X-Carve CNC Review[2021]: The Good and The Bad

X-Carve CNC Review[2021]: The Good and The Bad

X-Carve CNC Review[2021]: The Good and The Bad

In this review, I take an in-depth look at the X-Carve CNC from Inventables.

Inventables currently sells two CNC machines, those are the X-Carve CNC and X-Carve Pro CNC.

X-Carve is meant primarily for hobbyists while the X-Carve Pro is primarily meant for small businesses.

The X-Carve comes in a single size (1000 mm) while the X-Carve Pro is available in two sizes, 4'x4' and 4'x2'.

X-Carve Review

X Carve (1000mm) CNC Machine
X Carve (1000mm) CNC Machine

I reviewed the X-Carve (1000mm) CNC considering several parameters such as size, material capability, chassis, drive, upgrades, software and customer support among other factors.

I've also tried to compare it with other CNC machines which fall in the same price category as the X-Carve.

Size

X-axisY-axisZ-axis
Footprint1250mm (49")1000mm (39")350mm (14")
Effective Cutting Area750mm (30")750mm (30")65mm(2.56")

Quick Size Summary of X-Carve

The 1000mm in the model name of the X-Carve refers to the footprint size in the Y axis.

Considering the footprint occupied by the X-Carve you need a work table of at least 60" (X) by 50" (Y) size. This is because apart from the machine, you need around 10" for keeping the X-controller and the cables.

Inventables sells a sideboard kit separately to help keep everything neatly in place.

Work Area-X Carve

Work Area-X Carve

At 30" x 30" cutting area, the X-Carve offers a workable area similar to that of the Shapeoko 4 XXL, Openbuilds LEAD CNC 1010, Ooznest original Workbee, and the Onefinity Woodworker.

CNC MachineX-axisY-axis
X-Carve750mm (30")750mm (30")
Shapeoko 4 XXL840mm(33")840mm(33")
Openbuilds LEAD 1010810mm (32")740mm (29")
Ooznest Workbee800m (31")770mm (30")
Onefinity Woodworker820mm (32-¼")820mm (32-¼")

Cutting Area comparison table among X-Carve competitors
X-Carve Size Drawing
X-Carve Size Drawing

What's the maximum material thickness that you can carve using this machine?

There's no simple answer to this. The maximum thickness depends on the bit length as well, apart from the spindle height.

However, for a through cut (full depth cut) you can use a 1.25" (or less) thick material on the X-Carve.

If you use a smaller bit, you can get away with using material thicker than 1.25". In any case, the thickness of your material plus bit length should not exceed 67mm.

For instance, if you just want to engrave on your material, you could squeeze in a 57mm thick material with a 10 mm bit.

If this clearance is not enough for you, then you can get the "Z-axis kit" for the X-Carve which adds an extra 2" height to the Z-axis for you to work on.

Material Capability

X Carve CNC working on hardwood
X Carve CNC working on hardwood

Like most CNCs in this category, the X-Carve can mill a variety of materials like hardwood, softwood, MDF, plastics, and PCB among other materials.

For aluminum, inventables recommends using the X-Carve only on the alloy 6061.

The software that's commonly used with the X-Carve is Easel. This software can tell you how much time it will take to complete the operation based on your design and the material.

You need to carefully control the depth of cut, feeds and speeds to get good results on aluminum with the X-carve.

Cutting Aluminum on the X-Carve
Cutting Aluminum on the X-Carve

Just to give you a rough idea of how fast you'll be able to cut on aluminum, with the depth of cut at 0.25mm (0.010"), you can get an accurate cut with a feed rate of 40 ipm.

For improving your results on aluminum with X-Carve, you need to have a system to remove the chips immediately as they get generated and also use a lubricant to lower the heat.

However, there's the chance of the waste board getting soaked if the coolant drips out of the aluminum sheet.

Also, cutting steel is out of the question with the X-Carve. But this holds true for most desktop CNC machines at this price range.

You might find daredevils who have done this, but this CNC is absolutely not the machine for milling steel.

Chassis/Frame

The Y axis frames and the X axis gantry of the X-Carve are made of extruded aluminum.

The extrusion used by X-Carve is called Makerslide and it's an open source hardware piece that has V-rails built into it.

