Pros/Cons Of Different Materials

I’m completely new to cnc routing and have been looking into different materials to cut into. My top choices are plywood, mdf, particle board and some really thin backer board.

I was curious what the pros or cons are for each. Plywood can be expensive, can cut jagged and has knots, particle/mdf has fine dust and I heard something about the glue being bad in them.

What is a good material to use that yeilds good results for low material cost?

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If you haven’t yet have a look at this:

When working with any material you should do your due diligence and look for any hazards that could be presented in their use. Some materials will outgas during the routing process or as you noted form another thread the dust byproduct could pos an issue. Be safe while having fun.

Thank you

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Thanks for the reply. I saw the page you linked to but all the values are blank…

As you use different materials it would be helpful if you share your experiences on that page. I was providing it as a list of materials you could try. @dlang Has said several times if you can rout it by hand you probably can here too. The cost of the bit needed to cut said material can be prohibitive depending on the bit. This includes woods, ceramics, aluminum, plastics, foam and several composite / synthetic materials. One such line is used in the sign industry. Some scrap is easy to come by if you have shops near by. If you offer to take stuff that normally would be a job I find usually the answer is yes. As in “I see you carry that to the dumpster each day, If you want to pile it next to your work area I’ll come by 10 min before you close each day load in my truck so you don’t have move it.”

When I first got my laser cutter I put everything I could find for free in it see if it would etch , burn or melt. It was quite entertaining, and cause several small fires in the laser cutter but that is how you gain experience and skill.

Anyone have a favorite material you want to share your experiences with here and update the wiki?

instructions on hot to edit the wiki are here -

some other resources

Look up Winston Moy on youtube

Thank you

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I would love for that chart to get filled in and good advice about possible free material. I was mostly curious about the wood (ish) materials I mentioned. I was leaning toward mdf since it seems like you might be able to get the cleanest and inform cut with it. Don’t know what it does to tool life. I guess I’ll have to try them all once I get up and running.

My experience with MDF (not with a router) is that it cuts and works pretty well. I hear it’s harder on tools than stick lumber, but I don’t know by percentage how much it reduces tool life.

Just be mindful of its limitations for what you plan to actually make. It’s no good for outdoor applications as it swells from moisture like a sponge. It’s dense and therefore heavy compared to other similar materials.

Plywood is lighter and stronger. Period.

MDF makes great speaker cabinets and indoor furniture though. It’s used all the time for baseboard moldings and it wears well because of its density. I will never use MDF molding in a bathroom again though. PVC moldings belong there. :slight_smile:

That being said, it’s hard to beat for price and surface smoothness.


Material choice really depends on the application.

Generally speaking, plywood is an excellent choice for structural applications, as it is strong, relatively dimensionally stable (it doesn’t swell like solid wood), and can get wet without getting destroyed. However, you can have problems with tearout much like solid wood, which can ruin your finish. Also, because it is made up of layers of wood, it does not sculpt very well. Finally, plywood has a tendency to warp over time, especially in humid environments.

For my own uses, I primarily use plywood.

MDF, on the other hand, takes detail really well. You can pretty much sculpt using it, especially if you glue multiple layers together. It is even more dimensionally stable than plywood. It does not have the same tendency to warp like plywood does. It does get obliterated by moisture, as others have mentioned. In my experience, it will actually start to fall apart if it gets too wet. It is also VERY heavy. Dust is an issue with MDF as well. A good dust collector should mitigate that, however.

Particle board has similar properties to MDF, except that it doesn’t have the same level of surface finish. Generally speaking, it’s more a substrate for laminated boards than a finished material.

Both MDF and particle board are great candidates for slab doors and other parts that are self-supported and need to not warp.

I have not machined solid wood on my router yet, but I don’t see any reason why you wouldn’t be able to. Unlike plywood, MDF, and particle board, you don’t need to cover the edge grain with banding or nosing. But you often need to glue multiple boards together to get a wide enough panel for most CNC routing. Also, it is the least dimensionally stable material to work with and will warp easily if you’re not careful.

There are also various types of plastics that are good for machining. Generally speaking, they are going to be more expensive than wood products. They do sculpt very well, so long as you have your machining parameters set right and the correct tooling. A lot of plastics are thermally sensitive and if you cut too slowly it will melt and give you a bad surface finish. I have less experience in this area, but I estimate that I will be working a lot more with different types of plastics in the future with my Maslow :smiley:

Maybe I should put some of these observations in the wiki?

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Please put your observations in the wiki :slight_smile:
Help me obi wan you our only hope …

Thank you

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You got me at the Star Wars quote :wink:

I updated the MDF and plywood tables and added particle board to the list. I did not add feedrates, spindle speed, or bit type for MDF and particle board as I have yet to cut those materials on my Maslow. I didn’t want to put speculative information in the wiki. I will be cutting MDF doors at some point in the near future, so I can add my observations then.

I have a couple of questions about the layout of the tables. Maybe @mrfugu could help since he wrote up the templates? What are the specific type and material grade rows for? I’m guessing the specific type would be the kind of plywood, be it Baltic birch, maple, cherry, CDX, etx. As far as the grade, would that be A, B, C grades of plywood, or a generic rating on how well the Maslow works with them? If it’s the latter, that could be very subjective based on what the operator prefers.

Also, I think that the tooling and feedrates section could get cluttered when we start adding various types of tooling to it. Would it be smarter to have a separate tooling wiki that has each tool and what its idea cut parameters are on their own page and let this just be a design and engineering reference?

Sorry if this is hijacking the thread, I can separate this out on its own if that’s a better idea.

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My ‘templates’ were really just to get the ball rolling, kinda the same thing as my thread to solicit people reporting their experiences with TearOut.

Obviously there are tons of different material grades and types, as there are bit designs…

I set up that page to give an idea of materials people have already discussed, cut or reported an intent to cut or that clearly will cut well by a handheld router.

to answer Jayster’s initial question: Quality, Price and Effeciency, you can only choose 2.

that said, standard home improvement store plywood (of whatever finishing grade you want to pay for) is basically the ‘standard’ when ppl say ‘plywood’ here… I would gather closer to A than C grade…

Material selection absolutely depends on your experience and intended use…

ex: for some things ‘off the shelf plywood’ is perfect, for other projects, ONLY ‘grade A, Oakume Marine Plywood from a French (NOT CROATIAN) manufacturer’ will meet the grade. (if worked and finished and maintained properly, exceeds other plywoods by literal decades.)

YMMV, experiment within your skill set and budget and you’ll figure it out!

good luck.