Shapeoko 4 CNC Review [2021]- The Good and Bad

Shapeoko 4 CNC Review [2021]- The Good and Bad

Shapeoko 4 CNC Review [2021]- The Good and Bad

In this review, I take an in-depth look at the Shapeoko 4 CNC router from Carbide 3D.

Carbide 3D sells two series of CNC routers, the Shapeoko and the Nomad.

Shapeoko 4 was launched in March 2021 and is the latest in the Shapeoko series of CNC routers.

This machine is targeted at hobbyists and small business owners.

Although Carbide 3D sells the Shapeoko Pro as well for businesses, the Shapeoko 4 is also quite capable of meeting the needs of home-based businesses.

MellowPine is reader-supported. When you buy through links on my site, I may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you.

Shapeoko 4 Review

I reviewed the Shapeoko 4 CNC router on parameters such as size, material capability, chassis, drive, upgrades, software, and customer support, among many other factors.

Shapeoko 4 XXL Desktop CNC
Shapeoko 4 XXL Desktop CNC

Size of Shapeoko 4 Models

Footprint
(X) x (Y) x (Z)
Cutting Area
(X) x (Y) x (Z)
Price
(with hybrid table, without router)
Shapeoko 4 Standard33" x 24" x 19"17.5" x 17.5" x 4"$1,700
Shapeoko 4 XL50" x 24" x 19"33" x 17.5" x 4"$2,050
Shapeoko 4 XXL50" x 41" x 19"33" x 33" x 4"$2,300

Shapeoko 4 size summary

Shapeoko 4 comes in 3 sizes, Standard (17.5” x 17.5”), XL (33” x 17.5”), XXL (33” x 33”).

The size range of all three machines falls in the category of desktop CNC routers.

This also means that if you want to work on full-size sheet goods, Shapeoko 4 is not an option, and you need a 4x8 CNC router for that.

Shapeoko 4 Standard:

The standard version is the smallest version of Shapeoko 4 with a size of 33" x 24" and can be accommodated on most tables. 

You will get a work area of 17.5" x 17.5" with this 70 lbs machine.

Shapeoko 4 XL:

The XL version has a 50" x 24" footprint and extends the X-axis length by 15.5" to give you a cutting area of 33" x 17.5".

It weighs around 137 lbs, and you can place it on most desks.

Make sure the desk is sturdy enough to handle sudden accelerations.

XL is suitable for hobbyists who need a CNC machine to work on medium-sized workpieces.

Shapeoko 4 XXL:

Shapeoko 4 XXL has a 50" x 41" footprint, which gives you a work area of 33" x 33" with a weight of 165 lbs.

It is a large machine suitable for hobbyists and small businesses and lets you work on workpieces larger than 2¾' x 2¾'.

Z-axis:

All three Shapeoko 4 machines have an overhead clearance of 19" with a Z-axis travel of 4 inches.

The maximum available distance between the router and the table is 4", which means depending on the tool size, you can cut materials with a thickness of less than 4".

Practically a 4" thickness is not achievable.

For example, if you are using a 1.25" tool, the maximum workpiece thickness you can accommodate is around 2.75".

Material Capability

Aluminum Milling using Shapeoko 4
Aluminum Milling using Shapeoko 4

Shapeoko 4 can cut a variety of materials, including woods, soft metals such as aluminum and brass, and just about anything in between.

It is an affordable machine that is considered one of the best CNC machines for milling aluminum.

To make it easy for beginners, Carbide 3D provides you with an official feeds and speeds chart for various materials.

People have used Shapeoko machines to mill steel as well, using coolants and shallow depths of cut per pass.

However, it would be too much to call it a "steel milling CNC".

Shapeoko 4 is a fast machine compared to other CNC routers in its category.

For example, when using a ⅛" cutter on plywood with 0.25" at 18,950 RPM, you can achieve a feed rate of 100 ipm, which is quite fast.

Work bed

Carbide 3D provides multiple work holding options on the Shapeoko 4.

But something that stands out in the Shapeoko 4 is the hybrid table, which is a major upgrade from the Shapeoko 3 machine.

The hybrid table is an optional feature that will cost you around $300 more, but I highly recommend you get it if you buy the Shapeoko 4.

