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disassembled x-carve compoonents

clearance issue between dewalt router and z-axis motor plate

resolved clearance issue between dewalt router and z-axis motor plate


idler pulley alignment along y-axis makerslide

short bolt connecting v-wheels to spindle carriage

completed x-carve CNC router

It’s been a long time in the works, but I have finally completed upgrading my Shapeoko 2 CNC router to X-Carve. Things went relatively well, and I am very happy with it all, but I have a few general thoughts that I would like to share here.

Having completed the entire Shapeoko 2 build process, I felt that I had a good baseline for how assembly/instructions should go. The X-Carve is the successor to the Shapeoko 2, so I would expect everything to be better, clearer, and simpler, however this was not totally the case.

To keep things organized, I will give my thoughts based on what I liked, and what I didn’t care for as much.

The Bad

On Your Own

Generally speaking, the directions presented on the Inventables website are for building a new X-Carve from scratch, not rebuilding a Shapeoko 2. There were many cases where I had to devise my own solutions for completing an assembly using different parts.

A particular, albeit minor, example is the locknuts provided with the X-Carve. The instructions called for them in most places, and, since I did not have any, I had to interpret that as washer and hex nut.

I learned a lot more in building my Shapeoko 2 than I initially realized, so it was easy enough to overcome these small challenges. However, it would be really cool if there was a manual and video series specifically covering the Shapeoko 2 to X-Carve upgrade process.

Lining It Up

A big disparity that I found during assembly was alignment of the idler pulleys along the Y-axis. The GT2 belts sit roughly in the center of the makerslide rails, so the idlers need to be centered along the same lines. Going off the X-Carve instructions, I felt that the alignment was too far off, so I ended up adjusting with additional washers.

This really wasn’t too difficult of a change, but I did spend some time tweaking to get it right. Even after adjustment, the idler pulleys still aren’t perfectly aligned, but they are good enough to avoid any problems.

Spindle Clearance

I opted to install a Dewalt 611 trim router as part of my upgrade, and got the mounting bracket to go along with it. It seemed like a simple swap for the old spindle and universal mount plate, but I got a good taste of how much bigger the new router actually is when I went to mount it on the Z-carriage.

In the “stock” configuration described in the instructions, the four V-wheels on the back of the spindle mounting bracket were to be offset from the back of the plate using a single washer and spacer. Simple enough. However, when it came time to slide the spindle into place, it would not clear the Z-axis motor mount plate. Bummer!

My solution was to increase the spacing by adding another washer between the wheel and plate. This just barely allowed the router to clear, but created some new problems that I would encounter soon.

Coming Up Short

When I was attaching the spindle mount to the Z-axis, I ran into a major problem; the bolts were too short! To be more specific, the four bolts holding the V-wheels to the Z-axis makerslide. They were making it through the plate, but there was only enough clearance to engage 1-2 threads on the nuts. Unacceptable.

I attribute most of the problem to the thickened backplate on the Dewalt 611 mount. It is easily twice as thick as the old stock plate from my Shapeoko 2, so I can see where Inventables may have not accounted for it. This, compounded with the additional washer I had to add in the previous step had me on the losing end of this deal.

After a brief panic attack and survey of spare parts, my solution was to salvage the four long carriage bolts previously used to mount the stock rotary tool on the Shapeoko 2. These proved adequately long, yet short enough to clear the clamp of the spindle mount on the opposite side. They stick out a little more than is ideal, but more than perform the job required of them.

To be fair, it’s entirely possible that I incorrectly used up the right bolts somewhere else in the process. Either way, no harm, no foul.

Sticky Z – Again…

One of my big problems with the stock Shapeoko 2 was the threaded rod on the Z-axis. It bound up all of the time, was clearly bent, and ultimately required me to sacrifice a lot of feed rate, Z clearance, and Teflon lube.

When I bought the ACME Z rod along with my upgrade I expected this to totally go away. It didn’t.
Assembled as instructed, the Z-axis was definitely not plumb. You could literally see it wiggle and feel it start to bind when you jogged it up and down. It’s purely speculative, but I can see three possible causes for this:

1) The push-in bearing on the motor plate is not level. The makerslide actually overlaps it on one side and I think that it pushes it up ever so slightly. Perhaps some more clearance would ensure that it doesn’t get pinched like this.