V-rail used in X-Carve
V-rail used in X-Carve

The V-wheels slides through these rails and hence its important that the insides of the V-rail are perfect.

Extruded aluminum is a light but strong material that is rigid enough for most hobbyist applications on non-metals.

Any system is only as strong as the weakest link in it and that's true for CNC machines too. The frame (chassis) needs to be rigid and non-flexing when doing the cutting.

The power of your stepper motors and spindle do not matter if your frame is flexing.

CNC MachineFrame Type
X-CarveExtruded Aluminum (Makerslide)
Shapeoko 4 XXLExtruded Aluminum (Custom)
Openbuilds LEAD 1010Aluminum C Beam Extrusion (Custom)
Ooznest WorkbeeAluminum C Beam Extrusion (Custom)
Onefinity WoodworkerSteel Linear Shafts

Chassis (Frame) comparison table among X-Carve competitors

I talk in detail about the best desktop CNC routers in 2021 here-Best Desktop CNC Router Machines.

Linear Motion

X Carve V wheels and Belt Drive
X Carve V wheels and Belt Drive

The movement of the X-Carve CNC is achieved in the X,Y and Z-axis through a belt drive system.

The stepper motors for each axis moves the belt through pulleys and pushes the V-wheels based on the direction of motor rotation.

The movement of V-wheels ultimately result in the movement of the gantry in Y direction and the spindle in X direction.

The V-wheels run through the V-rails to move the CNC in each axis.

Most desktop CNCs in this category use V-Wheels except the Onefinity Woodworker which uses linear shafts.

Linear shafts are significantly better than V-Wheels in terms of performance, accuracy and maintenance.

Also, it's highly important to ensure proper tensioning of the belt while assembling the X-Carve to prevent missed steps.

Inventables has provided tutorials on how to do this. You will need to check the tension in the belt every once in a while.

Belt drives are not the most ideal for accuracy, but they are relatively quick compared to Acme (screw) drives.

CNC MachineDriveLinear Guide
X-CarveBelt DriveV-Wheels
Shapeoko 4 XXLBelt Drive in X,Y, and Lead screw in Z-axisV-Wheels
Openbuilds LEAD 1010Lead screw in X,Y and ZV-Wheels
Ooznest WorkbeeLead screw in X,Y and ZV-Wheels
Onefinity WoodworkerBall Screws in X,Y and ZLinear Shaft

Linear Motion comparison table among X-Carve competitors

Spindle/Router

Dewalt 611 on X-Carve
Dewalt 611 on X-Carve

The fully loaded kit for X-Carve has a Dewalt 611 router included.

The Dewalt 611 is a highly popular fixed-base router with 4.1 lbs weight, 1.25 hp power, and a maximum RPM range of 16,000-27,000.

This router has a variable speed adjustment feature which lets you control the RPM depending on your materials.

You can use drill bits with either 1/8" or 1/4" diameter shank on this router.

1/8" diameter bits are primarily used for detailed precision work and for small parts.

However, for using 1/8" diameter bits you need to buy DeWalt 611 Precision Grade Collet and Nut as an add-on. Only 1/4" bits fit in the default router collet provided.

Also, Easel software will recommend the bits you should use for each part of your job.

Inventables does not provide any end mills (bits) even in the fully loaded kit.

However, they do provide a large number of carving bits in their shop section.

If you are a beginner these are the bits I recommend you start with:

Bit/End MillApplication
1/4" Upcut SpiralTypically the most used bit and does the bulk of the work
1/4" Downcut SpiralFor finishing passes and materials like plywood where you want a good finish at the top.
1/8" Upcut & Downcut SpiralsSimilar to the two 1/4" bits above but for smaller parts
1/4", 1/8" Ball NoseIf you do 3D profiling, ball nosed bits are a must
1/4" 60-degree V-pointFor V-Carving- For designs needing varying depths and intricate details.

Recommended Starter Bits for X-Carve

These are not the only bits you'll ever need but these are a good starting point.

V-Carving is required if you want intricate details and varying depths in your design. The picture below illustrates the difference between V-Carving and plain carving.

