In this article, I look at the X Carve and Shapeoko CNC routers, how they compare to one another, and reveal which is best overall.
I’ll be pitching the latest X Carve against the latest Shapeoko model, which is the Shapeoko 4.
Finding the perfect CNC for you is often a tricky task, with so many different options available. People often find themselves torn between two popular machines like the X Carve and Shapeoko and look for a helping hand to make the decision.
That’s where I come in – I had many years of experience in the CNC industry and writing about CNC routers — and you can read some of my other articles about the X Carve and Shapeoko on this site. So, I’m putting that experience to good use by helping you decide which of these popular CNCs is best for you.
Inventables X Carve
At a Glance
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In some ways, such as the router and controller, the X Carve and Shapeoko 4 are very similar machines. However, having examined both machines in detail, there are several clear advantages to the Shapeoko 4 that make it a better machine for most people.
For starters, it’s available in three different sizes, whereas the X Carve is available in only one.
The Shapeoko 4 has a sturdier frame, which is better at cutting aluminum and other metals, and has higher quality linear motion, so for these more professional usecases, it is probably the best option.
It’s also easier to assemble and can be made even better with a raft of quality upgrades available. So, in my opinion, it represents the best value for money.
However, the X Carve does a number of things better, too.
For example, the X Carve is a super user-friendly machine that comes with a better, more complete software package, for beginner and more hobbyist makers. This is why some people also propose it as the best CNC machine for teaching in schools.
Now, let’s take a look at each aspect of the X Carve and Shapeoko 4 side-by-side. I’ll explain how they match up in cutting area, stability, precision, software, usability, and more, so you’ll be able to decide exactly which machine is best for you.
Size is key when it comes to choosing a CNC machine, as the cutting area you get determines the kind of projects you can work on.
The X Carve offers a cutting area of 29.5”x29.5”x4.5”, which is on the larger side for hobbyist CNC routers and is ideal for medium size projects like making signs and small furniture.
The Shapeoko 4 is actually available in three different sizes:
- The Standard has a 17.5”x17.5”x4” cutting area
- The XL has a 33”x17.5”x4” cutting area
- The XXL has a 33”x33”x4” cutting area
So, it’s the XXL version of the Shapeoko 4 is most similar to the X Carve in terms of size, although there are only a few inches in it. The XXL also has a marginally larger footprint of 50”x41” compared to the X Carve’s 49”x39”.
The key here is that the Shapeoko 4 is available in different sizes, whereas the X Carve is only available in one set size.
So, the Shapeoko 4 offers prospective buyers more flexibility in terms of budget and application. For example, the Standard is much more suitable for small home workshops where space is at a premium than the X Carve is.
Inventables does offer the X Carve Pro, which is available in 4ft by 2ft and 4ft by 4ft, but this is ultimately a different machine and considerably more expensive – the starting price is over $8,000.
For me, the Shapeoko 4 takes this round due to the greater flexibility and larger cutting area it offers buyers.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
Build & Stability
Both the X Carve and Shapeoko 4 are well made hobby machines that offer decent stability, but there are some differences.
For example, while both use aluminum extrusions for the rails (X Carve uses open source Markerslide hardware while Shapeoko uses Carbide’s proprietary rails), the extrusions on the Shapeoko 4 are notably bigger and thicker.
To be specific, the X Carve extrusions measure 40x40x3mm, while the Shapeoko ones are 85x55x5mm, so they’re significantly larger and 2mm thicker.
This means the Shapeoko is a fair bit heavier and therefore more stable and rigid, which in turn allows you to achieve more precise cutting with less flexing and vibration.
That’s not to say the X Carve is a flimsy piece of kit, because it’s not. But if you’re going to be pushing your machine with demanding work, such as metal cutting, the Shapeoko 4 will provide better results.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
Router & Spindle
The major difference between the X Carve and the Shapeoko 4 in terms of the router is that the X Carve actually comes with one included, whereas the Shapeoko kit doesn’t, so you need to buy one separately.
The X Carve comes with a Makita RT0701C router, which is a very popular, high quality variable speed router with 10,000-30,000 RPM. This is the piece of kit you see most in hobbyist CNC routers in this price range.
The Shapeoko 4 is also compatible with the Makita TR0701C, but the website recommends using its own proprietary router, the Carbide Compact Router.
Now, this router is less than half the price of the Makita, but it’s not as high quality.
It’s a pretty stripped back, basic router that has a slightly narrower range of 12,000-30,000 RPM. I’d still recommend going for the TR0701C or a 65mm router of a similar quality for a couple hundred dollars if you go for the Shapeoko 4.
