Finding the right CNC machine is never easy, and when it comes to spending thousands on a single piece of kit, you have to be absolutely sure you’re making the right choice.
It’s for this reason that I’m putting my many years of experience working with CNC machines to good use, by giving you a helping hand through my reviews of various popular CNC routers and mills.
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The Shark HD520 is a seriously impressive machine, and retails for $5,999.99.
In this machine, Next Wave has produced a really high-quality piece of kit that’s ideal for businesses that rely on woodworking, as well as the more serious hobbyists out there.
This CNC router ticks just about every box – it’s fantastically stable, rigid, and durable thanks to the industrial-grade, all-metal frame.
You get a large 2ft by 4ft working area to easily machine most common projects, a quality software package, a smart offline controller, and a base machine that’s open to a whole raft of different upgrades and accessories.
My review found just a couple of very minor limitations, such as the fact you have to buy a router separately, but overall it’s a solid thumbs up.
Now let’s take a closer look at the Next Wave Shark DH520. The following sections take a detailed look at each different aspect of this machine, so you’ll have everything you need to decide whether it’s right for you.
Size & Working Area
The entire machine has a footprint of 63” x 36.25” with table dimensions of 28” x 63” and an XYZ travel of 25” x 50” x 7” (7” being the maximum possible travel for the Z axis).
So, the Shark HD520 provides a sizeable 2ft by 4ft cutting area that provides professional woodworkers with the space needed to machine furniture and other medium to large projects.
2×4 CNC routers are relatively common, but this is one of few that’s built specifically for woodworking, so it’s certainly worth considering if this is your priority.
Build & Stability
I was seriously impressed with the frame of the Shark HD520 and the fantastic level of stability it offers. This is undoubtedly one of the main reasons this model is among the top woodworking CNC routers.
All the components are industrial grade, from the base frame of aluminum interlocked with stainless steel to the extruded aluminum workbed and router mount, and the steel-reinforced gantry.
It also has InterLoc T-slots for securely clamping your workpiece to the bed.
The result? Fantastic sturdiness, durability, and rigidity. The machine is very resistant to vibration, flexing, and deflection, which helps you achieve highly precise cutting.
Router & Spindle
You don’t actually get a router with this CNC machine; you have to buy one separately (although it does come with a router mount build-in).
Next Wave lists the following routers as being suitable to use with the Shark HD520:
These are all decent routers for woodworking, but they all differ slightly from one another, so make sure you do your research before ordering one.
The DeWalt 610 has now been discontinued, so you can’t buy one new, although you can still pick them up on eBay and other second-hand sites.
You’re not limited to these routers, though – any one with a diameter of 65mm can be used with the HD520.
It’s also possible to use other-size routers with the machine, but this will require you to replace the router mount.
The HD520 is most associated with woodworking, and it’s a really effective tool for cutting all different types of wood. You can also use it to cut a variety of other soft metals, such as plastics and composites.
If you’re looking to cut metals, the Shark HD520 is not a perfect choice.
This router is designed for dry cutting rather than cutting with a lubricant like you need to use with metals, so I wouldn’t even try to machine strong metals with this choice.
However, while it can’t cut ferrous metals, it can still cut soft metals like aluminum.
Just bear in mind that you need to make sure you have the optimal settings to safely and accurately cut metal with the HD520, and even then it’s still going to be a lot slower than machines that are specifically built for this purpose.
If a metalworking router or mill is what you’re looking for, check out our guide on metal cutting CNC machines, or alternatively read our reviews of the Carbide Nomad 3 and BobsCNC Evo 4, two good examples of CNC machines that can machine aluminum and other metals.
This 2×4 CNC router uses a lead screw mechanism to move the axes.
This is preferred over mechanisms, like belt drive systems used in cheaper routers, due to the increased rigidity and precision it offers.
One downside of the lead screw mechanism, though, is that the movement between screws and nuts can result in backlash.
To combat this, the HD520 uses anti-backlash, wear-compensated lead screws on each axis.
There are linear guides and bearings on the gantry that guide the movement of the X and Z axis, while the Y axis rails are metal shafts positioned under the workbed.
The Y axis rails are protected by dust by side panels, although I recommend regularly cleaning and lubricating the X and Z rails as these are uncovered. This will help maintain performance and prevent wear of the components.
Control & Electronics
The HD520 runs off a CNC control board that’s safely encased within a metal box for complete protection.
The case provides easy access to the on/off switch, an emergency stop button that will bring the machine to an immediate halt when pressed, as well as ports for the router, motors, homing switch, and power supply.
The power input is 120V.
Each axis of the CNC machine is driven by NEMA 23 hybrid bipolar stepper motors. These are popular high torque motors for this kind of machine, with a holding torque of 270oz-in and 1.8° step angle.
One thing I really like about the Shark HD520 is that it comes with an LCD pendant controller that you can use for offline control of the router.
All you need to do is transfer your g code onto a USB stick, put the stick into the controller, and then attach the controller to the main control board.
Not only does this mean you don’t have to bring your computer into your workshop, but it also means there’s no risk of your work being compromised by a PC crash.
When you buy the HD520 you get a license for Vetrics VCarve Pro, a popular CAD/CAM software that otherwise costs $699.
