Posted by & filed under Kickstarter, Open Hardware, Project, Shapeoko, Upgrades.

While everyone is celebrating the impending arrival of the newest member of the Shapeoko Family (the big 3), we can’t forget the thriving community members who are still doing awesome things with the Shapeoko 2. One such individual is Nick Williams who is heading up the LaserInk Project, a laser head upgrade for the SO2 and CNC software package. LaserInk is currently in its initial funding stage on Kickstarter.

I recently sat down with Nick (virtually) to try and understand his vision for the LaserInk project, as well as his motivation as a Maker. (Note: The following statements have been rearranged to appear as a coherent conversation.)

Winston: Could you share a bit about your background? You seem to be a Maker at heart, what are some of the experiences that got you to where you are today?

Nick: Graduated from Sacramento State University California in 94 with a BS in CS. Most of my career has been developing software for industrial applications such as machinery protection and process automation. I currently work at Hamilton Medical where I develop software for liquid handling robotics. Imagine a CNC with a pippetter on the end. I purchased a 3D makerbot printer 2 1/2 years ago and have been heavily involved with Bridgewire, a local maker space during the same time period.

This project was started about 2 years ago. Bridgewire was donated a non operational CO 2 laser. A friend from Bridgewire and I replaced the electronics with an Uno running grbl and brought it back to life. I was not happy with the open source software available for generating gcode to control the laser and decided to start writing my own. At first I only provided support for vector files then came Mono Chrome image rastering, and now I have complete support for image shading.

I started working with CNC machinery about 2 years ago and signed up to support the Othermill kickstarter campaign back in may of 2013. Unfortunately they were almost a year late with the project I finally got it Aug 2014. While waiting I purchased a Shapeoko last January. I started enhancing the software to generate GCode for the Shapeoko with support for 2-1/2 D vector files. I demonstrated the software at the San Francisco MakerFaire last May, and received some positive feedback.

I became aware of a number of projects that were using solid state lasers and that was the seed for what is now the laserink project. These small lasers are really not so different from their larger CO2 counter parts.


Winston: What is your vision for LaserInk?

Nick: My vision in short is to turn the Shapeoko into a multi-purpose machine.

If this project is successful then I would like to do a second project that would provide a 3D printing head for the Shapeoko. Additionally as part of the 3D printer head I would add support to the software that would allow users to work with STL files. At the point that I have implemented the slicer for the 3D printing I will also have the ability to work with 3D models for CNC work. I have done some early prototyping and know that this is possible, it is just a matter of time and effort.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 10.51.18 AM

Winston: Could you tell me a bit about who’s involved in the project? Are you drawing on other peoples’ expertise or experience?

Nick: I have been the technical point for this project, having done everything from board design, software, firmware modifications for the grbl, and the 3D modeling. From a work distribution I have spent most of my time developing the software again this has all been done by myself.

I have had a number of individuals help me with many of the business aspects.

Ashley Jennings, was hired on a consultant basis to help with the branding she also traveled to New York with me to the MakerFaire you may have met her there.

Jeremy Osborn, both friend and colleague he and I rebuilt the laser at Bridgewire, it was this project which has been the seed that is now the LaserInk project.

Ryan McMasters, He helped with the Video.

Matthew Hansen, He has setup my website.

Countless others with small contributions.


Winston: For those who aren’t familiar with the project, what are some of the defining features of LaserInk?

Nick: Major Features include:
1) Photo Engraving
2) Vector Support
3) Integrated Software
4) Quick Change from CNC to Laser
5) Dual support for also sending vector files to CNC.

Photo Engraving:
The biggest feature is the photo engraving I have worked hard to make this simple and easy for the user to convert photo into laser art. The only offering that is similar to what I have done is the PicEngraver software I have reviewed there software and I believe that my software has is simpler to use. They do have more features then I do but the work flow is much more complex.

