary statement for many of us.

I will continue doing some more research but especially after reading everyone’s responses I am probably leaning more towards buying the X-Carve and using it to learn and improve so one day I can configure my own system.

Thank you again for your guidance, I look forward to participating in these forums with everyone once I have a system up and running!

If you are considering c-beam there are 2 kits your should look at:
C-Beam Machine (controller board and power supply are separate)
R7 (comes with a water cooled spindle)

Thank you Aaron, great suggestions!

The configuration I have in mind is almost exactly the same as the R7 minus the water cooled spindle.

So far i’m just working on a make/buy decision regarding the homebrew vs. X-Carve. If I did the make I would be buying the parts piecewise rather than pre-built rails. I may in the end be throwing myself in the deep end but that’s what I get for being a stubborn tinkerer :sweat_smile:

Okay so I think I finally convinced myself to go the X-Carve 1000mm route and upgrade as I go along…

My Make/Buy analysis pointed to my idea of a homebrew system easily costing $600 more than the X-Carve with the main differences being lead screw drive on all axes and slightly stiffer axes which could easily be stiffened with relatively minor upgrades on the X-Carve as it is. The price difference alone would justify buying three pre-built c-beam axes to replace the x-axis and dual y-axes somewhere down the line if I really feel it is even necessary :anguished:

Now begins the design and build of a work surface worthy of the X-Carve while I save a paycheck or twelve to buy the machine!

Thanks again for the guidance everyone! :thumbsup:

Keep us updated and let us know how it goes!!

I love the CNC community. I spent a year or two looking at different kits and options (ShopBot, OtherMill, Carvey, Nomad, Zen Toolworks, ShapeOko, X-Carve, and several home built options). They all have pros and cons, but more similarities than differences, and there are plenty of people who just build their own from scratch. More importantly, they all have great community websites where people post projects, upgrades, etc. (I ended up buying the ShapeOko 3 and have already made upgrades, with ideas from this site as well as the older shapeoko.com and carbide3D.com).