Sketchup to CNC - Advice

Hi Guys,

I was hoping for a bit of advice or help…I have looked around forums and google but can’t quite find clear answers, however that might just be.

I will try to keep this simple, our business is looking to invest in a fairly standard CNC for wooden carvings. I’ve been using sketchup for a number of years and although I’m still no pro I feel I can use it for good enough for what we need for work.

What I use this for is to design parts for machines we have here or for new product prototypes, this are then printed using our 3D printer…now I feel I’ve got this down to a tee, I really don’t come across many problems with this and everything comes out the way I plan.

My MD has seen potential in me I guess and like I said wants to invest in a CNC machine for plastic and wooden carvings for our business.

With our 3D printer I know the limitations of size it will print so design my models around that, I can see these sizes on CNC machines but not with the height or how deep they will carve…am I missing something?

My main target here is to find a machine that I can use alongside sketchup, design whatever I want produce on sketchup (or another program if I have to), convert and then send to CNC to carve…I’m appreciate there will be more to it than this but that’s the jist.

I’m struggling to find the info on where the limitations for size are when looking for a machine when it comes to height.

I’d be grateful if someone here could just throw me some pointers of what the main things are I should be looking for with what we want it to do.

Thanks in advance

We, the University I work for, bought a Shark HD4 a few years ago. I honestly don’t use SU with it as I don’t need to. It came with VCarve Desktop software that is pretty easy to use. It can bring it lots of vector and some raster files which it can convert to vector. It has a 25"x25"x4" (I think on the Z) work area. It is open on each end so longer pieces can be feed through it if needed. We’ve made signs around campus from recycled wood from trees cut on campus and reclaimed wood from broken furniture. We opened a remote campus from an old tobacco warehouse and used the original floor boards as give-a-ways at the grand opening.
This unit is pretty well built and was about $5k USD so not cheap. We go through bits quickly depending on if we use hard wood for projects. It looks like they have the HD520 now and has a travel area XYZ of 25’’ x 50’’ x 7’’ so not bad at all for $5k. It can also take a 4th axis add-on if you want to go that route.

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your input, I’ve only just had a chance to read it but I will take a look into the Shark machines…we haven’t discussed a budget yet so I’m not really sure what my MD is thinking.

One question though…I’m assuming the Z travel of 4, 5 or 7 inches is the max depth of the cut aswell…ie, if we were to made a 3D car for example, then the max hieght of the car would be whatever the Z travel was…within reason ?

Thanks again

Yes, your max Z travel is as tall as you can use. Such is the limit of consumer CNC machines :wink:

I had though so but didnt want to buy a 5K machine and realise there was some random rule i hadn’t checked


As far as using SketchUp with a CNC, at the end of the day all you’re doing is putting G Code into the CNC machine to make it cut stuff. You can create G Code with a bunch of different CAM programs, many for different purposes. Not only do I use a bunch of different CAM programs, I make one as well so happy to field any questions there.

As far as what machine you should choose, for carvings you’re likely going to find a lot of machines that can cut up to 6-8" in the Z axis. There are taller ones if you want, but likely if you’re doing carvings you won’t need to go too much higher than that.

I’ve seem some people get a rotating 4th axis for their machines and take out the table in the middle so they can mount whole logs and carve things like statues and the like…

As far as what machine to get that answer really depends on what you want to cut, and how fast you want to cut it. In the lighter duty end you could look at something like an Inventables X Carve. If you’re looking at something larger (and more heavy duty) I’d look at ShopBot, Camaster, and Avid CNC. They make a variety of sizes and prices. Both SB and Avid make machines that ship flat and can be assembled in your space, good if you can’t get access to a commercial space and a forklift…

Hope that’s a good start. Let me know if you have any other quesitons…

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Thanks Eric,

I plan to use sketchup as it’s free and i’m firmilar with it, i have used Solidworks in the past but unless things change i doubt we’ll be getting that…its a great program but for what we want the machine to do it’s overkill at the moment.

The width and length/depth is easy to work out in respect to getting the biggest as to where the mchine will go or fit in the workshop, I’m just making sure that the height is something we dont want to regret later on so want to make sure we get that right. I’ve seen some cheaper machines but in the spec’s they weren’t saying what the height or Z axis is capible of.

Another question i have (bare with me if this sounds daft but this is new to me) and that is…I’ve seen on some youtube vid’s where machines make 2 cut’s, the first being really rough to get the shape of the model and then the 2nd cut to give it the really fine detail…is this 2 seperate drawings/jobs sent to the machine or when designing the model do you program it as one job?

I will take a look at those machine you recommend, thanks again

You can send those jobs different ways… Some machines have tool changers, some do not. On machines that don’t it’s typically two files, although some machines have the ability to prompt the operator to change the tool. On a tool changer machine, the tool changer does it automatically.

If you’re doing a carving with multiple toolpath types, but the same bit you can send one file over and let it run. Does that make sense?

Also, in regards to the Z it’s most likely that any commercial router is going to have what you need. If you’re carving wood you likely won’t put anything on the table that’s over 3" tall, and most of these machines have 5-6" Z axes. Remember most bits are only 2-3" long at most anyway.

Where you can run unto trouble is if you’re cutting out bit billets of foam, those can come in really thick. For that some of these machine makers will make you an extra tall Z. You sacrifice rigidity, but for cutting in foam that doesn’t matter. You also would need to get extra long bits to reach that deep.

It does make sense, we have a vinyl printer here and although thats a different machine altogether the operation sounds similar…I design a label or whatever which contains multiple background and forground colours and the machine or pc will tell you when each colour needs changing but I am aware that high-end will do this this for you…

My MD can get a bit crazy sometimes and forget limitations, some of the things he’s asked me to do on our 3D printer is unreal

Looking around I think 3" would be fine for what we would want it for, I quite like the look of the Stinger 1 from Camaster…

With VCarve it’s all done in one drawing with different paths with different tools. Again this comes with the Shark CNC machine :wink:

I’ve just done a brief search about Vcarve and found some tutorials/videos…i will watch these before making any rash decisions.

I’m from the UK so i need to make sure i dont get caught out with USA/UK differences as well

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It’s not free for commercial use. I’m affraid you would need the PRO-version for that…

Thanks, Tweenulzeven…i will bare that in mind

I need to make time and see if Easel will work with our Shark CNC. It looks very easy but it might only work with their X-Carve CNC.