X-Carve or Shapeoko?
Two highly popular CNC machines, which have made home manufacturing affordable and real for people.
If you had to choose one, which would it be?
In this review, I dissect both these machines by going deep into how the CNCs perform on the most important parameters for a CNC.
At the end of this review, I pick the better machine (winner) and tell you why one is better than the other.
Shapeoko 4 is available in three sizes (standard, XL, XXL), while X-Carve is available in a single size (1000mm).
For fairness, I chose the Shapeoko 4 (XXL) as it's closest to the X-Carve (1000 mm) in terms of effective cutting area and price.
There difference between the different versions (standard, XL, XXL) of Shapeoko 4 are only in the size and travel lengths.
Although you can build your kit with the X-Carve, we have chosen the most popular option, the fully loaded kit by X-Carve (USA power outlet).
For Shapeoko 4 (XXL) we have included the base package plus the carbide compact router.
In both the CNCs we have not considered end mills and they have to be bought separately.
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||$2,299|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||$2,300|
Price comparison: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
The X-Carve is cheaper but only by a whisker.
As the difference is just $68, I am going to call it a tie.
2. Footprint and Cutting Area
|CNC||Footprint||Cutting Area||Z Travel|
|X-Carve||49" x 39"||30" x 30"||3.54"|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||50" x 41"||33" x 33"||4"|
Size comparison: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Ideally you want a higher cutting area to footprint ratio.
While both these machines will need a relatively large work desk, the Shapeoko 4 has a 3" extra workable length in each of the axes.
Z travel is ½" more in Shapeoko 4 compared to X-Carve.
Maximum thickness of piece that you can through-cut on the X-Carve is 1.25".
The height of the gantry from the bed is 67mm (2.64") on the X-Carve. So that's the maximum thickness of the piece that you can place on the bed.
Note that you will need some depth for the bit, so you cannot engrave a piece thats 67mm thick on the X-Carve.
In the case of Shapeoko 4, the gantry height from the work bed is 90mm (3.5"). That's almost an inch extra compared to the X-Carve.
The higher clearance implies there's more space for working on thick stock and also more space for changing bits.
With either machines you have the option of buying "Z axis kits" which will further increase the Z travel.
The higher cutting area, higher Z travel and higher gantry height make the Shapeoko 4 the clear winner in this section.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
The frame of the X-Carve is made of aluminum extrusions called Makerslide.
Makerslide is an open source hardware design that started as a kickstarter project and it was incorporated into the X-Carve.
The makerslide used by X-Carve has 40mm x 40mm section with 3mm thick aluminum.
Shapeoko 4 also uses aluminum extrusions for its rails, but its a proprietary design by Carbide 3D.
The extrusions on Shapeoko 4 has a size of 85mm x 55mm with 5mm thick aluminum.
Not only are the extrusions on the Shapeoko 4 bigger, but they are thicker.
This results in a much heavier frame compared to the X-Carve.
Now, unless you have a flimsy work table, a heavier CNC machine is better in terms of stiffness, vibration dampening and performance in general.
It is not the whole picture, but it's an important parameter for a CNC.
If you need to really push your machine and extract the full power of your stepper motors and the router, you need a frame that doesn't flex.
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||Makerslide Aluminum Extrusion||40x40 mm (3mm thick)|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||Proprietary Aluminum Extrusion||85x55mm (5mm thick)|
Frame comparison X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Overall, the frame on the Shapeoko 4 is better than the X-Carve.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
If you want an in-depth review of X-Carve rather than a comparison then you can read this: X-Carve CNC Review
4. Work bed
On the X-Carve the work bed is the 3/4" MDF wasteboard with threaded inserts.
The wasteboard of the X-Carve rests on extrusion rails as shown below.
Typical workholding on the X-Carve looks like the photo below. M5 nuts are placed in the threaded inserts to hold the clamps in placed.
This is a decent arrangement, however MDF can flex and even absorb moisture to change shape.
MDF can sag at some points and the lack of level bed can affect cut quality especially when milling aluminum.