2) The Delrin lead nut is improperly spaced from the back of the spindle carriage. As mentioned previously, I had some alignment issues in other places. In its default configuration, mounted directly to the back of the spindle carriage, the lead nut definitely pulls the rod off of plumb. My current fix has been to increase the spacing and this seems to have mostly eliminated the problem.

3) The rod is bent. It could be as simple as this. To be honest, I did not do a thorough check of this prior to assembly. I don't feel motivated to pull it all back apart either.

I am hoping that with the added spacers behind the spindle carriage, a bit of lube, and some time that the issues will go away. So far, so good.

The Good

Inverted Z-Axis

Love, love, love! This was probably the main reason I bought the upgrade, besides the Black Friday discount pricing. First off, it just looks better. Tucking the Z-axis stepper motor away behind the makerslide and getting rid of that towering monstrosity on top was a very nice touch.

With the top of the Z-axis rod exposed, it is now much easier to manually jog it up and down for initial homing and fine-tuning. I know many use a nifty knurled knob, but I have been turning mine using a spare crescent wrench and it works great.

Parts Reduction

Inventables bills a large parts reduction as one of the big improvements over the Shapeoko 2. While I don’t really know that it was that big for me (many parts in the upgrade are one-for-one), it does feel simpler and more compact. The obvious big saver is the X-carriage.

From an engineering perspective, this is the big improvement here. Less parts = less variables = less modes of failure = greater reliability. Can’t argue with that…

Alignment

With absolutely zero adjustments, my new X-Carve is pretty much completely level. I would attribute most of this to the fixed position makerslide mounting holes on the end plates and the one-piece X-carriage. Simplifying the equation by reducing the amount of variance in each of these parts doesn’t make proper alignment a sure thing by any means, but it makes it much easier. I like easy.

Don't believe me? Check out the very first carve and judge for yourself.

Speed Demon

I kind of knocked on the ACME  Z-axis earlier for being problematic, but the truth is it’s still WAY better than the threaded rod. After adjusting the spacing, I have eliminated most of the binding issues and, as a result, have been able to significantly increase the stock feed rates in GRBL.

This presents a nice time savings to complete jobs and lets me push the machine much harder than before. I think this could be improved even more if I make the upgrade from GRBL 0.8 to 0.9 (0.9 allows individual axis adjustments), but we’ll save that for another day.

Spindle Upgrade

While it’s not a part of the upgrade package, per se, the Dewalt 611 is the new “stock spindle” on the X-Carve. I took the opportunity to upgrade this as well and boy was it worth it! This thing absolutely rips through material and that awful whine from the stock rotary tool bogging down in a plunge cut seems to be a thing of the past.

I don’t have any qualifying evidence to back it up, but I feel that the sound profile of the Dewalt router is more bearable than that of the rotary tool. At least it is no worse, which is impressive considering the difference in power.

I’m really happy that Inventables chose to go this route. The additional power makes it a much more capable machine, and a reputable name like DeWalt should garner some additional quality and longevity.

Cosmetics

Function is the quality that most CNC hobbyists are likely most concerned with, but the upgraded machine is more visually appealing. The matte black powder coating on the end plates and carriages looks great, and the fewer parts make it look much more packaged and polished.

I still have the old, silver makerslides, but I kind of like how they contrast with the black parts. Also, seeing that signature Dewalt yellow motor housing up front exudes confidence and power. Such is not the case with a cheap generic Dremel.

Final Take

So was it worth it? Although I initially questioned my sanity for ripping apart a functioning machine, I would say yes. The end result is a sleeker, more professional looking, and better performing tool than I had before.

The X-Carve was released shortly after I built my Shapeoko 2, so it is nice to finally be up to date with Inventables' current product line.

Paramount to all though is the reaffirmation of my abilities to build/service such a machine, and the increased understanding of even the most obscure aspects of its operation. In my mind, this is the real value of a hobby CNC machine. It is also why I am happy to support companies like Inventables who help put these opportunities in the hands of people like myself.

To close, I am glad this project is over. It was enjoyable and I am happy with the end result, but I have lots of stuff to carve! Time to put it to the test! Look out for lots of CNC projects, videos, and upgrades in the future.

And don't forget to check out the video from the first carve! I think it's a nice showcase of how this awesome machine works.

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