Cnc what are best materials to use for decorative pieces

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tony darlington

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10 Apr 2023
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Hi, all, my first post so please be gentle ha. I have bought (on a whim tbh) a CNC machine and a laser machine planning to be a millionaire by May on Etsy! I don't think I will manage that but I am enjoying my new hobby but find it amazingly frustrating as well, mostly because of material sourcing.
- MDF I find unfinishable to a decent standard with paint by brush or spray especially the edges
- Ply the same as mdf if you want to have pretty edges on finished items
- Softwood cups almost immediately and becomes almost impossible to CNC precisely because of the cupping
- Hardwoods are so expensive the finished pieces would need to be twice the price of any of our Eastern European competition's similar pieces.
So has anyone found any good materials to use on CNC that would be viable price-wise or found any way to get over the above?
While waiting for replies I will cancel my yacht as I don't think my first million is coming in May Ha.
Much depends on the type of thing you make.MDF isn't too bad until you break through the surface and then it becomes a nightmare to finish-but it can be done,as you can see by taking a look at the painted doors on some kitchen furniture.A good sealer is the foundation and then serious de-nibbing. Ply varies according to species and while birch finishes quite nicely,it has gone from a bit pricey to unbelievably expensive in the last few years.

Softwood of decent quality is still out there if you look for it and if you take some pains to pick quarter sawn,you can get a decent outcome.Otherwise maybe lime or basswood might come into play.

I have no idea what products you are planning to crank out but unless you plan to run several dozen of the same thing in batches and without tool changes,it may not be a lucrative pastime.A manual toolchange every few minutes,followed by setting up the next item isn't hugely productive unless the product is flying out of the door.Which sort of defeats the point of a hobby.
For mdf, I'd use the mrmdf, or get true Meditte mdf. Much denser and easier to finish than General mdf you find in the big box stores.
Same goes for the plywood, standard ply has too many voids and irregularities, so look for ply with lots of regular layers, it's not cheap though.

I'd coat the edges of each with a good sanding sealer, I use a cellulose sanding sealer neat from the tin, give it 10 mins to harden the fibres then sand, and repeat about 150grit, another coat an work your way up to 320/400 grit should do the job .

Also speed and feeds on cnc impact the quality of the cut, as do the cutters you use. Also same for laser speeds and power settings.
Hi Tony, I'll be as gentle as I can!!

For someone starting out get onto one of the local Freelists (such as trashnothing .com) there are people looking to give away old furniture, tables, cupboards all sorts of stuff even timber boards, a great source for a startup.
This totally depends on what you're trying to make. I used to build loudspeakers (mostly from MDF, initially by hand and later using CNC). Finishing MDF can indeed be problematic, but I found that a sharp two flute upcut spiral bit tended to do a reasonable job; leaving just a little bit of sanding required for the corners between the face and sides. Painting MDF is a pain; copies quantities of shellac on the edges is one option, various epoxy paint or 2-part automotive primer is another (though the latter two are hazardous).

Good quality softwood (e.g. nice pine) seems to cut better with a straight fluted bit (I always got too much tearing of the top surface with a spiral cutter). It also seems to work better for ply (again a spiral bit gave me too much tearing of the top surface).

Good dust extraction is a must; not just for your health, as dust and debris caught in channels you're machining are not good for the cutter.