CNC & Machining Workshop
We Spent a Week with Carvey, Inventables’ New 3D Carver, and We Don’t Want to Give it Back

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I’ve been eager to test out Carvey, Inventables’ new self-contained CNC router, since it launched on Kickstarter a few weeks ago. Inventables was also keen to see what Make: would do with this new 3D-carving machine (as they call it), so they sent us one of their prototypes to play with. And after a week with it, I’m being honest when I say I plan to do everything I can to not return it.Carvey_PoweredbyBadge_6

Carvey arrived the week of my son’s 6-month birthday, and I wanted to make a momento for the occasion — a wooden carving of his hospital certificate, done in a two-tone color scheme using a piece of ¾” wood I had painted blue.

I converted a scan of his certificate into an SVG vector file (using Adobe Illustrator) and imported it into Easel, Inventables’ free and incredibly easy to use CNC software, with which Carvey is designed to interface seamlessly. Set the depth for the carving, clamp the wood in place, tell the software what type of wood it is, what size bit you’re using, and click “carve” — it’s as simple as that, with the machine determining the necessary paths and speeds, spinning up, and creating your masterpiece. It’s advertised to be minutes to go from design to carving, and this integration is what really makes the Carvey experience so addictive.

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The most striking part about Carvey is its fully enclosed, sleek black design (created by MNML, the team that designed the XBox 360). The sealed workspace is a rarity with CNC machines, and is built to keep the noise low enough to have a phone conversation while carving in the same room. I can attest that this is indeed the case, especially with the 1/16” bits. The enclosure also holds in the chips and sawdust. Set in our work offices, there was never a mess, and the loudest noise of the process came from the vacuum we used to clean the inside of the machine when a carving was finished.

Carvey has an 8×12-inch bed with a 2.75-inch Z-depth capability. It cuts material with a beefy 300 watt spindle. It automatically interfaces with Easel, and can also process Gcode from other software packages. Priced at $2000-$2400 on Kickstarter, the machine has a bigger platform at a lower price than the few other self-contained CNC machines that are available.

After my first carve, I made a few other pieces for home — including a fridge magnet of my son’s baby’s footprints, placing magnets into press-fit holes cut precisely on the back side of the carving. I made the Make: logo. And I have a carving going of Makey the Robot as I type this.

I’ve also learned a very interesting tip about Easel and imported SVGs. When starting to use the software, you’ll likely initially set the depth of the carved elements within Easel — and it can support multiple depths, allowing for some interesting multi-level creations. But it will also set the depth of a design element in an SVG file based on its shade of gray. Pure black will be cut at 100% depth, pure white won’t be cut at all. If you want an intricate design to be partly cut at 50% depth and partly at 25% depth, pre-determining this is as simple as setting each area’s color in Illustrator before saving the SVG file — up to 255 levels of depth can be set this way.

And with this, you can create contoured carvings on Carvey using Easel. It’s not officially a feature that the company is supporting (they’re working on a more official process that will be released soon, one that hopefully imports STL files into Easel), but it works and has been giving us a lot of exciting ideas about new projects to do with the machine before we return it — if we do return it, that is. Let us know if there’s something you’d like us to make on it and we’ll update with the results.

The Kickstarter for Carvey finishes this Thursday. For schools, design shops, or hobbyists like myself, it’s a no-brainer.

25 thoughts on “We Spent a Week with Carvey, Inventables’ New 3D Carver, and We Don’t Want to Give it Back

  1. Did you forget to fill in the blanks before publishing your article? Also, a link to the kickstarter and maybe to the company’s web page would be nice.

      1. Hmm, it looks like your hyperlinks are all routing through doubleclick, rather than pointing directly to the target. I suspect that’s probably why ABP is blocking them…

  2. Does it do anything other than carve wood signs? Can you cut out a shape from the board? Will it cut aluminum? Plastics? What is 100% depth? Does that mean it can drill a 2.75 inch hole?