Flat Carving (Left) vs V-Carving(Right) on X-Carve
Flat Carving (Left) vs V-Carving(Right) on X-Carve

Note that having a V-point bit is not enough for V-Carving and you need a software that can generate the appropriate toolpath for it.

Easel Pro is a good software for doing V-Carving.

I review spindles for CNCs here-Best CNC Spindles in 2021.

Upgrades for X-Carve

Belt upgrade

For those who cut hard materials on a consistent basis, one of the most value for money upgrades is getting a GT3 9mm belt.

This replaces the GT2 6 mm belts that come with the X-Carve.

A wider belt considerably reduces skipped steps and improves accuracy when really pushing it.

If you are experiencing skipped steps with the X-Carve, the first step is to check if your belt tensioning is correct.

You should consider the belt upgrade only after that.

Z-Axis upgrade

Z Axis upgrade of X-Carve
Z Axis upgrade of X-Carve

Inventables offers a Z-Axis upgrade to replace the belt drive system with a direct drive system.

With a direct drive, the motor shaft directly drives the Z axis movement without using a belt.

The advantage of this is that backlash is considerably reduced and the accuracy in the Z axis improves greatly.

However, this increases the weight that directly falls on the router, so Inventables provides stiffeners in the kit to handle the extra weight.

The other major improvement in the Z-Axis upgrade kit is the increased gantry clearance (from 2.5" to 4.5") using 2" risers.

This results in an additional 2 inch space for working on thicker materials and more space for easy tool change.

Can you use a Laser Module with X-Carve?

Laser Module for X-Carve from J Tech Photonics
Laser Module for X-Carve from J Tech Photonics

You can use a third-party laser module with X-Carve like this one from J Tech Photonics- Laser bundle kit.

For engraving the 4.2W laser option is sufficient and this will cost you around $500 for the entire kit. The 7W option is for deeper cutting.

However, Inventables does not recommend using a laser module with their machine and they do not provide one.

In fact, many desktop CNC brands discourage adding a laser module to their machine and this voids the warranty for most machines.

X-Carve doesn't offer a formal warranty on their machine though.

Laser engravers and laser cutters pose a safety risk for the operator on these open design CNC machines.

Most dedicated laser engravers and cutters have a closed design where the laser radiation is contained within the enclosure.

Here are some instructions on how to go about configuring the laser module on X-Carve- Laser Engraving with Easel.

Accessories

Next, I look at the most important accessories for the X-Carve. If you are choosing to build your kit, then this information would come handy.

Dust Collection and Dust Shoe

Dust Shoe and Hose on X Carve
Dust Shoe and Hose on X Carve

The dust collection system that you get in the fully loaded X-Carve kit is a really useful accessory.

It has a dust shoe that you can attach with the X-Carriage (gantry). In addition you get a vacuum hose and a pole to secure the hose to.

The vacuum hose has a diameter of 2.5" with an adapter at the end. The adapter has a standard diameter that fits into most Shop Vac systems.

The pole lets you suspend the hose neatly above the machine so as to get it out of your way while operating.

Dust System on X-Carve
Dust System on X-Carve

Side Board

Sideboard for X-Carve
Sideboard for X-Carve

The side board kit allows you to neatly secure the X-Controller to the machine.

This accessory comes included with the fully loaded kit and it integrates well with the drag chain on the X-Carve.

Z Probe

Z Probe with X-Carve
Z Probe with X-Carve

The Z-probe that you get in the fully loaded kit lets you calibrate the material height relative to the router bit.

Before every new job, you will need to use this probe to assess the material height.

Homing Switches

As the name indicates, it lets you take the spindle back to the home position with a single press of a button.

Without it, bringing your machine back to original position is tedious. This is also a part of the fully loaded kit.

Enclosure

Inventables doesn't provide an enclosure for the X-Carve. But, there are many users who have built their own custom enclosure. Like this one- Simple CNC Enclosure (X-Carve)

Electronics and Control System on X-Carve

Stepper motors

Stepper Motors on the X-Carve
Stepper Motors on the X-Carve

The four stepper motors supplied with the X-Carve are NEMA 23 motors with 140 oz.in of holding torque.

Y axis is driven by two stepper motors (dual-drive) to prevent racking.