Additionally the firmware mod allows the the grbl to be used as both a CNC and as a laser engraver, again supporting the context of a dual purpose machine.

Vector Support:
There exist an open source plugin for Inkscape that allows users to to export GCode from Inkscape. My software is far superior to this because I give the user precise control over which vectors are selected also the ability to set power for each pass and the multi-pass feature is nice.

Integrated Software:
By integrating the ability to select artwork (Photos and vector files) then opening communication to the instrument and then sending the files directly to the machine, I have created a simpler work flow this simplifies life for the user.

Quick Change from CNC to Laser:
I have designed the hardware and software to allow the users to quickly go from using the the Shapeoko as a CNC to a laser in a few minutes. I have seen other Shapeoko’s modified to do laser work but I think what I have done is far superior and simpler.

Dual support for also sending vector files to CNC:
I have also added software support for the CNC while similar to Maker CAM and Easel in its support for vector files I have the ability to allow user to order there cuts based on the colors of the original vector drawing allowing the user to design the vector files and use color as part of the design work.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 10.48.20 AM

Winston: Any plans to expand support for various platforms and laser-types? (I know you mentioned LaserBlade in the Kickstarter) If so, what would be the hardware requirements to get the LaserInk software to work with other laser heads?

Nick: I currently do not have any concrete plans for supporting other lasers (as in other laser machines), if this project is successful then I would like to focus on added a 3D printing head to the Shapeoko. I believe that my software is compatible with the Laser Cube (Another successful Kickstarter grbl based Laser) out of the box they would just need to use the Mono Chrome options with rastering turned of. The Laser Cube does not support sending power setting to the laser, i.e. shading. I still need to verify this before advertising this feature.

It is a different issue for other laser modules. The hardware design has the laser and the heat sink as a separate module. I do want to allow for other laser diodes there are two pins on the power modulation board replacing or up grading the laser is a matter of plugging in these two pins. If an upgrade is done then the user will need to reconfigure the power board. The board will support 5 amps at 20 volts, this is a lot of power and at these level additional cooling requirements are needed. As a frame of reference I am configuring the board to deliver 5 volts at 1.8 amps. I am very cautious of offering different laser modules as I want the out of the box experience to be easy I would need to do significant test with any alternative choice. DTR offers a laser module that is 5 watts ($350) that should be completely compatible with my hardware but I have not tested and verified this so I am hesitant to make that claim, it is however on my to-do list.

I currently have a working relation with the Laserblade group my software has been sent to them for testing. I am going to get an early release of the LaserBlade so that I can verify the software compatibility, and Dominic (the head guy) has been reviewing my kickstarter. There are no hardware requirements, only software. For the LazerBlade the user would have an additional option on the front page and Z movements would be disabled. The generated code is a little different from mine but the concept of moving the machine with small line segment is identical.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 10.46.30 AM

Winston: Any system requirements? I know you recommended Win7 for the build that I’m using. Will that be “officially” expanded to Win 8? Other OSes?

Nick: The software I shipped you should work on Win 7 32/64 and Win 8 (not sure if they offer a 32 bit version???) I do not plan on supporting XP but in theory it should still work because of the architecture and components being used. I only brought this up when I shipped to you because I have not done platform testing and I know from my professional career that occasionally issues arise.

There exist a path to convert the software to run on both the mac and linux machines I may offer this as a reward level but for the initial release at this time I only plan to support windows. I have actually removed features that would hamper this effort. Originally I had pretty graphics that were seen when the application first started but these graphics were not supported by MONO(lib that allows my stuff to run on Linux and Mac) so I removed it.


Winston: What’s the complete list of stuff you get with the LaserInk kit?

Nick: What you get is:

Laser Ink Kit,
Laser Head,
4 ft Cat 5 Cable to connect Laser Head to Power Module
Power Module
Laser Glasses

The laser head will consist of
1) bolts needed to attach to Shapeoko Gantry
2) 445nm M140 Diode & Three Element Glass Lens (i.e. The laser)
3) The head also contains a Flex Mod P3 Driver to control power to the laser.

Power Module will consist of
1) 12 volt power supply with connector
2) on of switch
3) cat 5 connector to laser head
4) screw in terminal for grnd and signal to go to uno or other controller.

Screen Shot 2014-12-27 at 10.43.24 AM

Winston: If people have any specific questions about LaserInk, how can they
get in touch with you?

Nick:, (contact form at bottom), and also nick<at>

I want to thank Nick for taking the time to share some of his background, as well as answer some of the more technical questions that you simply could not fit into a Kickstarter project page. LaserInk launches today and you can check them out here:

I recently got a chance to try out LaserInk for myself, and you can see a video of that right here:


Posted by & filed under design, Open Hardware, Shapeoko, Uncategorized.

All the parts are arriving

Boxes filled with shiny new parts showing up every day at the shop has made it feel like the holidays came early!

With enough parts delivered to start building, I packed everything up and headed out to LA to be with the team at Carbide 3D while we built up Unit #1.

The part on the top of the ‘must have’ list was definitely the X/Y axis extrusion. There was a massive lead time to get this part into production, and a 100 hoops to jump through, but finally last week we took delivery of a few pieces harvested from the very first extrusion run.  Without further ado, here it is in all it’s glory


Once the shock and awe of how awesome the extrusion was wore off, OK.. subsided, we moved on to putting the pieces together. The photo shows the extrusion un-tapped, which it was when we took it out of the box. For you, the extrusions will be tapped! A couple of M6 screws later, and we had ourselves the beginning of a Shapeoko 3.


One of the first things you’ll notice about the machine is hardware used to attach the extrusions to the plates. With big’ol extrusions, you need something larger than an M5 to hold it all together. We had to bump everything up to an M6. And those idlers.. yeah, those are full on sealed flanged bearings with an M8 bore. They’re beefy.

The motor mount location, behind the extrusion, is designed to accept both a nema17 and a nema23 motor. The fit was perfect, tightening the screws pulled the boss on the nema23 right through the hole and the nema17 was a perfect fit as well.


Unfortunately, we have not received the extrusions for the Z-axis yet. They are due for delivery next week. In the meantime, we did our best to complete the build with all of the parts we had on hand.



Shapeoko 3 is still a ‘design in progress’ and we are committed to delivering the best machine we can, and to make sure we execute on the specs of the machine we’ve promised. We’re still playing around with a lot of ideas, one of which is to replace the base extrusions with purpose built laser cut pieces. During this phase of the build we had to make due with what we had around the shop, with all that said, these pictures are showing a machine that is definitely still a work in progress.

One part that isn’t a work in progress is the spindle mount! Made from 6061 aluminum, and vibratory finished, this part is one of my favorites of the whole machine.


The current price of $799 is a special for the pre-order phase, at the end of the month, the price will increase to $899. As we get closer to shipping in February, the machine will retail for closer to $999.

If you want to get in before the price bump, visit the Shapeoko home page.

We’ll have more parts and more build pictures coming again in a few weeks.

Until Then,
Edward, Rob, Jorge, Apollo

Shapeoko 3

Posted by & filed under design, Open Hardware, Shapeoko.

New Machine

Shapeoko 3 is now official! We’re taking pre-orders and plan to ship by the end of February. See the home page for a thorough rundown of all the improvements Shapeoko 3 has to offer.

If you know you’re in for one, click here to pre-order!



The most obvious improvement in the new machine is the rail system. We designed not one, but two completely custom extrusions made specifically for Shapeoko. The new, larger, rail is about 85mm tall and 55mm wide. It has an awesomely thick 5mm wall!

The z-axis extrusion was designed to bring everything as close to the X rail as possible. Decreasing the potential lever arm effect of the spindle being further away from the rail.