The X Carve comes out top here purely because it has the router included whereas the Shapeoko doesn’t.
Winner: X Carve
Like most hobbyist routers in this price range, both the X Carve and Shapeoko 4 are effective at cutting the soft materials you’d expect them to be good at – woods, plastics, foam, composites, and so on.
So, both are very effective woodworking CNC machines. However, when used side by side, the Shapeoko has been found to cut wood around twice as fast as the X Carve, largely due to the bigger, heavier shafts and better stability.
Another difference is when it comes to their ability to effectively cut aluminum and other soft metals, which is one of the points on which most hobbyist routers vary greatly.
Now, I’ll start by saying that it’s possible to cut aluminum with both of these CNC machines, as is stated on both manufacturers’ websites.
As some users have pointed out, you can cut aluminum on the standard X Carve without modifications using a good bit and the right settings, such as a 30in/min feed rate and a 0.005 depth per pass.
However, one thing that’s certain is that there is a much wider body of evidence of the Shapeoko 4 being a high quality cutter of soft metals.
For example, it’s referenced extensively as a good aluminum cutter on Reddit, and the Carbide YouTube channel has a variety of videos on this topic, including those explaining feeds and speed rates for cutting aluminum with the Shapeoko 4 and showcasing projects, such as a festive aluminum pumpkin.
Read more: the truth about CNC feed and speed rate
Due to the intricacies of cutting aluminum with affordable CNC machines, I think it’s always best to go for the one with a verifiable history of extensive metal cutting, and in this case, that’s the Shapeoko 4.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
The X Carve and Shapeoko 4 are pretty similar in terms of linear motion as both use a belt-driven system with stepper motors to move the X and Y axes.
On top of that, they both use a direct drive system with lead screws to move the Z axis.
This is a significant upgrade on both the old X Carve and Shapeoko 3 as both used a belt drive on the Z axis. Although lead screw mechanisms can be slower than belt drives, they are more accurate, and due to the short travel on the Z axis, the time increase is minimal.
One difference between the two CNC machines is that the Shapeoko uses 15mm belts in contrast to the 6mm belts on the X Carve, so they’re much stiffer and make for higher performance.
You can purchase an upgraded belt for the X Carve but it’s another additional cost.
So, the Shapeoko 4 is the better machine in terms of linear motion. However, neither the Shapeoko 4 nor the X Carve offer optimal performance here, as for that you need a ball screw driven machine.
If you’d like to check one out, I recommend reading my Onefinity CNC review.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
Controller & Electronics
In terms of the controllers, there’s very little to separate the X Carve and Shapeoko 4.
Both use their own proprietary controllers, the X-Controller in the X Carve and the Carbide Motion V3.0 in the Shapeoko.
They’re both based on Arduino boards with GRBL firmware, so they’re essentially the same piece of kit. Both are also neatly contained within plastic boxes to protect the boards and keep them from overheating.
Both also use NEMA 23 stepper motors, so again they’re almost identical in this regard, although the X Carve ones offer slightly higher holding torque; 140oz.in to the 125oz.in holding torque of the Shapeoko 4. So, the X Carve takes it for that reason, but only just.
Winner: X Carve
Both the X Carve and Shapeoko 4 come with CNC software packages, which is nice, but the packages are pretty different.
The X Carve comes with a three-year license for the Easel Pro software, which is made by Inventables.
Inventables markets the X Carve as the most simple, user-friendly CNC machine out there, and Easel reflects that – it’s actually referred to as “the world’s easiest CAD/CAM software”.
It’s certainly a decent piece of kit, particularly for beginners.
It’s an all-in-one program that can be used for creating designs, converting them into g code, and then controlling your router, which is great as often you’ll need to use several programs for these jobs.
It can be used for creating 2D, 2.5D, and 3D model designs, automatically generating toolpaths, and it has over 3,000 preloaded designs you can use.
The Shapeoko 4 comes with Carbide Create, which is a 2D CAD/CAM software, and Carbide Control for controlling your CNC machine. If you want to do 3D modeling, you’ll need to purchase a Carbide Create Pro license or use different software.
In terms of usability, Easel Pro is cloud-based while Carbide Create needs to be downloaded, and there are pros and cons to each.
Cloud-based software can be used anywhere on any device, but needs a strong internet connection for optimum performance, while installed software doesn’t offer as much flexibility but isn’t reliant on an internet connection.