The 9 mm belt upgrade kit from X-Carve has four NEMA 23 stepper motors with 212 oz.in holding torque which is 50% more powerful torque-wise.

You can also buy stepper motors separately from other vendors. However, to utilize the extra torque it's essential to have wider 9mm GT3 belts instead of 6mm belts.

Controller

X-Carve has one of the best designed controllers among CNCs.

All the controller-related components like the board, stepper drivers are placed in a neatly designed box with a large heat sink and a cooling fan.

X-Controller Box
X-Controller Box

Inventables calls this box the "X-controller".

Within it are four stepper drivers, the GRBL controller board, spindle speed control (0-5 VDC PWM) and the power supply (AC to DC).

Unmistakably, the X-Carve uses an Arduino based board as the controller.

As you can see from the photo, the X-Controller has a red knob at the top which lets you control the spindle speed.

The stepper drivers in the X-Controller are capable of handling up to 4A current.

If you are looking at getting your own stepper motors, I recommend you choose motors which have a peak current rating of 3A or less to be compatible with the drivers.

If you are looking for a new GRBL based controller for your CNC, this might be useful to you-Best GRBL CNC Controllers.

Software

Easel Software by Inventables
Easel Software

Most beginners underestimate the role a good software plays in CNC applications.

The software program of a CNC can be the biggest learning curve for many hobbyists.

The software on the X-Carve is the All-in-one Easel Pro software that comes with it.

I refer to it as an "All-in-One" software because Easel Pro lets you do the modelling(CAD), toolpath generation (CAM), Control and Simulation using just one software.

Easel generates the tool-path almost instantly after you finish your design.

You get a 3-year license for the Easel Pro with every X-Carve. If bought separately, Easel Pro costs $20/month for a subscription.

The best thing about Easel is how user friendly it is. This makes calibration and getting started really easy and intuitive with Easel.

Easel has features which tell you how much time your job will take and also has preset feeds and speeds based on material and depth of cut.

V-Carving is a very useful feature in Easel Pro.

Easel Pro also has built in features for Zeroing and homing the X-Carve.

With Easel Pro, you also have access to a design library which gives you several design files to run on your X-Carve.

Learning Easel is quite easy with the scores of tutorials provided by Inventables and also from other creators on YouTube.

However, Easel is a cloud based software and you need an active internet connection at all times.

If you work in a basement or any other place where the WiFi signal is weak, you should consider this.

There are some hobbyists who feel that Easel is too basic for CNC routing purposes and prefer other software programs instead.

An alternative to Easel is the Carbide Create(Free) software from Carbide 3D (makers of Shapeoko).

Unlike Easel, Carbide Create is not cloud based.

However with Carbide Create on X-Carve, you need to find a control software to use, like UGS as Carbide Create is not a control software.

I talk in detail about the best software for CNCs over here-Best CNC Software [2021] 

Assembly

Assembling the X-Carve
Assembling the X-Carve

X-Carve ships as a DIY kit with components in separate boxes.

Most beginners report that it took them a whole weekend to assemble and calibrate X-Carve.

Now, the cut quality and efficiency of the X-Carve can be affected if assembly is poor or if calibration is wrong.

In fact, this is true for any CNC which ship as DIY kits that the user has to put together.

The assembly documentation from Inventables, complete with instructions and photos is among the best I've seen among CNC brands.

Unlike Carbide 3D Shapeoko, Inventables does not have its own assembly video of X-Carve. However the photos are more than enough.

If you really need a video, there are a lot of assembly videos by X-Carve users on YouTube.

In calibration, the most important parts are Belt tensioning, V-Wheel calibration and Z Axis Tramming.

There are detailed instructions by Inventables on how to do each of these. You can find additional tips on perfecting this on Youtube and also the Inventables forum.

Z-axis tramming refers to ensuring that the Z axis is square (90°) to the Table.

Community

A significant number of desktop CNC owners are X-Carve owners. This also means there's a large online community.

The highly active Inventables community forum is a great place to find information related to X-Carve including upgrades, queries, and troubleshooting.

Also, X-Carve is found in a lot of maker-spaces and public institutions. This lets you try an X-Carve before buying and also in learning how to use the X-Carve.

Customer Support

Inventables is well known for excellent US based customer support.

