Making stuff: which machine for what job

One thing I can control now is my use of my recently acquired 1000mm Xcarve. I’m spoiled in using their Easel software. They have also done a great job of having weekly how to sessions covering everything from carving gear animals to carving out marble maze games.
I can make successful projects without having to jump into Inkscape, Fusion 360, or Gimp just yet. As stated before, Inventables has free shipping on orders >$100 for materials.

For those of you with both lasers and cnc’s, can you provide an insight as to which projects you plan to which tool for? Which one’s are a toss up?

I have had a challenge cutting out tiny letters out of wood with the cnc. Clamping was overcome by using carpet tape, really nasty stuff.

I recently made some carvings where the recessed area was a light wood color and the uncarved was dark / stained. Other than that (the deep part would be dark) it would seem the laser would be a great fit without having to clamp down the material.

Does anyone think the laser 3d depth of our Glowforge will ever be able to 3d carve / engrave a smooth shape like the side of a fish? or a sphere?

cnc negative: clamping down material, finishing sanding to remove tabs, bit of sawdust mess
cnc positive: can handle much larger size, infinite y axis, 3 inch z axis, can cut any material without worrying about it being “safe”, can add drag knife, create large prints with a marker

I’m not sure why an update email takes 5 days to go from draft to publish. I appreciate the complexity of the Glowforge project but like many others here, I think it would be nice to get a bit more communication.
I’d like something like a definitive 100% you will get your Glowforge by Thanksgiving or not. If the decision on day 1 was lets plop down a few thousand and in 2-3 years you’ll get something to work with I would not have started down this journey.



it seems likely, though if it’s a larger shape that can be similarly carved on the CNC, you’d probably get it done more quickly there.


I use my mill a lot more than my laser cutter. Some big reasons for that are that I like making mechanical-ish things, or things where metal is a much better material for the final product than wood or plastic, or things that have more complex 3D (or “2.5D”) shapes. I think if I was more artistic I would use my laser cutter a lot more.

With that said, the laser cutter is a nice machine to have. Sometimes I use it to cut out an outline of whatever I’m working on to get a “feel” for how large it will be in “real life”. (Sometimes I use my printer for the same reason.) I also like to use it to verify that the shape of something I’ve drawn will fit with some existing object. “Did I get these dimensions right?” can frequently be answered with the laser cutter in a matter of minutes.

As you have mentioned, not needing to fixture the material in the laser cutter is an absolute dream. It’s SO convenient to be able to just cut something without needing to fiddle-fixture around trying to hold the durn thing down!


Wintergaten just got a CNC router for the next music machine. He has some good reflections on it and this coming build series will be very helpful for seeing how a CNC improves the whole experience. After watching it, I actually went to check out Xcarve prices again. Still hoping to build my own though.


I don’t use my Xcarve at all, mostly because it is such a pain in the ass to set it up. I spend far more time trying to fit the material in and hold it down and ensure nothing is in the way and zeroing it and trying to deal with the fact that it’s not level and setting up the vacuum at guessing and feeds and speeds than I do actually making anything. Also, it generates sawdust, or plastic shavings, or metal filings, and none of these things are particularly welcome in my basement sharing space with precision electronics.

I’m hoping the Glowforge will be more convenient and less messy, and that I’ll actually use it for projects (other than the dozen or so project enclosure boxes I plan to make right off the bat). I get a lot of value out of my 3D printer because it’s so (relatively) low effort to get a print started.


You will most definitely know soon enough…:star_struck:

As you can see, the answers are individual. With a :glowforge:, a cnc, and a 3d printer I use the :glowforge: the most. I’d be sad and handicapped to not have the others though.


I use the CNC for big stuff (you can index it so you can do really long pieces - similar to what the GF Pro pass-through should enable except without the 1/4" thickness limit). Also the thick stuff overall where I want cuts and engraves in 3/4 or 1" or thicker material. Although, I am also starting to do projects with both - my cheese board bowls have laser engraved tops.

The laser is much better at very fine detail - right now the smallest details I can get on the CNC are limited by what a 1/16" ball end mill can do so I can do things in design that I simply cannot execute in wood or metal. The lasers don’t have that limit - it’s almost a case of if I can draw it, the laser can engrave or score it.

Clamping isn’t too big of an issue for the Shopbot. It has a slotted aluminum bed that you can use for clamping hold-downs (and lots of designs on the ShopBot and other CNC forums for those). But I use a 1" thick MDF spoilboard that I screw things down to. That’s really pretty easy to just grab the driver and appropriate screws to screw a blank down. Over time the spoil board gets bunged up but there’s actually a bit & a program that will refinish the board by milling a thin layer off the top. I can do that 3 or 4 times before I need to replace the board.

The lasers are great for drop & go. Even when I want to “clamp” something to hold it to the bed I can just drop some neodymium magnets and I’m off to the races. Lasers also don’t have tool changes to deal with and slow things down (but CNCs get more options for cutting/scoring grooving & rounding & other profile shapes).

Post finishing steps are more involved with CNC - cutting the tabs, sanding them down, sanding the fuzzies off of engraves (those 3M flappy wheels work great in a Dremel), etc.

I’m hopeful we’ll get some decent depth with the GF 3D Engrave option but don’t seriously think it’ll match the ability of a CNC.

I agree feeds & speeds can be a pain (but then in the laser there’s power/speed/LPI and frequencies and ppm on some). Check out the cnccookbook site. Nice feed & speeds calculator there.

Oh and the laser (even in engraving mode) is so much faster :slight_smile:


I’ll know more once I get the laser cutter in house. But I’m really loving using my new Carvey, Easel makes it so fast and easy to use. I use the CNC plasma cutter all the time. I use the CNC mill less because of how long it takes to do the CAD/CAM, I can manually mill out most stuff faster than programming it in.


My tests for 3D engraving suggest that it with the right materials (not really acrylic) the depth control is there. Takes a long time to do really deep engraves, but then that’s what you’d expect. You also need to think about swarf, even though it seems like a laser would get rid of that problem.

I still use the CNCs for engraving (as in going into the material vs. vaporizing the top layer. ) as these are for ferrous and nonferrous metals. Thou laser engraving is very, very cool. In most cases, it’s faster on the CNC. The exception would be powder coated items**. Unless I break out the 0.5mm tapered end mill and do a 0.25mm step over. Then the laser would be faster.

At the end of the day, Use what you have. In the case of ‘I have two things that can do the same feature’ then use the one that does a better job. Be you are going to have to factor time over quality. i.e. if I do a laser engraving on a power coated item at the max LPI and the job time is 3hr 18mins and 44 sec. And something ‘similar’ is 1hr 10mins on the CNC. I am picking the CNC.

** Not necessarily job time but setup and jigging. On the laser, you drop on the bed. On a CNC you have to either make a jig with soft jaws or use pegs. That takes time.


No, thou laser engraving is very, very cool. :smiley: