There are several materials other than wood that are popular with our users. Here is a list of the top products we’ve seen and experimented with.
- Corian, Staron or other brands. There are many manufactures for this solid surface acrylic product, but you need to stay away from the variations with “ester” in them. Those variations don’t machine well. Popular uses for this product are lithopanes (carved, backlit photos) and mold masters (can carve very smooth). It comes in almost any color and size you can think of, but we’ve found the most useful is white at 1/4″ thick. We sell this in sizes 8×10, 11×14, and 12×18 in white and bone (very light tan).
- HDU Foam. High Density Urethane or SignFoam is a great machining foam. It’s ideal for outdoor sign work as it’s impervious to weathering. This product is also manufactured by many with various brand names. In our testing we found that anything from 6 lb up works pretty well, and has many applications outside of sign making. Many of our customers usually work with around 10 lb as it’s more affordable. The price goes up with the density level. It can be found online from several sources or check with your local sign companies.
- HDPE. Layered High Density Polyethylene is a common plastic for signs. Everyone has seen these. The colored plastic that is sandwiching another color. When routed the inner color contrasts with the outer to make it stand out. This stuff is everywhere and endless in it’s color and thickness options. It can also be found online from several sources or check with your local sign companies.
- Polycarbonate Cast Acrylics. These plastics are good for part cutting. They come in every color and thickness as well. Its mostly used for sign making to create the large backlit signs you see on businesses. Those letters and other shapes are cut out with a CNC. We sell this in white at same sizes as the corain.
- PVC and other plastic building materials. PVC board and the plastic decking boards you find at the hardware stores carve pretty well. The plastic decking is denser and carves way better, but we’ve seen a lot being done with PVC as well. PVC really needs good dust collection as it’s so statically charged that it will cling to everything and has potential to clog up moving machine parts. You may need to stop and clean regularly if doing large pieces. PVC pipe has become a popular product with the Rotary Jig. There is a tutorial on doing rotary lithos here.
- MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) is by far the most used material with CNC. More so than wood I’d wager. It’s cheap, easy to work with, easy to smooth and paint, and again it’s cheap. CNC users like to do test carves to ensure everything is correct before putting that expensive piece of wood into the machine. If its not being stained, than MDF just makes more sense. You use it for everything.
- The blue and pink Insulation foams. This carves well but needs dust collection because of the static and clogging parts issues. It’s very inexpensive and sold everywhere, so really great for lightweight projects like the 3 foot space ship hanging from my ceiling.
There are more I’m sure, but these are what we see and work with most. We get calls all the time asking if we can carve on this or that, and the standard answer is to look at the MSDS or specs to see if it lists it as “machinable”.