Our base frame is made from 5 pieces of pre-machined 20×20 extrusion. No brackets or t-nuts required. Everything bolts directly together.

While the machine doesn’t ship with a spindle, we are included an aluminum mount for a Dewalt DW611 trim router. It’s a great spindle, with electronic speed control, that you can pickup just about anywhere for around $100. Trust us when we say “it’s a beast!”.

Belt tensioning is done through a new design that only requires you tighten a screw to tension the belt. While we’re talking about belts – the new machine uses the tried and true GT2 (2mm pitch) belting in it’s open ended format for the X and Y axis. And a closed loop belt for the z-axis.

Shapeoko 3 ships with powerful nema17 motors, but if you want to add even more power, all 3 axis will accept NEMA23 form factor, without modification.

Right now everything is on order to build our first batch. The extrusions had a very long lead time, but should be arriving soon for us to build up our final prototype before production. once we get the prototype put together, we’ll shoot some videos, take some pictures, and release those for everyone to drool over see.


Even More News!

It’s been a really exciting past couple of months here at Shapeoko HQ! In addition to launching Shapeoko 3 today, I am pleased to announce that Shapeoko, LLC is now part of Carbide3D. A few weeks ago we made it official, now I’m part of their company, and Shapeoko is officially a Carbide3D product.

The team over at Carbide3D has an incredible machine in their Nomad 883, and a really great group of people behind it. Once you’ve seen their machine, it’s clear that they know what they’re doing when it comes to designing, manufacturing, and writing software for a turn-key CNC machine.

Joining up with Carbide3D will bring lots of experience in software development, large scale manufacturing, and a host of other skills that are going to help make Shapeoko even better.

Needless to say, I’m really pumped about what we have planned for 2015!


Posted by & filed under Community, Project.

The ultimate way to convince your significant other to let you buy a CNC.

When people come across something interesting, they usually file it away in the back of their minds after an arbitrary period of admiration. It’s why people spend hours on Reddit, or why Pinterest inspires digital hoarding. We are a society of spectators, observers. But not all people are content with content consumption, these divergent individuals are Makers and they choose to craft their own satisfaction. Joe Ternus is one such person.

Fueled by ambition and using a Shapeoko 2, Joe created his own take on reddit user curtisabrina’s original over-engineered marriage proposal:

Although technically less intricate than the original, it is still a fantastic example of what’s possible when you give a creative person a CNC. Even better, (including tools) Joe’s version cost an order of magnitude less than the original to make.

I recently had the chance to interview Joe about this project and his thought process. I hope some of you will find his story interesting and perhaps be inspired to take a shot at a project you’d been putting off for one reason or another. Read more »

Posted by & filed under design, Milling, Project, Upgrades.

Next to accessorizing your Shapeoko with things like side shields or stepper motor upgrades, an enclosure can be one of the most useful additions you can bestow on your CNC. Not only can you cut down on noise and dust, but with the right setup you can even turn your desktop CNC into a portable milling station.

One of the most persistent challenges I’ve encountered in milling (other than uncooperative materials like Polyurethane) is keeping my workspace clean. Dust and swarf always seem to find a way to escape the suction of my vacuum and reach every corner of the room I’m in. I’ve been doing a lot of research into other peoples Shapeoko setups in an effort to improve my machining experience, and there seem to be two common solutions:

1) Use a dust shoe
2) Use an enclosure

Since I like seeing exactly what my end mill is doing, a dust shoe wasn’t an option for me. Instead I set my sights on building a cheap but sturdy enclosure out of wood. Soundproofing wasn’t a primary objective, but I could incorporate acoustic tiles in a future upgrade if I wanted.

Here’s a rough breakdown of what I bought for this project:
1/2″ plywood, 2×4′ – $10
1/4″ (5mm) plywood, 4×4′ – $10
3/32″ Optix Acrylic sheets, asst. – $30
Wood screws, asst. – $8
LED strip & 12V adapter – $15

Plexiglass is one of the biggest cost drivers for this project, so if you are willing to sacrifice visibility you can replace one or two walls of your enclosure with plywood. Not only would you save money, but you would improve the acoustics as well. As for assembly, I would recommend getting a pocket screw jig instead of the cheap but slow method I used.

