CNC wood carving Machines. Valuable tool or expensive toy

Hi everyone, Once again I would welcome some advice. I want to expand my woodcraft knowledge and skills and would love to start copper inlay and other designs requiring accurate and narrow grooves. I would also like to do some further design and pattern work which needs massive amounts of hand carving hours or a fairly fast and accurate carving machine.
I have been looking at Laser cutters and carvers but they are well out of my budget once all the software and other extras are added.

The next option would be a self build CNC machine which would appear to do everything I need and at around £1,000 for a 100cmX100cm work area are closer to my budget. Can anyone give me some advice and or recommendations on available machines and whether I should stick to my traditional carving and gouge work?

£1000 feels optimistic to me; but my knowledge on the self build CNC market is probably 10 years out of date.

A wood/plastic cutting machine made from aluminium extrusions will handle light cutting in copper or brass; though spindle run-out might be an issue for fine engraving work.

100cmx100cm seems very large for a machine for metal inlays though. If that were your primary use then a smaller machine would be advisable as it would be easier to make it more rigid (and cheaper in terms of rails and ballscrews)

I have a 1000mm XCarve, by Inventables. The actual work area is actually a bit less than what you’re looking for (the 1000mm refers to the rail length, but the machine’s reach is around 750x750mm). It is a kit, so you’ll need to take your time assembling it properly (the more square it is, the better the results you’ll see).

I would encourage you to visit the Inventables forum to learn about consumer/home/kit CNC machines before you spend money on one, but I have been happy with mine… especially because it lets you get your foot in the door for around your budget. Inventables also have a web-based design program for basic carves (two-dimensional) that’s free with your machine, so you don’t need to buy expensive software unless you later decide to get into 3D carving or something.

One thing to watch out for is it ships from the US, and there will be a huge import duty bite. At Christmas last year, Inventables had a free shipping offer (anywhere in the world), but I already had mine by then so I missed out on that. But if they repeat that this year, you could save a bit as the parts are quite weighty and shipping is a huge hit.

All. Most, if not everybody on this forum, probably looks at ‘you-tube’ and see’s stuff Stateside that then isn’t always shippable here!
I’m awaiting the heads up on a ‘Shaper unit’ being available over here, currently NOT!
Worth a look though if you haven’t already seen this marvellous package!
Perhaps if the list of probable customers goes up, they may make them available this side of the pond!
Tell them I sent you, if you do also enquire.

no dont bother with that shaper contraption, if you buy a cnc you want to set it going and not touch it till its finish, i have a workbee cnc and its great, have a look at they have som great machines that come in kit for and ther customer service is top notch

on a side note cnc machining is far from simple process, its good for batch work once you get the program written and working , but sometime electronic gremlins can have you pulling your hair out

Having priced up one of the Ooznest WorkBee kits at 750x1000mm, screw driven, router mount and dust shoe I’m quite surprised at just how cheap it’s come in. My machine (circa 2006) was over 6000USD; though it uses servo motors, and linear rails with wipers; which I’d suspect will hold up better against clogging than the exposed bearings of the WorkBee.

Certainly though I’m pretty impressed with the look of the machine for the price, so Redsilverdog’s budget looks a lot more realistic than I’d realised.

Hi Red,

I do not think you would be happy using laser for your application, i beleve a CNC router would be the ticket.

About two years ago i built a CNC router for the purpose of doing inlay work, mainly with abalone, Ablam, MOP, gold sheet, and etc… into hardwoods. This was musical istrument related work, so quite fine in detail.

I chose a build it yourself kit, basically made from speciality extrusions and some machine specific parts. I used good stepper motors and a four axis controller. I spent about £1500 for a complete 750x1000mm bed router including the motor and a good assortment of tooling.

For a supplier I choose to go the OOZNEST open CNC route, however there are several good suppliers of do it yourself CNC in the UK to pick from.

Check out this web address for some info:

I was able to hold very tight tolorances, far better than I ever could with gouges and a Dremel tool. It was amazing that a belt driven X and Y axis with ball screw Z axis machine was that “Tight”.

At first I was quite skeptical, thinking that I needed ball and screw drives to maintain a better than .015" tolorance but it turns out that is not the case. The material in the belts is made with some sort of carbon fiber in its core that just does not stretch. As long as you have a tight fit in the pulleys you will experience almost zero backlash. Of course you can dial in a backlash factor in your sofware if you wish, but i found it was not at all necessary for simple inlay work.

I would not try to hold .001 tolorances with that type of system, however for fine inlay and marquetry work it is perfect.

What was even better I was able to use my V-Carve Pro software that has the ability to generate inlay specific G-code files. that is it created both the inlay and the pocket toolpaths from a single drawing! A really big time saver.

With that software i was also able to simply import an image of a pattern I liked and it would do abut 90% of the graphics work for me, I would only have to clean it up a bit before generating my tool paths.

It was fun to build the machine. There is an active community that you can chat with acessable from the OOZNEST site. The same goes for V-Carve Pro. The V-Carve people are also UK based here is a link to their web site:

Good luck with your journey into CNC, I think you will find it quite enjoyable.