Shapeoko 4 Hybrid Table Work Bed
Shapeoko 4 Hybrid Table Work Bed

In this arrangement, there is a hybrid table base with extrusions that run in X direction that are closely spaced for stiffness.

These extrusions are tied into the rails that run in the Y direction and that lends considerable overall stiffness to the whole base.

Shapeoko 4 Hybrid Table base
Shapeoko 4 Hybrid Table base

Aluminum extrusions are fastened on top of this hybrid table base.

The MDF slats that come with the Shapeoko 4 are placed inside these extrusion channels and fastened using screws.

Since the MDF slats are divided into pieces there's less chance of sagging.

Between each slat are T slots that hold the Teez nuts which ultimately keep the nylon clamps in place.

Clamping on Shapeoko 4
Clamping on Shapeoko 4

Additionally, they provide gator tooths and tiger claw clamps to hold the workpiece from the sides, which allows you to machine the entire top surface of the workpiece without any obstruction.

Overall, this is a brilliant piece of engineering that is highly useful for CNC work.

For most other CNC routers, customers eventually end up building custom extrusion beds after buying them.

Chassis

The chassis of Shapeoko 4 is made of custom extruded aluminum with enough thickness to provide incredible rigidity.

Shapeoko 4 extrusion rail
Shapeoko 4 extrusion rail

The bed has aluminum bars running under it to keep the entire frame rigid, and it also helps maintain the squareness of the gantry.

You do not have to worry about squaring the gantry as the gantry becomes square by design when you put the parts together and only requires minor adjustments.

The frame does not flex under load even on the large Shapeoko 4 XXL and gives you good accuracy and repeatability.

The aluminum extrusions used have a size of 85mm x 55mm and a thickness of 5mm, making the machine quite heavy, which is a good thing.

A heavy CNC machine can absorb and dampen vibrations much better than a lighter machine.

Linear Motion in Shapeoko 4

The X and Y axes of Shapeoko 4 are moved using a belt drive system.

Shapeoko 4 drive mechanism
Shapeoko 4 drive mechanism

Belt drive systems are prone to slacking and stretching, which affects responsiveness.

To tackle this issue, Shapeoko 4 uses wide 15mm belts that reduce stretching significantly. 

Two stepper motors move the Y-axis, this is to prevent racking of the gantry.

Racking can be a significant issue on CNC routers with a long gantry.

The stepper motors for the X and Y axes move the belt through pulleys and push the V-wheels over rails on the chassis.

Now, V wheels are not the best option for linear motion compared to linear rails, but they are good enough for most hobbyists.

However, if you want a CNC router for professional use, you can look at Shapeoko Pro, which uses 15mm linear rails that are much smoother for high-speed machining.

The Z-axis uses lead screws to move the spindle up and down.

Lead screws have better accuracy and resolution than belt drives, and it makes the axis more rigid.

Spindle/Router

Carbide 3D provides its own router called Carbide Compact Router that you can add on for around $80 while purchasing the CNC router.

It's a stripped version of the traditional router which removes all non-essentials and retains only what's needed for CNC routing.

If you want to use a custom router/spindle Shapeoko 4 has a 65 mm spindle mount.

Carbide Compact Router on Shapeoko 4
Carbide Compact Router on Shapeoko 4

You can vary the speed between 12,000 - 30,000 RPM by rotating the dial provided on the router.

The Carbide Compact router has 1/8" and 1/4" precision collets provided with the package, so you don't need to buy an add-on to use 1/8" bits.

The 65mm mount is also compatible with the Makita RT0701C router, which has a variable speed of 10,000 - 30,000 RPM.

If you want to fit a CNC spindle/router that has a different diameter, your best bet is to 3D print a custom mount of your choice.

While choosing a CNC spindle, make sure to get one that has the right RPM and power for the material you intend to work on.

Upgrades for Shapeoko 4

The Shapeoko HDZ is the only upgrade that is offered for the Shapeoko 4.

However, that's more due to the policy of Carbide 3D to provide everything you need in the standard package itself rather than sell a deficient machine and charge customers for upgrades.

Shapeoko HDZ: Z-Axis upgrade

Shapeoko HDZ upgrade
Shapeoko HDZ upgrade

Carbide 3D offers a Z-axis upgrade to replace the leadscrew drive system with a ball screw drive mechanism for roughly $450.

