What’s An Entry Level CNC Machine Capable Of?

2 months by cncdivi

What’s An Entry Level CNC Machine Capable Of?

I often say that with a CNC machine, there’s hardly anything you can’t fabricate, especially since I have the use of some superior hardware. People often inquire about the cost of a CNC machine and what could a beginner possibly do with it?

The answer is not much different.  If you’re patient and can work around the limitations of the entry level machines, you can accomplish a lot.  As an inspiration, here’s a scrapbook of projects that caught my eye from the Shapeoko Forums.

The Shapeoko 3 is an awesome affordable CNC Router, that’s actually the third generation with a very fine lineage. The family began life as a Kickstarter project.  The Shapeoko 2 built on all that was learned and with Shapeoko 3, they combined efforts with the Carbide  3D team to produce one of the most impressive entry-level kit CNC machines yet.  For $999, you can have your own Shapeoko 3 kit, which, with the addition of a router as spindle, will produce a machine like this one:


The Shapeoko 3:  $999 will get you this slick entry-level CNC machine…

Shapeokos are based on GRBL controller software but include Carbide Motion and Carbide Create as well, giving you a ready to run complete solution.

I had the pleasure of seeing one of the first machines in person when the team was visiting the Maker Faire some months ago and the thing that really impressed me about it was how beefy it is.  There’s quite a lot of rigidity here relative to what a lot of other entry level machines provide and that’s important to your success with such a machine.

We’re not here to review the Shapeoko though.  We want to see what a machine like this is capable of.  Here’s a photo essay of projects different people have posted that were done with the Shapeoko (not all Shapeoko 3’s even).  There’s a lot of really fun projects that show what’s possible when you have your own personal wood CNC machine.

Virtually any DIY CNC Machine can do these kinds of projects if a little bit of care is taken.

Signs, Logos and Engravings are Easy

Signs and logos are bread and butter work for the CNC Router community and the Shapeoko does a fine job.  Here are some examples:


Start with a panel that’s already had some router work done and you have a nicely framed sign...


Father-Daughter project:  Dad did the CNC, Daughter painted it…


Liven up the Christmas decor with a custom sign…


Engraved Panels are child’s play when you have a CNC Router on hand…


All kinds of custom guitar work is possible.  Check out this trick engraved panel for a Telecaster project…


With CNC, inlay becomes a practical and beautiful decorative touch that can be applied to many projects…

Functional Art

Two dimensional work such as shown above is a great place to get started, but you’re by no means limited to that sort of thing.  You can make functional objects that are also beautiful art too!


Card case and Coffee Pour Over would’ve made great personalized gifts for the Holiday Season!


Coasters: Think of them as signs with round borders, or gear-shaped borders in this case.  Personalize them to your taste.  What are you interested in?  A set of coasters with football teams?  Dog breeds?  Car marques?  It’s all possible with CNC…

Let’s Get Ambitious!

This is all cool, but how far can we push the envelope with a machine like the Shapeoko?  It turns out pretty far.  You’ll be amazed as I was at some of these projects!


Mason Jar intricately machined from wood.  It was made by gluing up blocks, machining the halves, then gluing them back together.  So cool!


Wooden Skeleton Clocks are perennial crowd pleasers and entirely doable on a machine like the Shapeoko…


What D&D Dungeon Master Wouldn’t Want a Puzzle Box like this to carry dice and other accessories in?  Secret compartments and a locking mechanism made from a padlock are just some of the clever details worked into this box…


Did I mention you can make anything with CNC?  I had no idea until I started digging through the Shapeoko Forums just how inventive folks could be.
How about this gorgeous 8 shot rubberband gun complete with a fitted presentation case?


If you didn’t already know what’s possible with CNC, this article will have been an eye opener.  If you like to make things, you need a CNC machine, and they are surprisingly affordable–$999 for the Shapeoko kit used to make the projects shown here.  It’s getting to be less and less an issue of how good your CNC machine is and more an issue of whether you have a CNC or not.  One of my favorite mentors kept after me to make the switch from manual machining to CNC.  He kept telling me how much more productive I’d be, how many more projects I’d be able to get done, once I had made the switch.  He was absolutely right.

When are you going to get your first CNC?

P.S.  If you’ve got some really cool CNC projects like these, send us some pictures.  We’d love to do a roundup on reader’s projects some time.



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