The dedicated US-based phone line is great for quickly getting answers to your questions compared to the email support offered by most brands.

Inventables doesn't offer a formal warranty for X-Carve, but they are known for assisting their customers very well until a satisfactory resolution is achieved.

The company Inventables, Inc. is based in Chicago, IL.

Final Thoughts

Overall, X-Carve is a beginner friendly desktop CNC with excellent customer support and an active community.

Inventables provides an end to end coverage for its customers by supplying almost everything you need to run your CNC.

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.

There is a very long list of customer questions on Matterhackers that will give you additional information on the X-Carve.

If you want to look at some alternatives to the X-Carve, then this guide will help you -X Carve Alternatives [2021].

In case you're torn between buying the X-Carve or Shapeoko 4, then I suggest you read this- X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4 [2021] .

X-Carve vs X-Carve Pro

X Carve Pro CNC
X Carve Pro CNC

The X-Carve Pro is the CNC machine that Inventables offers for small businesses.

It would be unfair to call it an upgraded version of the X-Carve as the machines are completely different.

Here's a quick overview of the major differences between the X-Carve and X-Carve Pro

X-CarveX-Carve Pro
Price$2,299$9,995
Cutting Area30" x 30"48" x 48"
SpindleDewalt 611 Router2hp air cooled spindle
Linear MotionBelt Drive + V WheelsBall Screw + Linear Rails

Quick Summary: X-Carve vs X-Carve Pro

The X-Carve Pro is definitely a bigger, faster and more accurate machine than the X-Carve. However it costs more than four times that of the X-Carve.

According to Inventables, the X-Carve Pro can cut wood signs 28 times faster than the X-Carve.

The X-Carve Pro has rapids of 300 ipm in the X and Y axis.

On the Z axis it can go up to a maximum of 200 ipm.

The electronics on the X-Carve Pro is significantly better with DRV8711 stepper drivers (up to 6A current), and NEMA 23 motors with 292 oz.in of holding torque.

The 4' x 4' bed size is really useful for cutting full 4x8 sheet materials. However, you need to support the extra 4' that sticks out, on your table.

One of the most significant differences is in the linear motion components.

Ball screw drives with linear guide rails offer much higher accuracy, and almost no backlash when operating your CNC.

The frame is also significantly more rigid allowing you to push those 292 oz.in high torque stepper motors.

The air cooled spindle is a major upgrade over a consumer grade router.

The spindle lets you operate the CNC for a much longer time without heating up and also provides much more power.

Overall the X-Carve Pro is a good well built machine and comes with a one year formal warranty for it.

While the X-Carve was at a good price point for hobbyists, the X-Carve Pro is at the price point of small businesses looking for quick production work.

The main alternatives to the X-Carve Pro are the Avid CNC machines (formerly CNC Router parts).

At around the price of the X-Carve Pro, you can get a 4' x 8' CRP4896 from Avid CNC which has a great reputation among small businesses for its reliability.

I have reviewed that machine here- 4' x 8' Avid CNC Review.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): X-Carve

What routers work with X-Carve?

Any router or spindle with an outer diameter of 69 mm can be fit on the spindle mount of X-Carve. These include DeWalt 611, Dewalt 26200 and spindles with 69 mm diameter. Makita routers like RT0701C have a diameter of 65 mm and cannot be mounted on the X-Carve without an adapter.

Adapters have to be custom 3D printed if you want to use a router with a different diameter.

If you are planning to use a high powered spindle like a 2.2kW spindle, know that you need to stiffen the X-Carve frame before you can use all the power of that spindle.

Can X-Carve cut aluminum?

The X-Carve can cut aluminum alloys with hardness up to Aluminum 6061 provided the speed and the feed are kept low (around 40 ipm), and the depth of cut is small (around 0.25mm).

For best results with aluminum on X-Carve, have a system for removing chips instantly and also use a good coolant.

Can I make the waste board for X-Carve myself?

You can DIY the wasteboard for X-Carve by building one yourself based on the drawings provided on the inventables website. The shipping costs can be considerably reduced if you choose to skip the wasteboard.

However, it will take some labor to complete the wasteboard. You can find the drawings here- DIY wasteboard for X-Carve.

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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