      1. Kickstarter campaigns make many claims. I doubt they carved a lot of gold in their testing. :)

        I’d like to hear how well it works from a less biased source.

          1. We Carved a silver owl necklace yesterday. To show the fine detail the machine is capable of we engraved 0.001″ and then cut out the owl. We’re taking nice pictures of that project and other 3D projects today and we will be posting as part of an update to the Kickstarter tomorrow.

          2. I’m looking forward to more information. My personal interest is in machining parts with multiple depths from one half to one inch thick aluminum and delrin. The parts would vary in size, but would tend to be on the larger end of your table size. So if you get a chance to do something like that, I’d love to see (and hear) it. Thanks!

          3. What kind of file do you need? I do my machining manually right now. I can send an eps file easily. Would that work?

    1. Scott, yes it will do plastics (see attached photo; we have some acrylic coming in from TAP to do more with), aluminum, and a variety of other woods.

      Also, here’s a video Inventables made of them making a two-sided circuit board: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFTQ4oYsvGc. We’re going to try this later this week as well.

      I’ll find out if it can drill 2.75″ holes in material that thick.

      1. Thanks, Mike! There are a bunch of these small CNC machines coming out. They all make similar claims, and they end up sounding like you’ll have a small, silent Bridgeport mill on your desktop. It takes an independent third party like Make to test and share the real capabilities. I appreciate you taking the time to really put them through their paces and finding their limitations.

  3. I have not seen a single example of this thing actually doing 3D work (machining actual 3D contours). Calling it a “3D carver” may be bending the truth a little bit, it’s really a 2D router or perhaps you could call it 2 1/2 D …. but not 3D. when I see it “carve” something that is not totally flat (like a hemisphere for example) I’ll start calling it a 3D carver. Something that plunges to a given depth and then starts following a 2D tool path is not a 3D machine. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very cool looking machine and it seems to do what it does very well,,,, it just does not do what the name implies.

    1. Hi Allen & Scott. Carvey is a 3-axis machine. It can do complex curves and 3D shapes. It can accept gCode so you can go from a program like Fusion 360 into the machine. You can also use the greyscale 0-255 to set the depth and import an SVG. This let’s you do 3D shapes in Easel right now. Complex 3D Carvings take longer to carve. The mountain range on the Kickstarter page took about 13 hours and so it’s not good for quick demos. Carvey can’t do undercuts but you can flip the project to carve a curve from both sides. On the snowman below we could have flipped it so both sides were curved. Tomorrow we are going to post some pictures and video to the Kickstarter of more projects and of some very fine engraving it did on silver Jewlery.

      Here are some 3D examples we made this week on Carvey- http://imgur.com/X16kl6e
      http://imgur.com/XdmjPRy
      http://imgur.com/8dhxglo

  4. Here’s a 3D/contour example that I’ve been playing with in the office using the grayscale Illustrator trick. I found a CC-licensed image online (already in SVG format, nicely) and sent it straight into easel.

    The results give something closer to a reverse-lithophane effect more than creating the object protruding from the material, but the result demonstrates the capability of Easel to carve contours.

    I stopped this one early, as the contour-carving takes a long time (and it was getting very late on a Friday evening), but have a lot more ideas now that I’ve seen it in action. You’ll notice the eyes/nose of the skull are still relatively flat.

    One note: the depth-per-pass can be controlled in Easel, and on this one was set fairly deep for each pass, so each layer has a bit of stepping to it.

    I’m now searching for an easy STL-to-grayscale conversion tool, which will make this process even easier and more effective.

  5. When you guys do these articles, are you bound by some form of behind-closed-doors agreements that prevent you from writing about any relevant things that people might want to know about these machines?

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Mike Senese is the Executive Editor of Make: magazine. He is also a TV host, starring in various engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with electronics, doing amateur woodworking, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza.

View more articles by Mike Senese