Overall, Easel Pro is definitely a better software package than the Carbide programs, and it can actually be integrated with numerous third-party routers including the Shapeoko 4, so the X Carve comes out on top here.
Winner: X Carve
Upgradability is important as it allows you to make the most of your CNC machine and work on a wide variety of projects, and there are a variety of upgrades you can make to both the X Carve and the Shapeoko 4.
One of the most popular upgrades for both machines is adding a laser module.
Neither Inventables nor Carbide provide their own laser modules, but you can get third-party ones for both machines from JTech Photonics.
The X Carve offers various other upgrade kits, including a belt and motor upgrade kit, a Z axis upgrade that adds an additional 2” of clearance and increased rigidity, a modular wasteboard kit, and a full upgrade kit for overall increased performance.
A popular upgrade option for the Shapeoko 4 is adding the HDZ upgraded X/Z axis.
This costs $450 and increases the Z axis travel, comes with a new Z axis motor, an aluminum backplate, and converts the Z axis from a lead screw drive to ball screw drive, so it can significantly increase the performance of your machine.
Other Shapeoko upgrades worth considering are the BitSetter for easy tool offset probing, the Bitrunner for controlling the power to your router, and the BitZero that makes it easy to zero the three axes.
Both manufacturers offer a good variety of quality upgrades for the X Carve and Shapeoko 4, so I think they’re pretty much equal in this regard. However, the ability to turn your Shapeoko 4 into a ball screw driven machine with the HDZ upgrade kit tips it in the Shapeoko’s favor.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
While Inventables markets the X Carve as the “easiest CNC machine”, my comparison found that it is in fact the Shapeoko 4 that’s quick and easier to put together.
This is largely due to the fact that the majority of the parts in the Shapeoko 4 kit come preassembled, whereas those in the X Carve don’t.
So, with the X Carve you have to put all the wheels, nuts, wasteboard inserts, and other components together.
It’s always difficult to put a timeframe on how long a machine takes to put together as it depends on your experience and how long you spend during each sitting.
As a rough estimate, though, I’d say it takes more people at least three hours to put the Shapeoko 4 together and at least eight hours to get the X Carve up and running.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
Customer Support & Community
One area in which it is difficult to separate the X Carve and Shapeoko 4 is customer support, as both the brands behind these machines are well respected and known for their good service.
Both offer email support as well as phone support throughout the working week, which many people prefer and isn’t something you get with overseas manufacturers, such as the many located in China.
There are also a variety of helpful resources for both machines available on the manufacturers’ websites, and both have their own YouTube channels, although Carbide’s has more videos focused on the Shapeoko than Inventables does on the X Carve.
However, Shapeoko does edge it again for me here.
This is because it has a longer warranty (one year compared to the X Carve’s six months), a 30-day “mistakes on us” policy whereby any part that breaks in the first 30 days is replaced for free, and free shipping on all orders over $50.
This isn’t exactly a criticism of Inventables, because it still offers better support than most brands, but Carbide goes the extra mile.
There are also active communities surrounding both machines where you can discuss topics, get help with problems, and share projects.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
Price & Value for Money
These two CNC machines are priced very similarly – the X Carve base kit costs $2,047 while the Shapeoko 4 will set you back $2,300.
However, you get more components with the X Carve kit, such as the Makita router which will set you back around $200 on Amazon, so overall for most people the X Carve will work out at least a couple hundred dollars cheaper.
However, I don’t think that this is a big enough saving to make it a better value for money than the Shapeoko 4 due to the Shapeoko being better overall.
Winner: X Carve for price, Shapeoko 4 for value
X Carve vs Shapeoko: The Winner
Having conducted this comparison of the Inventables X Carve and Carbide’s Shapeoko 4, I think the Shapeoko will suit most users better.
However, the X Carve may be better if you’re looking to spend less money or are a complete beginner looking for a user-friendly router with a really intuitive software package.
The Shapeoko is simply better in the majority of ways, particularly in terms of its build and stability, metal cutting ability, choice of sizes, and linear motion. There are ways in which the two machines are also very similar, such as the controller, but overall the Shapeoko is a higher quality machine.
This isn’t to say the X Carve is a bad machine, because it definitely isn’t.
It has some benefits over the Shapeoko 4, including a far better software package and comes in a more complete kit with a router included.
It’s also a fair bit cheaper when you factor everything in, but I think that a few hundred dollars for a better machine is worth it.
Overall, if I was to recommend one, it would be the Shapeoko 4.
Inventables X Carve
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