The black lines on the wasteboard (called silkscreen pattern) are useful to understand the extent of your work area.
Shapeoko 4 has a hybrid table as its 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.
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 like in the X-Carve.
Between each slat are T slots which hold the Teez nuts which ultimately keep the nylon clamps in place.
While in the X-Carve the M5 nuts press against the MDF, in the Shapeoko 4, the Teez nuts that are provided press against aluminum.
To be fair, the hybrid T slot was introduced only from Shapeoko 4 and Shapeoko 3 did not have this.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the work bed on Shapeoko 4 is extremely well engineered and much better than the wasteboard on X-Carve.
The multiple threads on the Inventables forum where people have posted their own custom extrusion bed for X-Carve speaks well about the need for a metallic bed
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||3/4" MDF with threaded inserts|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||Hybrid Table (aluminum extrusion)|
Work Bed Comparison: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Winner: Shapeoko 4
5. Linear Motion
In the X-Carve, linear motion is achieved by stepper motors pushing the belt around a pulley system.
This is called a belt drive and the belts on the X-Carve are 6mm wide (2GT belts).
The belts push against the V-Wheels, which roll inside the V-rails on the makerslide extrusion.
The rolling V-wheels ultimately move the gantry.
X-Carve uses a belt drive for X, Y and Z axes.
In the case of Shapeoko, belt drive is used for X and Y axes. However Shapeoko 4 uses a 15mm wide belt and that's much stiffer compared to the 6 mm belts on the X-Carve.
A wider belt is much better at preventing backlash due to the extra stiffness. Backlash is likely to occur at high speeds in general.
Again, X-Carve offers a belt upgrade but since we are reviewing the stock machines, I haven't considered that.
Just like the X-Carve, Shapeoko 4 also uses V wheels for moving the gantry.
However, Shapeoko 4 uses leadscrew drives in Z axis.
Leadscrews are generally more accurate than belts however they can be a bit slower.
In Z-axis since the distance to be covered is much less than X and Y axes, you want it to be screw driven rather than belt driven.
Although a ball screw drive would have been better in the Z axis, a leadscrew drive is better than a belt drive.
Overall, I'd say the Shapeoko 4 wins again due to the better belts and the leadscrew driven Z axis.
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||Belt Drive (6mm) in X,Y and Z||V wheels|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||Belt Drive in X,Y, and Lead screw in Z-axis||V wheels|
Linear Motion comparison X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Winner: Shapeoko 4
6. Material Capability
Both the machines can cut through the usual suspects, hardwood, softwood, MDF, plastic, PCB and other non-metals.
But this is expected with desktop routers in this category.
But a lot of people like to use these CNC routers for cutting aluminum as well. So how do they compare in their ability to cut aluminum?
Carbide 3D advertises that the Shapeoko can mill aluminum (6061 alloy), copper, brass and even steel.
They provide the following feeds and speeds numbers for milling each of them.
With the feeds and speeds provided by Carbide 3D, its possible to machine aluminum and even steel.
There a number of Shapeoko users on the Carbide 3D forum who make excquisite products from aluminum.
Also, Carbide 3D has a number of videos showing you how to mill aluminum and steel with the Shapeoko.
Another point to note is that, most of those videos by Carbide 3D are done using the Shapeoko 3, and Shapeoko 4 is a stiffer, better much upgraded version of the Shapeoko 3.
This means Shapeoko 4 is even better at milling metals compared to Shapeoko 3.
Inventables mentions that the X-Carve can mill aluminum (6061) and they don't advertise it much.
There are fewer people who mill aluminum with X-Carve compared to Shapeoko.
This comes down to the rigidity and overall power of the X-Carve. Inventables doesn't have any official videos of the X-Carve working on aluminum.
Even when the X-Carve is used to mill aluminum, the depth of cut needs to be much lower compared to the Shapeoko 4.
Note that I have compared the stock machines of both CNCs.
It is possible to get better results on the X-Carve by upgrading components such as the belts and Z axis by paying extra.
Milling steel on the X-Carve is almost impossible.