The lead screw drive mechanism has a backlash error which is inherent in the system.

The ball screw almost nullifies this backlash error and improves Z-axis resolution at the cost of reduced speed.

The upgrade also increases the Z-axis height by 2" to give you a total Z-axis travel of 6 inches.

If you want to work with workpieces thicker than three inches, you should consider this upgrade for Shapeoko 4.

Accessories for Shapeoko 4

Accessories add more functionalities to Shapeoko 4.

Some of these accessories are a necessity for specific applications. For example, you must have a dust shoe for woodworking.

Sweepy 2.0 Dust Boot:

Shapeoko 4 with dust boot and vacuum
Shapeoko 4 with the Sweepy dust boot attached to a vacuum

It is an accessory that attaches to the spindle and acts as a shield to stop dust and debris flying off from the cutter.

It also helps the dust collector extract dust more efficiently.

Sweepy 2.0 dust shoe has a transparent polycarbonate construction that lets you view the cutting process.

It can attach to Carbide Compact Router, 65 mm Makita Router, 65 mm Dewalt routers, and any 65 mm spindle or router.

You can connect your shop vac or dust collector using a dust collection hose through the 2.5" vacuum port on the Sweepy 2.0.

You can purchase Sweepy 2.0 dust shoe from the official website for roughly $45.

Shapeoko BitRunner:

BitRunner is an accessory by Carbide 3D that improves the convenience of using Shapeoko 4.

Shapeoko BitRunner
Shapeoko BitRunner

It lets you control the router/spindle via G-code or through the software interface.

You can hook up your spindle/router to BitRunner to prevent manually turning the spindle on and off.

Shapeoko BitSetter:

If you want to reduce the time delays caused during tool changes, you should consider adding this accessory.

Shapeoko BitSetter on Shapeoko 4
Shapeoko BitSetter on Shapeoko 4

BitSetter will let you measure the tool length automatically, which reduces the time taken to correct the Z-axis zero accurately.

Laser Module for Shapeoko 4

While Carbide 3D doesn't formally offer any laser module add-on for their CNCs, 3rd party laser modules are available.

The laser upgrade kit by J Tech Photonics is the most popular kit for the Shapeoko 4.

Laser Module for Shapeoko 4 by J Tech Photonics
Laser Module for Shapeoko 4 by J Tech Photonics

Note that, using a 3rd party add-on like this laser module (or any other laser module) will void the warranty of a Shapeoko machine.

So you need to carefully consider this before using this in your Shapeoko 4.

Costing around $500, this kit can turn both the CNCs into a laser engraver or cutter.

The reason why most CNC brands don't support laser upgrades is that there is a user safety issue in having lasers in a machine with an open design.

Generally, most dedicated laser cutters are enclosed so that laser radiation stays inside the enclosure.

In any case, you need to be very careful while using the laser to not get the radiation anywhere near your eyes.

If you are getting the laser module from J Tech photonics, I suggest the 4.2W laser as it's enough for engraving.

For through cuts, I don't recommend you use a laser add-on and rather buy a dedicated CNC laser cutter.

Controller and Electronics on Shapeoko 4

Stepper motors:

Shapeoko 4 uses four NEMA 23 stepper motors with 140 oz.in of holding torque.

If you want to upgrade the stepper motors, you will have to upgrade the stepper motor driver to a higher current rating.

Homing Sensors:

Shapeoko 4 comes with homing sensors on each axis. This helps you home the device quickly between operations.

The homing sensors used on Shapeoko 4 are proximity sensing-based, a non-contact sensor.

There is no contact when you home in, that means the sensors do not get crushed as they do in case of limit switches.

Controller:

Carbide Motion Controller PCB with the enclosure open
Carbide Motion Controller PCB with the enclosure open

Carbide 3D makes a proprietary control board for Shapeoko 4.

It is a PCB that uses an Atmel 328 and four stepper motor drivers.

The Atmel 328 microcontroller is flashed with GRBL firmware.

GRBL is the most popular firmware for hobby CNC machines.

The PCB has ports for the stepper motors, BitRunner accessory, homing switches, BitSetter, and power supply.

All the control system components, including the power system and the PCB, are neatly housed within a metallic enclosure. 

