We get lots of questions about how our Shapeoko 3 compares to the X-Carve from Inventables. Since this question doesn’t seem to be diminishing, we’re publishing this document as the most complete answer to the question we can have.
Disclaimer: This is being written by Carbide 3D in early 202. Machines change over time and if you’re reading this in the future, some items may have changed.
We’ll try to be as impartial as possible and where we’re speculating, we’ll be sure to note it.
Shapeoko 3 and X-Carve share a common history. Shapeoko 1 and 2 were created by Edward Ford (now a part of Carbide 3D) as the simplest, most affordable CNC machine possible. It wasn’t made to be the highest performing machine, it was made to be the most accessible.
When Edward joined Carbide 3D, he brought the Shapeoko brand and the desire to make a break from the past and create a new, high-performance machine. Backward compatibility wasn’t a goal, making a great machine that was a great value was the goal.
At the same time, Inventables decided to refresh the Shapeoko 2 design to incorporate a number of design changes to reduce the parts count and rebrand it as the X-Carve. From all appearances, the design changes were made to maximize backward compatibility with the Shapeoko 2.
When someone looks at both machines, the rails are the first things that jump out as being different. The X-Carve is based on Makerslide, which is a small aluminum extrusion made for generic linear motion.
When we started on the Shapeoko 3, we knew from experience that a new extrusion would be required. Makerslide was not strong enough for the machine we wanted to make, and it didn’t scale beyond a table top machine without a lot of flexing.
Here’s an image of Makerslide vs. the Shapeoko 3 extrusion.
Our outer dimensions are approximately 55mm x 80 compared to 20 x 40 for Makerslide.
We have a wall thickness of approximately 5mm compared to 1 mm for Makerslide.
In the past year, Inventables upgraded the X rail to be 40mm x 40mm instead of 20mm x 40mm, presumably because they needed to reduce flex. The wall thickness was increased to 3mm.
The picture is surely worth a thousand words but if you pick up the extrusion in real life it’s worth a difference of over 10 pounds of aluminum. The Shapeoko extrusion is massive by comparison.
Total weight of X-Carve extrusions: 1.79Kg
Total weight of Shapeoko extrusions: 6.450Kg
The Shapeoko extrusions have 3.6 times the aluminum of the X-Carve!
One more just for fun:
Our rails are cut to length in our shop using a large machining center (a Haas VF-4) to get both the length and the angle of the cut as perfect as reasonbly possible. We found that we were never able to get the cuts square enough using any other method so we decided to eliminate the quality problems once and for all.
The sheet metal in the Shapeoko 3 is 10 gauge steel that’s powder coated for a durable finish. Wherever we need more rigidity, we put a strategic bend or two in the metal. Wherever possible, we use press-in nuts to make the machine easier to assemble and to keep it from looking like an Erector Set.
X-Carve sheet metal is 2.78mm thick
Shapeoko sheet metal is 3.62mm thick
Shapeoko sheet metal is 30% thicker than the X-Carve
For comparison, here’s a shot of the components that make up the front of each machine (along with an extrusion for reference):
We have to get into a bit of speculation here. We assume that Inventables sources their linear motion hardware (vee wheels and eccentric nuts) from China since most companies do. We did that at the beginning too.
In late 2015, we shifted all of our V wheels and eccentric nuts to a machine shop in the US because we didn’t like the variation in parts from China.
From the start, we took the same electronics we used in the Nomad and used them in the Shapeoko.
Our electronics are fully isolated so that there is no electrical connection between the USB port on the computer and the electronics in the machine. The shop is a hostile environment for electronics and we have done as much as possible to make our system reliable.
The Shapeoko 3 uses dual Y motors so we put a second Y motor driver in our electronics from the start. The X-Carve also uses dual Y motors, but putting two motors in parallel and sharing a driver was never a consideration for us - that’s the wrong way to do it.
Inventables recently upgraded their electronics to add a second Y driver and add more robust drivers, which is a good change.
