First CNC: First projects
November 1, 2023 | 8:55 am CDT
Inventables X-Carve Pro Z-probe

Setting the Z-axis zero on the Inventables X-Carve Pro is easy using a probe supplied with the machine and the built-in Easel software.

After planning the wasteboard, I was ready to roll up my sleeves and start making projects on the Inventables X-Carve Pro cnc router. With every new project I’ve learned some lessons and gained more confidence in the machine. Here’s a look at some things I’ve done to date, along with any hiccups or challenges that came up.

First project
Built into the Easel software that comes with the Inventables X-Carve Pro is a project labeled “Intro to Easel.” It’s a simple sign designed to walk you through the basic steps of making something on the CNC router. The basic image was a name and a little robot icon. To learn how the program worked, I first modified, then deleted the robot image. Next I changed the font, size, and placement of the type, as well as the size of the sign.

During this process, you learn about selecting bits (I chose a 90-degree ¼-inch-shank V-carving bit, which came with the machine), identifying the material to be cut, and setting basic parameters for machining.

Bits. Inventables includes some basic bits with the machine, including an Amana 1-1/8-inch surfacing bit, an Amana ½-inch 90-degree V-groove bit, an LMT Onsrud 3/16-inch carbide 2-flute downcut spiral, and an LMT Onsrud ¼-inch carbid 2-flute downcut spiral. All of the bits are ¼-inch shanks.

Materials. The Easel program has  built-in selections for materials, but changing the material selection doesn’t seem to alter much beside the 3D rendering of what you are going to make.
Settings. Clicking on an item in your Easel layout brings up a dialog box with settings for location, attributes, cutting depth, and cut path. There is also a separate pull-down cut settings menu with Automatic and Manual options as well as Fill and Plunge controls.

Anxious to see my first project, I selected mostly the default and automatic settings, grabbed a piece of birch plywood scrap I had on hand and mounted it in the machine.

Securing work on X-Carve Pro
With no vacuum clamping available, a combination of wood and metal clamps located out of the way of the spindle are required to secure the work.

Securing the work
As an entry level professional grade machine, one of the things missing from the X-Carve Pro is any kind of vacuum hold-down system. You have to use manual clamping devices. The machine comes with wood and metal screw-down clamps you can use.

Every project has different hold-down strategies. For this basic sign, I made sure there was plenty of room around the cut area, so I could use the clamps without getting in the way of the cutter and spindle. The wasteboard that comes with the machine has threaded inserts at regular intervals to provide clamping points, and the machine also has T-tracks down the center and on the sides for clamping devices.

Cutting procedure
It should be noted that the Easel software that runs the X-Carve Pro is web-based, so you’ll need to have a reliable internet connection to operate the router. With everything connected, the router controller turned on, and the workpiece secured, I was ready to hit the “Carve” button and start.

That launches a list of steps to make sure you are ready to work. Easel asks you to confirm the thickness of the workpiece and the material, the bit mounted in the machine, and then it walks you through a zeroing procedure. You use the controls in Easel to jog the machine over the work, then, using a probe supplied with the machine, you connect the probe to the Human Machine Interface (HMI) and the spindle. Next, after confirming the probe is connected correctly, you tell it to probe, and it contacts the probe to determine the Z-axis zero.

Next, you remove the probe and jog the machine to the X-Y-axis zero of the project and record that. With everything zeroed, you are ready to actually get started machining.

Dust hood on X-Carve Pro CNC
The dust collection works surprisingly well as little to no dust shows up during the machining of this simple sign cut with a V-groove bit.

First cut
Easel reminds you to hook up your dust collection and even offers to raise the spindle to make it easier. Strangely, it doesn’t actually tell you to turn on the dust collection. It does tell you to turn on the spindle and confirm it is running. Then, finally comes the moment of truth. You hit the “Carve” button and away it goes.

Finished first sign on X-Carve Pro
The finished sign looks great and took only a few minutes to cut.

Watching that first project was pretty exciting, I have to say. The program has a feature to simulate the toolpath and tell you how long it will take. In this case, it was about 6 minutes, and the result was just what I expected.

Cutting drink coasters on X-Carve Pro CNC
A first attempt at some logo drink coasters shows the challenge of reproducing detail. This was cut with too large of a bit (90-degree V-groove).

Detailed coasters
The sign project was simple and large enough that details were not an issue. I decided to tackle something a little more challenging. I wanted to make some drink coasters with the logo of a friend’s business on them. I imported an image of the logo into Easel using the built-in image trace tool. That made it easy for resizing and placing the logo.

Using some ½-inch MDF, I started to follow the same steps as the simple sign project, but I immediately ran into issues with trying to represent the finer detail required for the coasters. I changed to a Freud 15-degree V-groove bit. That worked better.

Close up drink coasters X-Carve Pro CNC
Changing to a smaller bit (15-degree V-groove) helped bring out the fine detail in the logo.

To cut the coasters out of the MDF, I created a second step with a ¼-inch downcut spiral bit. Easel created tabs to hold the circles in place during cuts so that clamping only the perimeter of the workpiece was enough. That worked well. After cutting the tabs, I used a round-over bit in a conventional router table to finish the coasters.

Tabs hold coasters in place while cutting on X-Carve Pro CNC
Tabs put in by the Easel program, allow the coasters to stay secure while being cut out. When done, the tabs are manually cut and coasters were machined with a round-over bit on a manual router table.

Next projects
Coming up, we’ll explore more complex projects, including my first nested-base cut, more detailed work, carving a chair seat, and cutting panels for kitchen doors and drawer fronts. You can follow the progress at To watch these projects in action, click on the video below. For more about the Inventables X-Carve Pro, visit

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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.