In addition, the housing also has a built-in heat sink to keep the PCB temperature within limits. 

Software for Shapeoko 4

The software of a CNC router plays a major role in how well the whole CNC process turns out.

Carbide 3D decided that their customer should never have to pay for software to run their CNC machine and hence created Carbide Create, a free CNC software.

Carbide Create window
Carbide Create window

Carbide Create is a free CAD plus CAM software with which you can create designs, convert them into G-code, and simulate the G-code.

Carbide Create can be installed on both Windows and macOS-based computers and does not require an active internet connection for operation, except for initial setup.

You can create 2D and 2.5D designs using Carbide Create. However, 3D modeling is not supported by Carbide Create.

It should be noted that Carbide create is useful for making quick and easy designs but it does not have nearly enough features compared to a full-fledged software like Fusion 360.

If you need 3D designing and machining capability, you can purchase Carbide Create Pro instead.

The one-year subscription license for Carbide Create Pro costs around $120, and the perpetual license costs around $360.

Machine control on the Shapeoko 4 is done through Carbide Motion Control software which seamlessly integrates with Carbide Create to give you an all-in-one software experience.

The software package is easy to use, and you can learn it in no time.

Carbide 3D also provides tutorial videos and lessons through its Youtube channel and forums.

Assembly

The reduced assembly time is a major win for the Shapeoko 4 compared to Shapeoko 3.

Shapeoko 4 ships as a DIY kit and has the components packed into well-labeled boxes.

The gantry comes pre-assembled and this will save you a lot of time.

The components are packed into boxes according to the steps of assembly, and you do not need to open a box until you reach that particular step in the assembly.

All you need to do is open the box for each step, assemble them and move on to the next box.

If you have basic knowledge about CNCs, you can assemble the machine in 3-4 hours, even without any instruction manual.

You can contact Carbide 3D over a phone call for any assistance while assembling, and they are really helpful.

Carbide 3D has published an excellent assembly video for Shapeoko 4.

Also its clear from the video how refined the assembly process has become for Carbide 3D machines.

Community

Carbide 3D has been making quality CNC routers for beginners and small-scale makers for some time now and hence has a large community of users.

The official Carbide 3D forum is an excellent avenue for getting your questions answered by fellow owners and Carbide 3D support staff.

Due to the popularity of Shapeoko machines, you can find several videos related to it on YouTube. 

Customer Support

You get a warranty of one year against manufacturing defects for Shapeoko 4.

Additionally, Carbide 3D provides a 30-day replacement policy, under which they will replace any part that you break within 30 days of purchasing the router.

This is to help beginners dive into the CNC machining world without worrying about breaking the machine.

All Shapeoko CNC routers are manufactured in either Torrance, California, or Sterling, Illinois, meaning you will get quick delivery of replacement parts.

Carbide 3D also actively advertises the fact that their machines are 100% made in USA.

They also offer US-based customer support, and you can contact them over the phone or by email.

General feedback about Carbide 3D customer support is excellent.

Final Thoughts

Shapeoko 4 is a well-built, feature-packed machine that offers high value for the money.

The CNC router works flawlessly with most soft materials and metals like aluminum.

Carbide 3D has made several upgrades to the Shapeoko series since its launch.

Each of those has been carefully thought out to give a better experience to their customers.

All these have resulted in a high amount of trust for the Carbide 3D brand in the hobbyist CNC community.

Overall, Shapeoko 4 is a great choice for anyone looking to get a solid desktop CNC machine that's trusted by so many.

Matterhackers is the best store for buying the Shapeoko 4 or the Inventables X-Carve, due to the free shipping they offer all over the USA and the lowest price guarantee.

Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q)

Can you use any control software to run Shapeoko 4?

You can use any control software that is designed for controlling GRBL based controllers to run Shapeoko 4. Some of the popular software that people use to run Shapeoko 4 are Vectric Aspire and VCarve.

However, the free motion control software from Carbide 3D is capable enough for most 2D and 2.5D machining requirements.

Can I make the work table for Shapeoko 4 myself?

Yes, you can. You can purchase Shapeoko 4 without the table and this will save you around $175.

You will find designs for the wasteboard on the forums which you can use to make your job easier. The waste board you make can be mounted onto the aluminum bars that run across the bed.

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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