This machine was reviewed as part of our 2017 Desktop Fabrication Shootout. See more machines in our 3D Printer Guide and non-3D printer reviews here.


The new Carvey Desktop CNC by Inventables advertises as a sleek, streamlined, easy to use version of the full-sized, particle board eating monsters that have been around for decades. Its aim is to bring CNC machining to the masses via an easy to use, cloud based interface housed in an initially uncomplicated machine.

Simple Set-Up

Unboxing the Carvey is rather uneventful, as it comes fully assembled with a piece of two-color HDPE already clamped inside its cutting area. Powering up the machine is as easy as plugging in the power cord and USB, and then hitting the rocker switch on the back. After the LED flood lights inside the chamber slowly brighten to full intensity, the Carvey is ready to go. The box included with the machine houses a bag with three different sizes of thumbscrews and variety of clamp blocks.

The program that is designed to work with the Carvey is Easel, an Inventables browser based software. It is simple to set up and use. Opening Easel for the first time prompts you to select your machine, before walking you through your first cut. There is not much to do except load the bit into the spindle with the two included wrenches and opening the door (which is the coolest part of the whole machine). You open the door by gently lifting on the tab on the front, which engages a swift and smooth air piston that lifts the four panels of impact resistant acrylic sight glass in glorious Snow Speeder-esque fashion.

Efficient and Quiet

After your bit is chucked, material clamped, and door closed, you can proceed with the walk through demo. Step by step safety checks and procedures are short and easy to click through. Once you finally hit “Carve,” the Carvey makes quick work of the HDPE easel. It works beautifully and makes so little noise you almost forget it is even running. That is, unless you were busy smooshing your nose into the glass to watch your box make magic.

Software Doesn’t Cut It

On the downside, after making your initial cut, the provided instruction tapers off and you are left to your own devices to continue. I found it simple to import my own SVG, but struggled with actually getting it to cut. I encountered issues with both bit and material sizes, and a weird tick that requires you change the depth of cut to less than the material thickness even on through cuts.

Moving on to a PCB cut, the machine performed as required, but again the software lacked a variety of options. The PCB has through holes in it, and Easel provides no way to sort the holes from the other paths. The holes in PCB’s are too small to cut with a PCB milling bit, and Easel does not have an allowance for stopping the cut, swapping out an end mill for a drill bit, and continuing with the drilling operation. I got around this by separating my file into two layers and performing two completely separate cuts, but it would have been nice to be able to do it as one.

I tried 3D carving last. This is really where the Carvey deviates from its off the street user target. 3D carvings require a mesh file and tool paths to be created in a separate program. Easel recommends Fusion 360, but this comes with a steep learning curve all its own. Users who want to try their hand at 3D cuts before learning Fusion 360 can pull designs from Inventables Projects page. I tested a few myself and the results were extremely clean.

Final Verdict

The Carvey is a sleek, sexy, uncomplicated machine that pretty much does exactly what it is advertised to do. It provides a compact, clean, and relatively easy introduction to the world of CNC machining. However, where it excels in hardware, it suffers in software. Seasoned machinists will be able to get the most out of the Carvey by using more in-depth programs, and only relying on Easel as a translator. If you are in the market for a user friendly machine, and the price and build space are adequate for you, I would recommend the Carvey. I would still recommend the machine if you are an experienced user, as the ability to machine 3D parts right on your desk in relative comfort could be a huge benefit to your production.

Details

Manufacturer: Inventables

Base Price: $1,999

Price as Tested: $1,999

Accessories Included at Base Price: Smart corner clamp with auto Z-zero, innovative side clamp system (which works on material up to ¾ inches thick) with three lengths of clamps (5 each) and two heights of clamp bases (5 each), two wrenches, a 1/16 inch solid carbide bit, a set of calipers

Additional Accessories Provided for Testing: None

Build Volume: 290×400×70mm

Materials Handled: Aluminum, copper, MDF, plastics, acrylics, woods, PCBs

Work Untethered? No

Onboard Controls? Front facing “pause” switch

Design Software: Easel

Cutting Software: Easel imports SVG and G-code

OS: Mac, Windows

Firmware: Custom

Open Software? No

Open Hardware? No

Pro Tips 

If you are new to CAD/CAM and looking to produce your own 3D carvings, brush up on Fusion 360, MeshCAM, etc. Experience beforehand greatly increases the machine’s functionality right out the box.

Why to Buy

Size, lack of noise, and a seriously easy learning curve for 2D designs is reason enough, but the wicked lid will make you the coolest cat in the office.