Carbide3D’s Shapeoko line has proven to be an incredibly popular router among hobbyists, largely for its price point and upgrade potential. SMW picked up the standard Shapeoko 3 a couple years back, and recently Vince has been cranking out some amazing ProvenCut recipes on the Shapeoko as well as some other hobby machines (click here to check out ProvenCut, a database of proven speeds and feeds recipes for beginners and seasoned machinists alike. While you’re at it, check out Vince on Instagram as @vince.fab!) Here are the upgrades he has found to be the most beneficial so far:
Steel Core Belts
Some earlier Shapeoko 3 models shipped with black steel core belts from the factory, but these can be a little tricky to use reliably. Vince has found white polyurethane steel core to be preferable, but they do have their pros and cons:
Steel core belts stretch around 50% less and should be able to achieve the advertised cut tolerances without extra calibration when tensioned properly. If you exceed the tension/load range, belt life is reduced quite a bit and core failures can happen in a short amount of time. Crashing the machine hard has also been known to overload them. When a steel core belt fails, the main body stays intact and the core failure is easily noticed with a quick visual inspection.
Stock polyester belts usually require a circle-square-diamond test and small adjustments to GRBL step defaults for consistent and accurate cutting. With regular use they can gradually stretch and lose tension which means semi-frequent testing and adjusting is required. When these fail, they will snap completely and can create a dangerous condition where an axis can be free floating with the machine still under power.
Regardless of your choice, belts should be treated as a consumable wear item and need to be replaced on a regular basis. For steel cores, a 6-8 month replacement interval with regular machine use is a pretty safe bet. Stock belts can last 12+ months but might need a few adjustments in that time. Belts should be visually inspected at the beginning of each day of use. Due to the low cost ($25 for 10 meters) for high performance gain, steel cores are a great upgrade for those that cut hard materials or cut aggressively.
Kevlar belts have been used by others with good results but the cost is considerably higher ($100 for 10 meters). These approach the stiffness of the steel and do not suffer from fatigue due to tight bend radius.
There’s a pretty extensive thread on Carbide3D’s forum regarding belt materials, tension, and stepper holding forces that you can check out here if interested.
Like many hobby machines the Shapeoko 3 line relies on electrical conduction for probing parts. This can become an issue when using a metal fixture plate which creates a false conduction path, and Carbide3D solved this issue with their BitZero V2 probe which has a plastic bottom to isolate the probe from the rest of the machine. For BitZero V1 use, Vince instead elected to space the controller mount/heat sink off of the machine frame using plastic standoffs/spacers. This has the same effect and hasn’t caused any issues. This mod may also have a positive effect with EMI issues due to the controller isolation. No additional frame grounding wiring have been needed and disconnects have not been an issue with router/spindle usage as long as separate circuits are used.
Programmable Brushless Router
The Shapeoko is compatible with any number of routers and spindles, but we’ve found the Makita RT0701C router to be reliable even with extended use of high rpm. Makitas use genuine NSK main bearings that have been proven to be higher quality and more reliable than any “clone”. They also have a wide 10,000-30,000 rpm range and that allows for more freedom with tooling and speeds/feeds.
For less maintenance, the brushless Makita XTR01Z can be used but will need internal wiring modifications to plug into a DC power supply. For more advanced users that would like to have full control over the XTR01Z, the stock speed controller can be swapped with a VESC motor controller. This will let you program the BLDC motor and manually control it with your computer over USB connection with the benefit of graphing real time data and allowing datalogging. For those of you that use calculators for speeds/feeds, the VESC data logs will let you compare real world power usage and allow you to fine tune for different types of cuts and materials.
- Stiffener Rails – both the Shapeoko 3XL and 3XXL have built in stiffener rails which increase the rigidity of the machine. We offer a set of aftermarket stiffener rails for the standard Shapeoko 3 which is missing these from the factory. We’ve found that these make a world of difference when machining metals like aluminum and brass.
- Fixture Plates – we also offer modular aluminum fixture plates for each Shapeoko model (3, 3XL, and 3XXL) which not only increase the rigidity of the machine frame but greatly increase workholding flexibility over the stock spoilboard.
- Modular Vise System – compatible with our fixture plates, our modular vises are a low profile, easy to use alternative to a standard vise. Their two piece design make them the perfect choice for large and small parts alike, and vise jaws can easily be swapped as needed (including swapped for soft jaws!).
Fixture Plate Installation Instructions
- Make sure the machine is well squared and trammed before installing the new fixture plate.
- Remove the MDF wasteboard
- WITH SMW stiffener rails – remove the feet from the steel frame and unbolt/remove the mdf wasteboard. Assemble the two plates to the rails on the flattest surface you have. Tighten bolts from the center out in stages, snug/tight/final tq. Slide the assembled fixture plate on top of the steel frame rails.
- WITHOUT SMW stiffener rails – unbolt and remove the mdf wasteboard, then slide in both fixture plate halves.
- Tighten the outer frame bolts from center out in stages, snug/tight/final torque (approx. 8 ft-lb)
*Optional: For added precision you can use an indicator to sweep the fixture plate and shim in between the plate and steel frame.