Nomad 3 CNC Review [2021]: Best Small CNC?

Nomad 3 CNC Review [2021]: Best Small CNC?

Nomad 3 CNC Review [2021]: Best Small CNC?

In this review, I take an in-depth look at the latest Nomad CNC machine from Carbide 3D, the Nomad 3.

Nomad 3 was brought out as a major improvement to the highly popular Nomad 883.

The Nomad 3 CNC router is a turnkey solution for those who want to get straight to cutting as soon as they receive it.

The machine comes preassembled and contains all the tools, software programs, and accessories needed to get cutting within an hour of opening the box.

You can use it to make small parts with very high precision and speed making it a good choice for jewelers, PCB makers, and for small prototyping.

It is also designed to be a useful tool for engineers, crafters, hobbyists, and manufacturers of custom products.

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Carbide 3D Nomad 3 Review

I reviewed Nomad 3 after carefully evaluating it for its build quality, ease of use, features, software package, compatibility, assembly time, community, and official support.

1. Size

Nomad 3 size
Nomad 3 size

Nomad 3 has a footprint of 19” x 17.5” which is similar to that of a small office copier and is 17 inches tall.

It weighs around 65 lbs which means you can keep it on your desk and stove it away on your shelf when not in use.

You can mill workpieces with a size of up to 8” (200 mm) x 8” (200 mm) and a maximum thickness of 3 inches.

The limited size means the nomad 3 is ideal for people working on small workpieces which need precision work.

2. Material Capability

8x8 topographical map of Mt. Saint Helens made on Nomad 3
8x8 topographical map of Mt. Saint Helens made on Nomad 3

Nomad 3 can cut a wide variety of soft and hard materials.

You can mill Bamboo, Softwood, Hardwood, Plywood, MDF, Cork, Graphite Limestone, HD Wax on the Nomad 3.

It can cut plastics like ABS, Acrylic, Delrin, HDPE, Kydex, Nylon, Linoleum, Polycarbonate, Polypropylene, PVC, Styrene, Sintra, and Resin.

Further, it has also been tested with composites like AL/PVC panel, Carbon fiber,  Garolite, Foamcore, and Renshape. 

You can also mill metals like Aluminum, Brass, Lead, Magnesium (Fire Hazard), Steel (Using Coolant), and Titanium(Using Coolant) on Nomad 3.

The maximum feed rate possible on Nomad 3 is around 150 ipm, but that is for non-metals.

For metals, the feed rates are below 20 inches per minute and it goes as low as 6 ipm for titanium at depth of cut of nearly 0.01”.

Nomad 3 is a good choice for PCB making however if you only need to make PCBs other affordable machines can do a similar job at less than half the price.

The advantage of Nomad 3 is the diversity in terms of materials it can cut.

You can also use Nomad 3 for making small 3D figurines using the flip jig accessory.

I talk about it more later in the accessories section of this article.

3. Aluminum Milling on Nomad 3

Nomad 3 can cut through aluminum stocks at shallow depths of cuts without any lubricant.

As an example, the feed rate while cutting aluminum at a depth of 0.01" is around 40 inches per minute (ipm) for a profiling cut.

You can cut aluminum with a much better finishing on Nomad 3 when compared to the earlier model-Nomad 883.

4. Chassis/Frame of Nomad 3

Nomad 3 has an all-metal frame made of aluminum that has excellent rigidity and that makes this CNC router suitable for cutting small metal stock.

The nomad is quite heavy considering its footprint and that helps in damping vibrations.

The overall build quality is sleek and sturdy.

I personally love the aesthetically designed body of Nomad 3 which comes in three different color options, grey, white, and wood.

Additionally, it comes with an enclosure and door.

The enclosure is transparent on the front side and has transparent windows on the side which lets you monitor the cutting process.

The enclosure is a nice addition as it helps keep the noise levels low and prevents milling dust from spreading onto your workspace.

Additionally, it also makes cleaning much easier.

5. Linear Motion

Lead screws on Nomad 3
Lead screws on Nomad 3

Nomad 3 uses a lead screw-driven mechanism with anti-backlash nuts on all three axes, this provides good precision and responsiveness.

Nomad 883, the predecessor of Nomad 3 used a lead screw mechanism without anti-backlash and was prone to backlash error.

Backlash is inherent to lead screw mechanisms and can affect accuracy, however, the anti-backlash nuts on the Nomad 3 make sure the backlash is insignificant.

The gantries move on linear guide rails, linear guide rails are more accurate and efficient than V-wheel based systems.

