X-Carve vs Sable 2015 CNC for PCBs

I’m interested in buying a CNC for PCB engraving.

I’ve seen some tutorials here for how to make this work on X-Carve. But I’ve also seen the Sable 2015 CNC. Does anyone know how the two compare? Doez the X-Carve really have the accuracy and control for PCB engraving?

@Travelphotog would be a good user to ask as he has quite a bit of experience with this.

@Zach_Kaplan Hey guys! I took a look at the sabel2015 site to get an idea of what it might be able to do over an X-Carve. It seems to be a nice a little CNC and is ball screw driven which is very nice. Looking at the example PCB they show http://www.cnc-sable.nl/sable-example-i-19.html it is a standard through hole PCB which is something the X Carve can do with ease. Even fine pitch SMD work can be done with the X Carve with a bit of setup. For most CNC routers, the setup of your files and the end mill you use are two of the most important things. A well tuned X Carve with a good PCB tracing engraving end mill can manage a fine trace SMD board without too much trouble. In the end it comes down to the right tools (good copperclad and good trace engraving end mills) and finding a software you like for reading EAGLE or GERBER files and making the needed Gcode from them.

Overall the two units seem to be on a very similar level when it would come to PCB trace engraving. I started out int he world of CNC by buying a Shapeoko 2 for this very thing, PCB trace engraving for my robotics projects. I grew tired of endless hours of drilling hundreds of tiny holes after acid etching my boards. Once you have your workflow down and a good source for the right copperclad and end mills, it is easy to produce a board as needed.

The major difference I see between these two systems is their spindle units. The X Carve is an open system and is designed to allow the user to make changes to the system to suit their given CNC needs. As such it does not ship with a “standard” spindle and one must be added to the system. This also involves the power system needed for the given spindle choice. Looking at the other CNC unit it can be seen using a separate motor/spindle unit which is very common on engravers and PCB CNC systems. They are a belt drive system and often extremely high RPM as they are often used with micro sized end mills under 1/8" in diameter which prefer higher RPM spindles. This style of motor can be mounted to the X Carve with a motor mount plate. I started out with e 400W 48V spindle from Inventables on my Shapeoko 2 (it is still on it in fact) and it cuts PCBs just fine. I currently use a .8KW VFD spindle on my X Carver and also does a great job of PCB milling. The biggest factor in picking a spindle will be getting high RPM and having as little run out as you can get on the spindle.

A short answer is yes the X Carve has what is needed to get great results in PCB milling. But it will take some care in the setup and I can almost promise that your first board or two will need a few tweaks until you have your workflow and mill dialed in. If you have any specific questions about the process or tools used. I will be very happy to answer as best I can.

OK, thanks for the replies. I’m ready to order the X-Carve, but I admit that I’m a bit hesitant.

I’ve read the various PCB walk-throughs here, and it seems like I have to jump to several tools to make it work, with autoleveling being the primary reason for this. Since I need double-sided PCBs, I’m worried about high failure rates. Autoleveling seems like the kind of functionality that would be built in to X-Carve. Is there work in progress to add this to the default toolchain?

Other concerns: I’ve seen mentions of it taking a while to “dial in” settings to get accurate results. Is there an FAQ or some checklist I can follow to cover common issues? I want to burn through as few copper blanks as possible. One of the walk-throughs mentions spindle speed as a particular concern; is the Dewalt 611 spindle usable for PCBs?

Overall, I see a fairly manual and involved process. I’m willing to do that, but CNC machines aren’t my hobby; for me, they’re a tool for solving a specific problem.