Mega-cool computer-controlled 3D carving machines -

Mega-cool computer-controlled 3D carving machines

I cannot help myself. I am a weak-willed man. I tried to stop myself, but I failed miserably. I used every argument my conscious brain I could think of, but all to no avail. In the end, I succumbed to the promises of delectation and delight my unconscious brain was whispering seductively in my ear, and I placed an order for an X-Carve computer-controlled 3D carving machine from those little scamps at


So, how did all this come to pass? Well, I guess it all started years ago when I was a young lad. Those were the days when things like Heathkit electronic kits reigned supreme — when it was cheaper (and much more fulfilling) to build your own color television or high-end audio system than it was to buy one.

Similarly, it was cheaper to repair an old device than it was to purchase a new one. You could find TV and Radio repair shops all over the place — they would even come to your house without charging “an arm and a leg” (by comparison, these days a plumber will extract $70 from your wallet just to wipe his feet on your front doormat, if you're lucky).

As the years and decades passed by, however, it became cheaper to buy a product than to buy an equivalent kit, and it became cheaper to throw out an old TV than it was to repair one. The last TV repair shop I knew went out of business several years ago (sad face).

I really began to fear that it was only a few grizzled old die-hards like myself that enjoyed making things anymore. Then, suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, with a fanfare of trumpets, the Maker movement appeared on the scene. Unexpectedly, low-cost microcontroller development kits like the Arduino began to sprout like mushrooms; companies like Adafruit and Sparkfun stepped into the limelight; and TechShops and HakerSpaces flung their doors ajar and welcomed us into their warm embrace.

One thing that I really love is seeing younger folks being introduced to making things. I don’t care if we're talking about electronics and computers, or 3D printing, or building things out of wood — just so long as they are discovering the joy of creating something in the real world.

All of which leads us to the fact that I was just chatting to Zach Kaplan, the CEO of Inventables, which — if you haven't guessed it by now, is a purveyor of fine, low-cost 3D computer-controller carving machines to the aristocracy. This powerful technology is capable of creating precision parts and designs from materials like wood, plastic, and metal.

Zach was telling me about the National Week of Making last summer. To kick things off, the White House hosted an event, which included updates on the President’s call to action to create a “Nation of Makers.” During that meeting, the assembled throng was asked if anyone was prepared to join in. Zach immediately leapt to his feet and committed to donating 50 of his 3D carving machines — one each to a school in every state in the union.

Obviously, selecting the winning institutions was quite a task. Schools were asked to complete three rounds in which they described their establishment, created potential lesson plans and projects, and submitted videos about why they felt their institution should win. The Inventables team selected the schools that they felt were committed to creating the most opportunities for their students to design, prototype, and build their ideas, and to help prepare them for careers in advanced manufacturing, industrial design, and engineering.

The winners were able to choose between three machines: Carvey ($1999), X-Carve 500mm ($1073), and X-Carve 1000mm ($1352). The schools that selected the X-Carve will start receiving their machines this week (those that selected the Carvey machine will get theirs in the March-April timeframe, as this little rascal is currently in its pre-order phase).

Of particular interest to me was the fact that, when I looked at the list of winning schools, I discovered that James Clemens High School was the victor in Alabama. The reason this is of interest is that James Clemens is just a stone's throw up the road from my office.

I contacted the James Clemens Engineering Teacher who had led this effort — Greg Ennis — and we had a great chat about his plans for his students. All I can say is that these students are lucky to have a teacher like Greg who goes the extra mile for this sort of thing; also that they are going to have a blast with their new 3D carving machine.

As an aside, Greg is going to come down to visit my office and see some of my constructions, like the BADASS Display, the Cunning Chronograph, and the Caveman Diorama. Contra wise, I may be invited to take my Cunning Chronograph up to the school to show to his students, but we digress…

The problem arose when I started to meander my way around the website. The more I looked at the X-Carve machine, the more I wanted one.


I can think of so many projects that would benefit from this technology, not the least my Inamorata Prognostication Engine. Consider the prototyping jig shown below:

(Source: Max Maxfield /

My original scheme was to wire things up while the two brass control panels were mounted in this jig, and then transfer everything over into the main cabinet as illustrated below:

(Source: Max Maxfield /

To be honest, I'd not really given much thought to the actual installation in the main cabinet, preferring to leave that as “a problem for another day.” But then a friend dropped by my office and I showed him the various projects. I explained that one of the reasons I'd constructed the inner wooden “sleeve” (box) for the Caveman Diorama was to facilitate taking it out of the television and sitting it on a table to work on it.

My friend immediately asked: “Why don’t you do the same thing with the two control panels for the Inamorata Prognostication Engine?” At which point I exclaimed “D'oh” while slapping myself on the head.

The thing is that this is going to be a tad trickier than you might at first think. There are several subtleties that I don’t wish to explore here. The bottom line, however, is that a substantial amount of intricate (for me) routing is going to be involved.

I've been planning this out and gearing up for the fray when I was introduced to the X-Carve machine. As soon as I saw this little beauty, I thought: “That's the answer!”

The X-Carve with the standard 500mm rails gives you about 300mm x 300mm (12″ x 12″) of working area; the larger 1000mm option gives you around 800mm x 800mm (31″ x 31″) to work with. Can you guess which one I want?

I called my chum Bob in from the next office, showed him the X-Carve on the Inventables website, and asked him what he thought. Bob creates really amazing ceramic pieces as a hobby — he was the one who talked me into buying my kiln — and some of these require intricate bases. Bob said that, if we had an X-Carve here in the office, he would find a lot of use for it. This persuaded me; the way I saw it, purchasing an X-Carve was almost a public service, and I'm nothing if not public-spirited

It turns out that there are all sorts of options to play with, but my dad always told me to not be parsimonious when it comes to tools, so I closed my eyes and ordered a fully-loaded 1000mm model (thanks goodness for credit cards, is all I can say).

Sad to relate, there's currently a two-week lead time on these little scamps, so now I'm anxiously looking out of my office window every time a delivery van arrives, squirming with excitement to see my X-Carve in all its glory. I'll report back further once it's arrived and we've got it up and running — watch this space!

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