This is a major difference between the Nomad 3 and Shapeoko CNC router, as Shapeoko uses a V-wheel based system instead of a linear guide rail.

6. Spindle on Nomad 3

Nomad threaded spindle arrangement
Nomad threaded spindle arrangement

The spindle used on Nomad 3 is significantly different from the one used on the previous version of Nomad (i.e Nomad 883).

Nomad 883 used a 10,000 RPM spindle which has been replaced with a 24,000 RPM spindle on Nomad 3. This means the material removal rate of Nomad 3 will be more than double of Nomad 883 which reduces the cycle time.

It is a 130W spindle with a variable speed between 9,000 and 24,000 RPM.

When you are using small diameter tools, the material removed per revolution is very less compared to larger diameter tools.

In such cases having a high-speed spindle will allow you to make more cuts per minute which will improve the overall material removal rate.

Slow spindle speeds are used for large diameter tools, Nomad 3 uses tools with shanks less than 1/4" and it is good to have high spindle speeds for such tools.

One major point of complaint about the Nomad 883 was that the spindle was underpowered, and Carbide 3D seems to have solved that issue with a new powerful spindle in Nomad 3.

You can use ER11 collets with the spindle that can hold tools with a maximum shank diameter of 7mm.

However, the collet is not included with Nomad 3 and you will have to buy it separately.

7. Controller and Electronics

Controller

Carbide Motion Control board for Nomad 3
Carbide Motion Control board for Nomad 3

Nomad 3 uses an Atmel 328 based board with GRBL firmware flashed onto it.

The controller has four stepper drivers of which only three are used on Nomad 3.

This is because Nomad 3 uses the same controller used on the Shapeoko that uses four stepper motors.

You can connect the controller to your computer via USB cable and use Carbide Control software to control the machine.

Nomad 3 is rated at 130 W and can work with a 110V or 220 V supply with a maximum current draw of 2A, meaning you can plug it into any standard 110 V socket in your house or office.

Electronics 

Automatic tool length measurement on Nomad 3
Automatic tool length measurement on Nomad 3

Nomad 3 features an automatic tool length measurement feature that helps you zero the Z-axis after each tool change.

It has inductive homing switches on all three axes.

Inductive switches are contactless switches and these prevent the axes from crashing into the frame.

The homing switch allows you to automatically home the device through the control software.

Carbide 3D has also installed an induction switch on the door, which detects whether the door is closed or open.

If the door is open the machine does not start and stops if it is running. This improves the safety aspects of the machine.

However, this also means that you cannot operate the machine with the door open. This can be needed when you need to use a vac or lubrication system for cutting metals.

If you need to work with the door open, you can find how to do it from other users who did it from the community forum.

For easy edge finding, Carbide 3D provides their BitZero V2 touch probe. 

The BitZero V2 can be used to automatically zero all three axes to the corner point of the workpiece on the Nomad 3.

However, it will require you to have Carbide Motion 5.14 or higher for automatic zeroing.

Another upgrade from the Nomad 883 is the internal illumination. When you lean over to look at the small parts being cut, your body can cast a shadow on it. The LEDs inside Nomad 3 provide good illumination in such cases.

8. Software for Nomad 3

Carbide 3D provides four software programs with Nomad 3 which covers all the software need for Nomad 3 and does not require you to purchase additional software.

MeshCAM

MeshCAM CAM Software
MeshCAM CAM Software

Carbide 3D provides a free license for MeshCAM V8 CAM software with the Nomad 3. 

If you were to buy MeshCAM separately, it'll cost you $250.

You can create G-code from STL files using MeshCAM and use it to run Nomad 3.

The version of MeshCAM software provided with Nomad 3 can only create G-code specific to Nomad 3 and you cannot use it to work with any other CNC machines.

MeshCAM can be installed on Windows and Mac/OSX computers and is an offline software.

Alibre Workshop

Alibre Workshop 3D CAD CAM software interface
Alibre Workshop 3D CAD/CAM software interface

Nomad 3 comes with a redeemable code that can be used to obtain a free license to Alibre Workshop.

The license is non-transferable, which means if you redeem the code and you decide to sell your Nomad 3, you cannot transfer the free license to the person buying Nomad 3 from you.

Alibre Workshop is a powerful 3D CAD/CAM package and has a simple design that lets you design and generate G-code with the least number of clicks possible.

It is easy to learn and also includes a simulator using which you can predict any errors before cutting your stock.

However, it only works on Windows computers and does not require an active internet connection to function.

Carbide Motion

Carbide Motion control software interface
Carbide Motion control software interface

This is the primary software to control Nomad 3 and is free to use for Nomad 3 users.

You can install Carbide Motion software on Windows and Mac/OSX computers and it will work without an internet connection.

Carbide Motion is feature-packed and lets you control Nomad 3 in full auto and manual mode.

It lets you visualize your cuts before actually making the cuts on Nomad 3. 

Carbide Motion has a minimalistic and easy-to-use user interface.

Carbide Create

Carbide Create window
Carbide Create window

Carbide Create is a 2D design software developed by Carbide 3D and it is bundled free of cost with every purchase of Shapeoko or Nomad CNC machines.

You can use it to create 2D designs easily by using preset shapes available in the library.

Carbide Create is so easy to use that a person with little design experience for CNC can create complex designs.

It is easy to learn and it can generate G-code that is relevant to Nomad 3. It also seamlessly integrates with Carbide Create to give you a smooth cutting experience.

Carbide Copper

Carbide Copper PCB design software
Carbide Copper PCB design software

Carbide Copper is the CAM software for PCB making on Nomad 3.

The software has an innovative interface and lets you create prototypes in no time.

However, it is a web-based software and requires you to have an active internet connection to use the software.

Carbide Copper is fine-tuned to work with Nomad 3 CNC machines it runs smooth and fast.

All the software package that comes with Nomad 3 are free to use and you do not have to pay any subscription fee for any of them.

9. Accessories

Low Profile Vise

Low profile vise for Nomad 3
Low profile vise for Nomad 3

If you need a vise to hold down your workpieces you can purchase the low profile vise accessory from Carbide 3D for around $120.

It is 2” wide and 8” long and has a clamping width of 6.5 inches and comes with the hardware needed to attach it to the worktable of Nomad 3.

You can use it to hold workpieces from the side and it is also a good work holding option for holding cylindrical workpieces.

Nomad Threaded Table

Nomad threaded table on Nomad 3
Nomad threaded table on Nomad 3

If you want to use screw-down clamps to hold your workpieces you can purchase the threaded table accessory from Carbide 3D for around $120.

However, you’ll lose around ½” of the available Z-axis height by adding the threaded table.

This accessory has 73 M6x 1 threaded holes in it and comes with clamps and five M6 screws to attach to Nomad 3.

Nomad Flip Jig

Flip Jig for Nomad 3
Flip Jig for Nomad 3

This accessory allows you to hold the workpiece by the edges and cut both sides by flipping the entire jig once a side is complete.

It is a must-have accessory if you want to make small 3D sculptures using the Nomad 3.

You can use stocks that have a size less than 3” x 5” and with a maximum thickness of 1.2 inches.

Nomad 3 has a built-in machine calibration to locate the Flip Jig on the table and hence you do not require edge finders.

10. Assembly

Pre-assembled Nomad 3 unboxed
Pre-assembled Nomad 3 unboxed

There is practically no assembly involved with setting up your Nomad 3.

Nomad 3 is shipped pre-assembled and all you need to do is connect three wires, install the collet in the spindle, and install the wasteboard.

The only time you spend will be in downloading and installing the software on your computer which you can even do before Nomad 3 arrives.

With a few basic adjustments and configuration, you can start making chips in less than 30 minutes of unpacking your Nomad 3.

If you need help in setting it up, there is an excellent instruction manual provided with the kit that will help you through the process.

11. Community

Carbide 3D is known for its large and active online community of users who participate actively in discussions in the community forum.

You will find solutions to most of your problems in the online community.

The Carbide 3D forum is highly active and is an excellent place to ask questions and get help.

Moreover, the online community is a good place to find ideas for your next project and to share ideas of your own.

12. Customer Support

In case the community is unable to find a solution to your problems the guys at Carbide 3D will.

They have excellent customer support and you can reach them via phone, email, or video chat.

You will be taken care of by a US-based support team who are prompt and reliable in responding to your queries.

Nomad 3 has an 18 month warranty period which is a testament to its build quality.

Carbide 3D also has a “Mistakes are on us” policy under which they will ship you a replacement part if you break anything in the first 30-days of usage, even if it’s your mistake.

This is really great for beginners as they can explore their CNC machine stress-free without having to worry about breaking their machine.

Carbide 3D makes Nomad 3 in their manufacturing unit in California and they ship replacement parts immediately, which reduces any downtime.

13. Final Thoughts

Nomad 3 is a feature-packed compact CNC machine that is excellent for its price and can get you started right after the machine arrives.

