First Look at the Makera Carvera Air

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First Look at the Makera Carvera Air

The Carvera Air may not be the biggest or most powerful CNC but if you put one of these machines on your desktop, you just might find that it’s one of your go-to tools. This fully enclosed little CNC is only slightly larger than your average desktop 3D printer but is capable of milling numerous materials including wood, plastic, and even metal. The optional laser module pushes the possibilities of this machine even further.

The original Carvera made waves when it brought an automatic tool changer (ATC) to the world of small desktop CNC machines. The Air simplifies things a bit to help bring down the price and make the machine more accessible, most notably by removing the ATC capability and replacing it with a manual quick change lever. Sure, having an ATC means that jobs that need multiple tools can be left to run on their own but the quick manual tool changes of the Air still make multi-tool jobs a breeze.

Desktop CNC machines often feel underpowered and not rigid enough to hold up to serious jobs. Carvera Air’s die-cast metal frame and 20mm linear rods make for a strong, stiff machine. The 200-watt spindle cuts through aluminum with ease. If there were one place where I would criticize this machine’s build quality, it would be the front lid — it’s a bit flimsy and flexes when opened. At least in my unit, this meant some of the seals inside that keep dust from getting out can detach from the lid.

Aluminum part cut by the Carvera Air

Makera makes getting started with the Carvera Air easy by including multiple “getting started” projects that help you use not only every aspect of the machine but also various materials. I hate when manufacturers send out machines without sample materials or first projects that help new users get started right away. It feels like getting a great new toy on Christmas day only to discover you don’t have the correct batteries for it. I especially like the included LED light project that even guides you through making your first PCB on the Air.

Pirate ship carved on the Carvera Air, one of the included examples.

There are lots of options to control the Air. They offer software for Windows, Mac, and Android. On the Android front, they even include a bracket for mounting a tablet to the machine (an option I hope to implement soon). I do think the software could be a bit more user friendly — some operations aren’t entirely clear at first — but I think if users work through the included example projects, they’ll be up to speed soon enough.

As far as CAM software goes, the Carvera Air uses a GRBL-based controller so numerous packages will work. Makera is working on their own CAM solution that is currently in beta. They currently have configurations for Fusion 360 and VCarve. With the new features of VCarve 12 (review coming soon), the Carvera Air and VCarve will be a winning pair.

Many other desktop CNC machines rely entirely on being enclosed to deal with dust but the Air also includes built-in dust extraction (minus the vacuum). My unit is an early pre-production unit and most of the dust collection parts are 3D printed but to be honest, I hope it stays this way. With any luck, Makera will release the STL files for the dust collection system, allowing users to print replacement parts or make their own modifications.

There are so many accessories to the Air that I could go well past the point where you’d want to continue reading this review but let me sum up a few others. The Air also includes a built-in probe to measure your material (it even includes a red dot laser to preview the extents of the job), a 4th axis for near-3D rotary jobs, and an optional 5W laser module for engraving laserable materials.

At the time of this writing, there are only a few more days left to get in on the Kickstarter for this machine. If you’re in the market for a desktop CNC I can, with no reservations, recommend the Carvera Air.

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Matt is a community organizer and founder of 3DPPVD, Ocean State Maker Mill, and HackPittsburgh. He is Make's digital fabrication and reviews editor.

View more articles by Matt Stultz


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