It’s a decent program for both hobbyists and small businesses, and it allows you to import and create 2D designs using profile, pocket, drill, and inlay toolpaths.
You can also import and machine vectric 3D clipart and single model files, as well as being able to create v-carving textures. If you want to create your own 3D models from scratch, however, you’ll need to use a different CAD software such as Fusion 360 or AutoCAD.
If you want to control your HD520 from a PC rather than importing g code onto the offline module, Next Wave provides Ready2Control.
The highlight of this program is being able to take an unlimited number of reference points to fully map your workpiece, and then automatically adjust the g code so that it’s perfectly matched to the surface of your material.
This is highly beneficial as it means your work won’t be inhibited by a warped or uneven material surface and you can maintain a constant cutting depth throughout, something that most other machines aren’t able to guarantee.
This feature is called Virtual Zero Unlimited and it’s actually patented by Next Wave, which is pretty neat.
Another thing I really like about this machine is that there’s a raft of simple yet effective upgrades you can make to it.
One of the most popular upgrades among Shark DH520 users is to add the Next Wave laser module. There are two different ones available; the 2 watt which costs $499.99, and the 7 watt which will set you back $999.99.
Both of them have high-quality optics, but the 2 watt is for making etchings on planes and painted surfaces.
The 7 watt is for laser engraving strong materials, including light wood, aluminum, and foam. You can also still use VCarve for your laser engraving work.
The added 4th axis capability is a must if you want to work on cylindrical objects and if you want to make cuts like spiral cuts and fluted columns. Plus, it’s “plug and play”, so it’s really easy to get started with.
There is also a wide range of accessories you can add to improve your overall experience with the HD520.
For example, if you want to make the machine safer, quieter, and cleaner, the HD520 cage can be a really good investment, although it’s fairly costly at $1,399.99.
Next Wave also offers a dust boot for $29.99 which helps prevent dust from escaping during work, helping you both keep safe and keep your workshop clean.
Although it’s designed for professional use and serious hobbyists, the Shark HD520 is a pretty simple machine to get up and running.
The base and gantry come preassembled, so all you need to do is attach them, connect the stepper motors and power supply to the controller, mount the router, and you’re good to go.
This is all very standard stuff, so New Wave has kept things nice and simple.
You’ll get full, clear instructions in the manual that comes with your HD520 kit, and there are also video guides available on the New Wave website.
All in all, it should take most people just an hour or two to get the machine set up.
I was very impressed with the level of customer service provided by Next Wave; hobbyists and professionals alike get all the support they need from this manufacturer.
If you need to get in touch you can do so by emailing [email protected] or by calling 419-318-4822, with lines open 9am to 5pm EST Monday through to Friday.
However, due to the fantastic amount of support resources available on the website, you’ll probably only need to actually contact the company in rare circumstances.
The help center provides a variety of helpful guides and instructional video manuals, and there’s a frequently asked questions page for easy solutions to common queries.
On top of that, Next Wave offers webinars and training, an online rebate system, and a really cool “Shark Swap” initiative where you can return old routers that the company will then refurbish and donate to a school.
With a two-year warranty on all machines and financing options available, Next Wave also offers great service on the economical side of things.
Having conducted my Next Wave Shark HD520 review, I can safely say this is one of the most impressive mid-range woodworking CNC routers I’ve ever had the pleasure to use.
It offers virtually everything you could ask for in a top-quality woodworking router around the $5,000-$6,000 mark.
The machine is brilliantly built and therefore fantastically stable and rigid, the electronics are powerful, and the software package is decent.
Throw in the intuitive offline control and upgradability, and this is a machine I’d recommend to anyone who’s serious about CNC woodworking to consider.
Here are a couple of top CNC routers I recommend checking out if you’re not quite convinced by the HD520.
BobsCNC Evolution 4
- Price: $1,230 — Available at Amazon here
I think the BobsCNC Evo 4 is a great choice if you’re looking for something similar to the Shark HD520 but for a lower price.
It offers a really good 2ft by 2ft working area for the price, which is kept low by the machine’s all-wood frame.
However, while it’s not made of aluminum, the router is surprisingly sturdy and can even be used for aluminum cutting with the right settings. Check out my BobsCNC Evo 4 review to get the full lowdown on this popular CNC router.
Carbide Shapeoko 4
- Price: $2,300 – Available at Matterhackers here
The Carbide 3D Shapeoko 4 is one of the most popular hobbyist CNC routers about and offers great value for money, though this is a step up from the Evo 4.
It has an all-aluminum base for high levels of stability and rigidness, a 17.5”x17.5”x4” working area for small to medium size hobbyist projects, and uses top quality components like large and strong V wheels along with stiff 15mm belts.
If you’re interested in metalworking, I recommend also checking out my review of the Carbide Nomad 3, a top-quality desktop CNC mill.
Read more: Shapeoko 4 vs X Carve CNC review
- Size: 63” x 36.25
- Engraving area: 25” x 50” x 7”
- Frame material: aluminum and steel
- Router: not included, comes with 65mm clamp
- Axis motion: lead screw
- Motors: stepper
- Supported OS: Windows, Mac, Linux
- Control: Online & offline
- Software: VCarve, Ready2Control
- Connectivity: US
- Power input: 120V
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