Since early 2016, we’ve shipped all Shapeoko machines partially assembled. We found that customers where having trouble with things like the V wheels and eccentric nuts. Those items are unique to this kind of motion system and not something that average people would come across. We came to the conclusion that we should do as much assembly before shipping as possible. (And we did it without increasing the price of the machine.)
This reduced the parts count of the Shapeoko 3 by 73%
The X-Carve bill of materials contains roughly 3 times more pieces than the Shapeoko 3.
This is what the Y plate looks like for the X-Carve:
This is what the Y plate looks directly from the Shapeoko package:
We had one of our guys in the shop, who spends his whole day building our Nomads, build both machines. He’d never seen either machine before so we just handed him a laptop and told him to build them. The X-Carve took him around 10 hours to build and the Shapeoko 3 took him 3 hours.
This is the most subjective part of the comparison. We can only share our point of view and we completely understand that others may come to a different conclusion.
Our goal is to create software that will be useful to you for a long time. We modeled Carbide Create, our CAD/CAM program on existing programs and tried to simplify along the way. While we care a lot about your first hour with the machine, as you’re just getting started, we’ve ultimately tried to make it a powerful program for your next 10,000 hours. We think we’ve struck a good balance.
Side note: Carbide Create is free for everyone, even if you’re not using on of our machines so try it today and see what you think.
Carbide Motion, our machine controller, gives you all of the power of more advanced systems without flooding you with every option, whether you need it or not.
In both cases, Carbide Create and Carbide Motion, we’ve made our software available as a download for Mac and Windows. We do not believe in cloud-based software for CNC machine control. You should be able to use the machine in the environment you want, without being subject to the state of our website.
We also use the same software for both the Shapeoko and our flagship Nomad Pro Desktop CNC. When we add something for the Nomad, 90% of the time it’s available for the Shapeoko as well.
Finally, we’re the first company we’re aware of to roll out support for GRBL 1.1. GRBL is the software embedded in the the Shapeoko and the X-Carve for motion control. We worked with the lead developer of GRBL to get everything added into version 1.1 that our customers have been asking for.
We were also the first company to reach an agreement with the lead developer of GRBL to pay to support the project for everyone.
X-Carve is available in a single size:
We offer Shapeoko in 3 sizes to best suit your needs and budget:
The Shapeoko 3 and XL are sized to be the deepest machine that can fit on a standard 24” workbench.
We don’t believe in options. We believe in selling the machine with everything you need to get it running and to cut parts. That means we include everything you need to get started for a single price. We don’t nickel and dime you.
We’ve never advertised an artificially low price only to bump it up when you configure the machine with those non-optional options.
We offer a 12 month warranty on the Shapeoko. See it here
According to the Inventables web site, they offer no warranty:
Because the X-Carve machines are sold as kits and require user assembly we are unable to offer formal service plans or warranties. However, if you run into any problems during kit assembly or machine use you can get assistance by contacting us.
The Shapeoko uses 9mm belts, the X-Carve uses 6mm belts. The math is easy, our belts are 50% stiffer:
In late 2019 we transitioned to steel core belts from the fiberglass core that we’d been using for years. In our testing, steel core belts are approximately 20% stiffer than fiberglass.
Speculation here: we assume that most of the X-Carve parts come from overseas because the don’t explicitly say otherwise. Making parts here in the US costs more so it seems logical that you’d brag about it. Allow us to brag:
If you own an iPhone then you know that companies can make great products in China, but that’s Apple. It’s almost impossible for a small company to match US quality in China so we make as much here in the US as we can.
We can see how you might think, “How convenient that Shapeoko 3 beats X-Carve in every category.” Our reply is simple- of course it does, we designed the machine to win. If a part of our machine needs improvement, we improve it, even at the expense of profit. There’s no way we look at some part of our machine being inferior and say, “Oh well.”
We do everything we can to make sure that no customer will ever regret buying a machine from Carbide 3D.
If you’d like more information about the Shapeoko, check it out here.
If you have any questions, feel free to give us a call. We love talking about this stuff.