v2 - September 2019
The intent of this guide is to help new users of the Shapeoko CNC learn enough about both the big picture and the underlying technical details, to feel at ease with the machine, the workflow, and CNC lingo in general.
As fun as it is to go ahead and cut a first project following a tutorial (and you should), having a good understanding of how the machine works and what underlying CNC concepts are involved goes a long way to avoid frustration later, when things do not work out the way you expected (and sooner or later they will).
There are many ways to get started. Most people want to be up and running and making things as quickly as possible, without the burden of learning all the nitty gritties, and that's fine. At the other end of the spectrum, some users (including yours truly) enjoy CNC and using the Shapeoko as a hobby, and end up spending more time experimenting with the machine than actually cutting useful projects, and that's fine too. Hopefully there is a little something for everyone in this guide.
This is a personal initiative (call it a fan project), not affiliated with the Carbide 3D company in any way yet positively biased (it's such a great machine, what can I do...)
This is not (only) a legal disclaimer, this is plain old common sense but needs to be said: using a CNC as a hobbyist comes with a small number of specific risks for your safety, that are easily adressed:
keep your hands away from the moving parts during operation, cleaning up the mess on the belts/pulleys can probably wait until the end of the job.
get yourself a way to do an emergency stop, within arm's reach. A killswitch removing ALL power (to the machine and to the router) is easy to install.
turn off the machine before diving in to check/adjust/fix something. Sure, the machine is "not supposed" to move by itself, but user errors happen (ever clicked anywhere by mistake?) and software has bugs. Changing an endmill while the machine is powered is probably the only sensible exception.
wear protection goggles anytime the machine is operating without an enclosure, no exceptions. Endmills break from time to time, and shrapnel may fly out in random directions when they do.
respiratory hazard: cutting some materials (e.g. MDF or exotic wood) produces dust that can be very toxic, and wood dust is just bad for your health in general.
a good dust collection and filtering system will take care of this risk. You'll find out soon enough if you don't use one (and/or an enclosure) that a thin layer of dust ends up covering everything around the machine, so imagine what it does to your lungs. If you need a good scare, go read about wood dust related health issues, I bet you will invest in dust collection and filtering promptly afterwards.
fire hazard: while this risk is very remote, it does exist.
don't leave your machine (completely) unattended while it is cutting. The stock material may become loose, and rubbing a piece of metal spinning at thousands of RPM against wood is a potential way to start a fire. Google "CNC" + "fire" if you need proof.
There are many ways to learn and use the Shapeoko, but the typical experience for a new user can go something like this:
order the machine (after reading a lot of good things about it)
while waiting for delivery, get familiar with CNC concepts:
the Cutters & collets section includes a few indications as to what starter set of endmills and collets could be suitable for you to purchase, depending on the projects you have in mind.
receive and assemble the machine, and run the Hello World example with a marker. Oh the joy of these first few hours! I chose not to have a section about machine assembly, because Carbide3D's docs are quite detailed already, and there are many things that are either specific to the machine type (standard vs XL vs XXL) or bound to change frequently and that would render this information obsolete very quickly. Carbide3D's email support and the community forum are the best way to sort out any specific machine assembly issue.
run your first cuts in wood or MDF (this is covered in the Running a job section).
CNC is messy, and that now is a good time to look into dust collection and possibly an enclosure. This is covered in the Shapeoko setup section.
get confused about required feeds and speeds for that particular case you want to use but for which no recommendation exists: hopefully re-reading the Feeds & speeds section should help.
at some point, witness the machine misbehave, blame the hardware or the software, start investigating, and (often) end up concluding that you messed up somewhere in the workflow. The Troubleshooting & maintenance section has a few pointers, after that the user community and Carbide3D's support team are your best bet.
somewhere along this path, outgrow Carbide Create and Carbide Motion and consider moving to more advanced CAD, CAM, G-code tools.
after a while, begin to feel an itch for HW upgrades.
Comments/corrections/contributions are most welcome, you can contact me on the Shapeoko community forum (https://community.carbide3d.com/) as @Julien.
Shoutout to the whole forum community, the collective knowledge and experience accumulated over there and on the Shapeoko wiki (https://wiki.shapeoko.com/index.php/Shapeoko_3) is incredible. I tried to bring out some of that know-how in this e-book, but it is also tainted by my own limited experience and habits, so any potential incorrect information/guidance is my bad.
Special thanks to @snaterst (on the forum) for providing the vise setup picture, @Dusty.Tools (find him on Instagram) for the T-tracks setup picture, @gmack for his excellent feeds and speeds worksheet, @Hooby for the nice Janka wood hardness database included in the worksheets, @WillAdams and @luc.onthego for proofreading and suggesting lots of good improvement ideas.
This is e-book released under the Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA license (in plain English: do whatever you want with it except using it for commercial purposes, and if you modify & redistribute, give credit and keep the same license).