Using CNC for inlay work shifts a lot of the inlay experience from endless hours with a jewelers saw and Dremel tool to being creative, concentrating on the design whilst the machine takes care of the drudge.


Hi and thanks to everyone who replied to my original question. I had been looking at a number of systems and at time of writing I had decided that the Ooznest WorkBee was one of the better options both for value and size. I was really pleased that you came back to me confirming that its a useful piece of kit. I want to do some metal inlay work and it seemed that by using a cnc cutter you could cut out the channels very easily and accurately to lay the metal strip into. From your further comments it seems that the use of cnc is really for batch and production work. Is this the case and is it the design work that takes the time? I do have a 20 year old son who could probably hack into GCHQ but would this system be too time consuming for him and myself?
@Jenny, as I finished typing the above I saw your reply. From what you are saying it seems that the cnc router would definitely be the solution. I am happy to use gouges etc but the time it would take would be horrific and the initial inlays I am going to try would be less than 2mm wide.
Thanks again everyone. This site is always helpful and informative and to date I have never seen anything other than a real willingness to help people like myself enjoy this wonderfully creative part of my life.
Kind Regards


There’s a company in the UK, in Norfolk I think, that manufactures CNCs and sells direct…can’t recall the name off-hand but Peter Millard did a YouTube Video on it, including a visit to the company… The machines looked pretty good to me, and retailed at about £1k for the size you are talking about…

Look up Peter Millard on YouTube and look through his videos to find it…

Hi there,

Just thought I would drop you a line and see how you were mking out with your decision about a CNC router.
Have you made a decision yet? did you check out the Vcarve demo? it is truly remarkable stuff. doing simple inlay work is only the tip of the iceberg. it is a true five axis G-Code generator that also creates three dimensional images of what the finished piece will look like which you can export to a PDF, bitmap, jpeg & etc. so you can actually show a customer what the finished job will look like before you cut it. great to get someone to sign off on something before you actualy do the work.
tell me what type of inlay do you do?

Hi Jenny, I am almost certainly going to buy the WorkBee which was the one I originally researched as the best on the market. Your reply was extremely informative and has given me the encouragement to go forward with a CNC Router . I have not started to do inlay work yet but I want to inlay metal wire into various exotic woods, either as designs, or to enhance the wood itself. I have tried to do it with my palm gouges but the time it takes and the accuracy of the grooves is not that good. I have a work bonus coming up soon and I intend to purchase as soon as the dosh is in the bank. I will let you know how I get on and if it all works out I will post a picture or two.

Hi Martyn.
That presumes a need for batch processing!
If your work need a little extra, the Shaper looks like a good machine, I’ve nothing to do with the company so gain nothing by my comments, and am surprised nobody else even commented.

I for one wouldn’t want the bother of programming a CNC machine, (wouldn’t know how!) and have no room for a fixed unit, so a portable equivalent looks good to me.
Has anyone else seen it and been tempted?

Hi Barry, sorry I did not reply directly to you. I have to say I was impressed by the shaper and it is something I am still considering. You are absolutely correct in your comments regarding space and the need for some fairly hefty programming. As my main aim is to cut small 1mm channels for wire inlays the shaper would seem to be a very useful tool. Its also a fraction of the cost of even an average priced CNC so it would enable me to buy a number of other tools etc that I would like to enhance my tool box. I am going to be in the US and Canada in January so I will be taking a look at several of the stores that specialise in these things for a hands on inspection. I will report back when I return.

Thanks Steve.

Perhaps you’ll put one in your luggage on the return trip, you can always get a transformer to run at 110.

I keep asking them when/if they might ship here, but they aren’t great at comms. Their web site has a forum, but nobody answers there either.
Be glad to hear what you think!

Hi Steve, how did your trip Stateside go? did you get to see, or even try the Shaper?

I’ve heard that they are ‘close’ to shipping to Europe, but who knows if that will include ’us’ with 240v.


Hi Barry, I made a trip to Lee Valley Tools HQ in Ottawa and they seemed to be fairly complimentary about the Shaper. They did say that it was probably better suted to a more mobile usage and that a CNC machine would be better in a workshop environment. I have to qualify that by saying that was an individuals opinion , not that of Lee Valley or Festools.

I had an email from Shaper a couple of weeks ago as they are about to launch accross Europe. They were exhibiting in Hanover and issued an open invitation to anyone on their mailing list. I would have gone but it was very difficult to get flights and the tickets were horribly expensive.

I am beginning to edge towards a DIY CNC build but will wait a little longer before I make my final decision. I will let you know how things progress from my end and I await their official European launch.

Kind regards, Steve.

Thanks Steve, yes I also had the invite, but as they didn’t provide any ticketing: air, accommodation, or the like, I declined :sob:

Hi, Barry.
Read this thread with interest. From the YouTube videos I’ve watched, I don’t think ‘programming’ a DIY CNC is so difficult, if you can use a computer, manage email and navigate this site and it’s quirks, I think you’ll manage an ‘automated carver’ no problem :+1:t2:

Cheers Stu.

If… there was more room in the workshop, if I could be bothered with even looking at programming a CNC etc, but thanks for the vote of confidence :wink:

Just think the hand held might open up all sorts of possibilities, which a CNC would also cope with admirably well, but in more space, more of the time…