The X-Carve is one of the most popular desktop CNCs on the market. The new version from Inventables is the gateway drug to subtractive manufacturing and brings quite a few refinements to the line while also increasing performance.
Physicality of the Machine
This edition is a major upgrade with its single extrusion gantry, spindle rail, and clever new clamps. The design is open and inviting, with full visibility of all the action and moving parts. Changing bits can be a bit awkward (not uncommon for a router), and I found myself wishing for a third hand at times. The clamp system, however, is nothing short of genius.
The biggest shortcoming with this machine is the lack of dust collection. There are dozens of homemade dust boot designs on the forums, but each has its drawbacks. I know that most commercial shopvacs or dust collectors with any decent filtration start in the ballpark of $200, but do your lungs a favor and get something on there before you do any major milling.
Software and Workflow
Easel is not a perfect tool, but its strength is its accessibility. It is the first truly entry-level interface for CNC operation.
With quick and basic functions (like auto tabbing) and built in apps (like image trace, box maker, and dogbone generator) for making interlocking parts, even a rookie user will be making functional objects on their first day. More experienced users can access menus that let you customize feed, speed, and step over for more advanced fine-tuning.
The freeform design functionality within Easel is limited to basic shapes and a pen tool, so if you are looking for more robust drafting capabilities, you will hit a wall. They have made it relatively easy to import files from more advanced 2D and 3D design programs, though we did run into some minor design glitches. Thankfully, they were simple to clean up after reviewing some tutorials and reading the forums.
The Inventables (@Inventables) community is a goldmine of information and the support staff are extremely attentive and responsive to the feedback they are receiving.
Easel is browser-based, which may be a pro or con depending on how you intend to use it. For individuals who practice iterative design, features such as instant cloud backup will be a little counter-intuitive. If you are not careful to save copies before making each edit, Easel will auto-save for you, and make it difficult to get back to older versions.
Performance and Output
The upgraded gantry takes this edition of the X-Carve way beyond its predecessor in terms of production quality. With a properly chosen end mill, you can get great high fidelity details and corner sharpness.
We had some initial issues with large-scale cuts. For longer jobs, make sure you set your computer’s sleep timer so it does not hibernate midway through. There were also some squaring issues with the rails. They will likely iron out with fine tuning, but they proved to initially be frustrating to calibrate perfectly.
This edition of the X-Carve is a major improvement to the popular desktop CNC. The beefed-up gantry takes it beyond its predecessor in terms of production quality. The new clamp system is perfect, but hanging bits can be a little awkward. It also lacks dust collection, but you can build or buy a simple vacuum rig for it.
Base Price: $1,329
Price as Tested: $1,493
Accessories Included at Base Price: 110V DeWalt 611 spindle and mount, 750mm wasteboard kit, 750mm side board kit, X-Controller kit, NEMA 23 750mm motor kit, 750mm drag chain kit, 750mm
homing switch kit, Z-Probe, toolkit, clamp set, digital calipers, end mill starter set, bit set for wood and
plastic, bit set for fine detail engraving, wood + MDF material bundle
Additional Accessories Provided for Testing: We tested the medium-sized 750mm version rather than the base 500mm version
Build Volume: 500×500×67mm
Materials Handled: Wood, plastic, PCBs, metal
Work Untethered? No
Onboard Controls? E-stop and basic play, pause, stop controls
Design Software: Easel allows for basic designs, but any vector creation software will work
Cutting Software: Easel
OS: Windows 7 or newer, OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) or newer
Open Software? No
Open Hardware? Yes
The machine is very simple and user-friendly, so you can start carving in the first two minutes. However, if you are a new user, read the tutorials and check the forums.
Why to Buy
The insanely easy interface, fully integrated toolchain, and extensive support community make the X-Carve a no-brainer. Experienced users will appreciate its versatility, ease of integration, range of design software, and fully open source hardware.