You can use it to work on small stocks to create parts with incredible precision and accuracy and at good speeds.

The overall performance is really good and the excellent community and official support make it a solid and safe choice for hobbyists and professionals.

It will work out of the box, requires no tinkering, and is reliable.

If you want to work on small stocks (including metals) with high precision, I cannot think of a better CNC machine anywhere near the price of the Nomad 3.

Nomad 3 vs Shapeoko 4-Which one do you need?

Nomad 3Shapeoko 4 XXL
Work area8" x 8" x 3"33" x 33" x 4"
Linear motionLead screw with anti-backlash nuts on all axes Belt drive on X and Y axis, Lead screw in Z-axis
ChassisAluminum all-metal bodyAluminum Extrusion, MDF work-bed
Spindle0-24,000 RPM Spindle12,000-30,000 RPM Router
Assembly~30 minutes~3-5 hours
Price ~$2,800 ~$2,300

A quick comparison of Nomad 3 and Shapeoko 4

Comparing Nomad 3 and Shapeoko 4 is probably an apples and oranges comparison.

But if you're wondering about which to get, I'll help break it down for you.

The short answer is that it depends on your need.

If you are a craftsman making small intricate objects, Nomad 3 is the better choice and if you are a woodworker making cabinets and furniture, Shapeoko 4 is the obvious choice.

The tradeoff is between size and accuracy.

If you need to work on large workpieces Shapeoko 4 XXL has a work area of 33" x 33" compared to the 8" x 8" work area on Nomad 3.

The Shapeoko 4 standard has a work area of 17.5" x 17.5" and the XL version has a 17.5" x 33" work area.

A Shapeoko 4 would clearly be better if you need to work on large materials.

As for materials, Nomad 3 can cut a multitude of materials at a faster speed than Shapeoko 4.

This is because of the all-metal design of Nomad 3 which gives it good rigidity to cut faster.

It can also cut 3D objects using two-sided milling techniques with the help of the flip jig.

Nomad 3 is a small machine and can fit inside the trunk of your car allowing you to take it anywhere and it is rigid enough that you need not worry about tramming or losing accuracy when you transport it.

For linear motion, Nomad 3 uses lead screws with anti-backlash nuts on all three axes which give it rigidity and excellent precision when compared to Shapeoko 4.

On the other hand, Shapeoko 4 uses a belt drive on the X and Y axes which are less precise than a lead screw. Even though the Z-axis uses a lead screw, it does not have an anti-backlash nut which makes it prone to backlash errors.

This means Nomad 3 is a more accurate CNC machine than the Shapeoko 4.

But this doesn't mean the Shapeoko 4 is inaccurate, far from it.

When you are working on metals and small objects you need to be highly accurate compared to say a woodworking project.

Nomad 3 has an automatic tool length measuring probe and also Nomad 3 is completely enclosed.

On the Shapeoko 4, you will need to purchase these separately.

The spindle used on the Nomad 3 is less powerful than the router used on Shapeoko 4, but a spindle can run for a longer duration than a router.

Another major difference is the assembly time. Nomad 3 is ready to run out of the box, whereas Shapeoko 4 requires quite a few hours of assembly and calibration before you can start making chips.

In conclusion, it all depends on what you need from the CNC router.

If you want a machine to plow through large workpieces, you need Shapeoko 4.

However, if you want excellent precision on small workpieces of up to size 8" x 8" x 3" along with good cutting speeds, you need the Nomad 3.

More about Shapeoko- Shapeoko 4 CNC Review[2021].

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How do you zero Nomad 3 with the door open?

Nomad 3 has a door interlock feature that prevents the machine from running with the door open. You need the machine to work when you are zeroing and the door needs to be open for giving you access. Carbide 3D provides a key that you can place on the inductive door open sensor and it will prevent the sensor from activating and allows the machine to run with the door open.

About John

Hey I'm John. I talk about CNC's and Power Tools at Mellowpine. I'm a CNC hobbyist who has been making CNC's and writing about CNC's for a while. I currently also work as a consultant for business owners and hobbyists setting up their own CNC's. If you have any questions related to CNC, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at john@mellowpine.com

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John

Hey I'm John. I talk about CNC's and Power Tools at Mellowpine. I'm a CNC hobbyist who has been making CNC's and writing about CNC's for a while. I currently also work as a consultant for business owners and hobbyists setting up their own CNC's. If you have any questions related to CNC, I'd be happy to answer them. Reach me at john@mellowpine.com

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