In conclusion, both the machines can cut non-metals well, but the Shapeoko 4 is much better at milling aluminum and metals in general.
The clear winner in this section is the Shapeoko 4.
|Non-Ferrous Metals||Can mill 6061 Aluminum (slow)||Yes|
|Steel||No||Yes (with coolant)|
Material Capability: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Winner: Shapeoko 4
7. Speeds and Feeds
The feed rate is the speed at which the cutting bit moves in the X and Y directions while cutting.
Feed rate is independent of the speed at which the router bit is rotating.
The exact feed rate you need to use will depend on your material being cut, depth of cut, type of bit and the spindle RPM.
However, the software programs that come with X-Carve and Shapeoko can tell you the recommended settings for each material.
When compared using the same material, like plywood, here's how the recommended settings compare to each other:
|Depth of cut||0.05"||0.25"|
|Plunge||12 ipm||50 ipm|
|Feed||40 ipm||100 ipm|
Feeds and Speed Comparison for Plywood: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Quite clearly, Shapeoko 4 can go 2.5 times as fast the X-Carve with a 4 times higher plunge rate.
This is with the Shapeoko 4 doing a 5 times deeper cut compared to the X-Carve.
With this data, there should be no question that Shapeoko 4 is much faster in cutting compared to the X-Carve.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
The router that you get with the X-Carve fully loaded bundle is the Dewalt 611.
Dewalt 611 has a 1.25 hp motor with an RPM that can be adjusted in the range 16,000-25,000.
It also has a light under it and that's handy.
Only 1/4" bits fit in the default router collet provided with Dewalt 611.
Carbide 3D provides their own router called Carbide Compact Router.
Its a stripped version of the traditional router which removes all non-essentials and retains only whats needed for CNC routing.
It has an RPM range of 12,000 - 30,000.
Carbide Compact router has both 1/8" and 1/4" precision collets provided with the default package and so you don't need to buy any add-on to use 1/8" bits.
Note that it's possible to mount a makita RT0701C on the shapeoko 4 (XXL).
The lower RPMs on the Carbide Compact router compared to the Dewalt 611 are really useful for some jobs where you need to go slow.
The fact that you need to buy an add-on to use 1/8" bits with the X-Carve is a bit annoying, to be honest, considering the popularity of that bit size..
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||Dewalt 611||16,000-25,000|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||Carbide Compact Router||12,000 - 30,000|
Router comparison: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
I'm going to go ahead and say Shapeoko 4 wins this one too.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
Here are the upgrades available in X-Carve
The Z-axis kit changes the belt drive on the X-Carve to a direct drive and also adds 2" of gantry clearance from the bed.
In a direct drive, the motor shaft directly drives the Z axis movement without using a belt.
This results in more rigidity, less backlash and less maintenance.
The 9 mm belt and motor kit replaces the 6mm GT2 belts with 9mm GT3 belts. In addition the stepper motors are replaced with 50% more torque.
Here are the upgrades available in Shapeoko 4
Upgrades available for X-Carve
This costly upgrade from Shapeoko changes the Z axis drive to a ball screw drive from a leadscrew drive.
It also adds 2" of Z travel which takes it to 6" of Z travel.
Comparing both, the fact that Shapeoko 4 has less upgrades looks like a good thing to me.
While even an upgraded X-Carve only gives you a 9 mm belt, the Shapeoko 4 (XXL) already has 15mm belts.
Even after the upgrades ($500 worth) on the X-Carve, Shapeoko 4 seems to be a better machine, spec wise.
Viewed in another way, if you spend $500 on both the machines upgrading it, Shapeoko 4 still comes out on top.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
10. Laser Module
While Carbide 3D and Inventables 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 both the X-Carve and Shapeoko.
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 upgrade is that there is a user safety issue in having lasers in an machine with open design.
Generally, 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 its enough for engraving.
For through cuts, I don't recommend you use a laser add-on and rather buy a dedicated CNC laser cutter.
Note that, using a 3rd party add-on like this laser module will void the warranty of the Shapeoko machine.
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||No|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||No|
Laser Support: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Since both the CNCs do not formally offer a laser add-on, I'm going to call that a tie.