Your mileage may vary, but already I think building my enclosure was time well spent.

Posted by & filed under Milling, Project, Software.

Two useful CNC techniques to know when you’re first starting out and looking for projects are image vectorization and tool changing. Being able to create toolpaths from jpegs and performing multi-step milling operations will open up a lot of project possibilities. Here’s the results of my own experimentation with these techniques.

Some other thoughts: Inkscape may not be the most user-friendly tool to use, but if you focus on learning a few features at a time (like image tracing) you’ll find the program progressively less daunting. At least that’s how I felt about it. Also, buying a variety of carbide bits on ebay is a great way to experiment on the cheap.

Posted by & filed under Community, Milling, Project.

We all know the Shapeoko is good for carving designs in soft materials like wood and plastic, and is capable of cutting through copper-clad boards and aluminum (albeit slowly). But Shapeoko Forum users Xaracen and KevinB have been playing around with something a bit further off the beaten path: Slate

As it turns out, slate is a viable material for engraving because although it is very rigid, it demonstrates very little fracture propagation. Instead of an end mill gouging out large chunks of material, slate readily pulverizes locally. This allows fine designs to be laid into the stone without a lot of unsightly chips forming.

As for sourcing the slate, you can scour your backyard for sufficiently flat specimens OR take a trip to your preferred hardware store and ask for floor/wall tiles.

I often go to the Shapeoko Forums for inspiration and these were two projects that really intrigued me. I’ll definitely be trying this out for myself in the future.

Photo Credit: Xaracen (top), KevinB (Bottom). Click images for direct links to forum posts.

Posted by & filed under design, Project, prototype.

CNC projects can be as simple as plaques, or as complex as something like a geared clock. Building up to the latter means understanding what is CNC-able, and planning out the kinematics of your desired mechanism. Here’s a fairly basic project I undertook last week, a shoulder stock for my plywood hex nut slingshot. I designed a set of interlocking pieces that ratchet backwards when adjusted for user comfort.

Posted by & filed under Shapeoko, Software.

For my past few projects I’ve been using MeshCAM to generate gCode for my Shapeoko. So far, it’s worked quite well for my needs. But for those of you who are just starting out in CNC, you might be wondering if you really need to shell out two or three hundred dollars to enter the wonderful world of 3D milling. The short answer is: no. There are a handful of options out there you can download for free and start using with just a few clicks.

The long answer is a little more complicated. While there are indeed free 3D CAM programs out there, you really need to try them out for yourself to see if their features, capabilities, and limitations are a good fit for your application. This week, I’m taking alook at two options: FreeMILL and PyCAM and discussing where they excel and fall short.

Posted by & filed under Milling, prototype, Shapeoko.

A quick weekend project to fix one of my minor office annoyances.

Having to pick up your phone to read your notifications may seem like a first world problem, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be dispatched in an elegant way. In the pursuit of desktop nirvana, I set out to make myself a simple smartphone stand with as little assembly as possible. The plan of attack was to machine out a predetermined shape in Acrylic and then thermoform it in what would essentially be plastic origami. You can judge the results for yourself, but I think version 1.0 doesn’t look too bad.

You can read about some recommended cutting parameters for different materials here:, but from my limited experience, I would say the most important thing in cutting acrylic is to keep your passes fast and shallow. Thermal dissipation in a small diameter cutter tends to be very poor so heat management is key. You may want to do some test passes in scrap plastic at different spindle speeds to find the sweet spot for your machine.

There are a few things I would improve such as widening the back “foot” for stability and upgrading to 0.125″ thick acrylic for more rigidity, but those plans will have to wait until next time.