11. Motor, Electronics and Controller
In the X-Carve you have 4 NEMA 23 motors with 140 oz.in of holding torque.
You can upgrade your stepper motors but you will need to upgrade your belts and stiffen the machine before you can utilize the extra torque offered by the new stepper motors.
In the Shapeoko 4, you have NEMA 23 stepper motors with 125 oz.in of holding torque.
To upgrade the stepper motors in Shapeoko, you'll need to upgrade the stepper drivers to one with higher current rating.
The controller on the X-Carve is called the X-Controller. It is a neatly designed and packaged all-in-one box with all the necessary components include the AC to DC power supply.
The stepper drivers in the X-Controller are capable of handling up to 4A current.
The X-Controller uses an Arduino at its core and hence has GRBL as its firmware.
The controller on the Shapeoko 4 is the Carbide Motion V3.0 which is the same controller Carbide 3D uses on the Shapeoko Pro as well.
Its a well designed controller that has an Arduino at its core and GRBL as the firmware.
|Shapeoko 4||NEMA 23||Carbide Motion V3.0|
Electronics comparison: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Both the controllers have Arduino at its core with GRBL firmware.
Excellent heat management and well enclosed design can be seen in both the controllers.
If you don't prefer either X-Carve not Shapeoko, then I have listed more alternatives to X-Carve here: X-Carve Alternatives 
X-Carve uses Easel Pro software that's designed and maintained by Inventables.
Easel Pro is a cloud-based All-in-one software that can do modelling(CAD), toolpath generation (CAM), Control and Simulation.
However you can only model 2D and 2.5D designs in Easel.
2.5D refers to being able to add depths without really being able to freely model in the Z direction.
Because its cloud based, you need an active internet connection at all times to use the software.
Since you need the software at all times, to run the X-Carve you need an internet connection.
Carbide 3D uses the Carbide Create software for modelling(CAD) and toolpath generation (CAM).
For Control and simulation you have the Carbide Motion software.
Carbide Create runs on your computer and is not a cloud based software and that's a good thing if you work in area where the WiFi signal is unreliable like a basement.
Also, Carbide Create works on Windows OS and Mac OS both which is rare amoung non-cloud software programs.
Just like Easel, Carbide Create can only do 2D and 2.5D modeling and toolpath generation.
For 3D toolpath generation, Carbide 3D recommends using MeshCAM which is a paid CAM software made by GRZ software.
But even if you buy MeshCAM, you miss out on 3D modelling with Carbide Create (free).
However, Carbide 3D offers the Carbide Create Pro software which can do 3D modeling and 3D toolpath generation along with everything that the Carbide Create (free version) can do.
Carbide Create Pro is not a full-fledged 3D modeling software like Fusion 360 though. It helps you do quick and simple 3D models which are common in woodworking.
If you want a complex intricate model, you'll need to design it elsewhere and bring it into Carbide Create.
X-Carve comes included with an Easel Pro license for 3 years.
Shapeoko 4 only gives the Carbide Create (free) software when you buy the machine. If you want the Pro version, you need to buy it separately, which is a disadvantage.
Carbide Motion controller software integrates well with most software such as Carbide Create, Fusion 360, MeshCAM and others.
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||Easel Pro|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||Carbide Create +Carbide Control|
Software comparison: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Overall, both are reasonably good software. But Carbide Create (free) can do everything that the Easel Pro can do.
Once you're done with the 3 year license, you need to buy an yearly subscription of easel, and that's not ideal.
On the other hand Carbide create is free forever.
Easel is a tad bit easier to use for basic operations but Carbide create has much more useful features compared to Easel.
Apart from this, cloud based nature of Easel necessitates an active internet connection.
Considering all this, Carbide Create seems to be a better software compared to Easel.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
I go into much detail on CNC software programs here- Best CNC Software .
Neither the X-Carve nor Shapeoko 4 comes with an enclosure, not do they provide one as an add-on.
You can follow enclosure build projects by community members for both machines.
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||None|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||None|
Enclosure: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
X-Carve ships with most things dis-assembled including every single V-wheel and nut.
Although X-Carve has excellent assembly instructions on their website (complete with photos), due to the sheer number of parts to be assembled it could take you a whole weekend (2 days) to assemble an X-Carve.
With X-Carve you need to screw the M5 threaded inserts into each of the 144 holes in the wasteboard and that's a bit tedious.
Inventables doesn't provide a dedicated official video for assembling the X-Carve.
Shapeoko 4 (XXL) ships with the main parts pre-assembled and separated into modules in an intuitive manner.
Its quite clear that Carbide 3D has put much thought into making the assembly easier for beginners.
that has brought down the assembly time for Shapeoko 4 and for most people you're ready to run your machine with around 3-5 hours of effort.
Carbide 3D has brought an excellent assembly video for Shapeoko 4 and its clear from the video how refined the assembly process has become for Carbide 3D machines.
|CNC||Expected Assembly time*|
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||10-14 hours|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||3-5 hours|
Assembly time: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
*assembly time is a subjective parameter and is based on general feedback.
It does look like Inventables needs to put more effort into their assembly process and the Shapeoko 4 wins here.
Winner: Shapeoko 4
15. Community Support
For X-Carve you have the Inventables community forum which is quite active and almost anything with regard to X-Carve will likely be answered there.
There are so many X-Carve users around the world that you'll have no issue finding someone who can help you, be it upgrades or modifications.
Also the forum has several projects by users in the community that you can explore if you want to tinker with the machine.
Carbide 3D has a great community as well and that should answer any questions you have about the Shapeoko.
Because X-Carve is the more popular machine, you are more likely to find the X-Carve at your local Makerspace or library.
|CNC||Active Community Forum|
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||Yes|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||Yes|
Community Support: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Both the brands perform equally for this parameter and that means its a tie.
16. Customer Support and Warranty
Both the X-Carve and Shapeoko have excellent US based customer support.
They both have phone support on weekdays and phone support is really a luxury these days with many brands being non-US based.
I highly prefer phone support over email support in general because of being able to quickly talk to a human and discuss your issue.
When it comes to warranty, curiously X-Carve doesn't offer any formal warranty.
This doesn't help in people trusting the brand.
Inventables states that since they ship the machine as a DIY kit, they cannot offer a formal warranty.
However, most desktop CNCs for hobbyists ship as kits and they do offer a warranty on their product.
Unlike Inventables, Carbide 3D offers a 1 year warranty on all the parts of Shapeoko 4 where they'll repair or replace any part that has a manufacturing defect.
In addition to the warranty, Carbide 3D offers a "30 days mistakes are on us" policy.
According to this policy, any damage that occurs in the first 30 days due to operator error will be repaired or replaced by Carbide 3D.
This is great for beginners who might be hesitating to push the Shapeoko 4 due to fear of breaking something.
|X-Carve (1000mm) Fully Loaded Kit||None|
|Shapeoko 4 (XXL)||1 year warranty|
Warranty comparison: X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Although both the machines are known for good customer support, Shapeoko 4 wins yet again due to their better warranty.
17. Overall Winner
I've summarized the results of our X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4 review below:
|Footprint and work area||Shapeoko 4|
|Work bed||Shapeoko 4|
|Linear Motion||Shapeoko 4|
|Material Capability||Shapeoko 4|
|Speeds and Feeds||Shapeoko 4|
|Customer support and Warranty||Shapeoko 4|
Overall comparison X-Carve vs Shapeoko 4
Looking at everything it is quite clear that Carbide 3D has been constantly improving their machine by looking at the pain points of their customers.
Also its important to note that X-Carve has not changed much after being brought out in 2016, while Shapeoko has upgraded considerably.
While Inventables brought out the X-Carve Pro in October 2020, the price point of that machine puts it out of most hobbyists reach.
Overall Winner: Shapeoko 4
The overall winner is clearly Shapeoko 4 and unless Inventables brings out something new with the X-Carve it is going to remain so.
If you wish to buy either of the machines, I have provided the links below:
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.