There are certain materials we like to work with on a regular basis, for a number of reasons, and those include the following:
Pine planks are plentyful and come in various widths and thicknesses. These are great for most exterior numbers, letters, and carvings. From an 11.5″ wide (.75″ thick) board, we can often cut letters out that are up to 16″ tall, making this the most economical material we have available to us.
Select Pine is premium pine, and as such it is more expensive. It tends to have fewer knots, is straighter, and cured more completely than regular pine. This is a good choice if you want a better wood at a reasonable price.
Like pine, Poplar and Cedar are also fairly easy to come by, but they are more expensive. Poplar is softer and has a finer grain than regular pine and often ends up having cleaner cuts but can also be brittle. Cedar smells nice, and has more contrast in its colors, but it can be more brittle and rough than even regular pine, so we have to move a little slower with cedar. We only really recommend these woods if you are trying to match a particular look.
Mahogany and Oak are also fairly easy to come by, but they are more expensive than most other woods. Both are harder woods and so they require a much slower cutting technique and it thus adds quite a bit to the cost. But slower motion also tends to lead to smoother cuts, so even though these woods will add to the overall cost of a project, they may well be worth it for showcase pieces.
Plywood is strong, but edges tend to be rough after a cut. It comes in various thicknesses and might be a good choice for large characters if edge condition is not important. There is a particular type of 3/8″ thick plywood (Tri-Ply) that we like that comes with a light oak stain on one side and a darker brown stain on the other. This is a nice economical choice for simple wall hung letters since no further finishing steps are required. Other Plywoods of various thicknesses are also readily available and some are listed in the “material” drop down of our Design
Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) should be used for interior applications only because if it gets wet it tends to swell and deform. It does however lend itself well to machining, as long as the design is not too thin… MDF is fairly brittle, and so the vibrations of the CNC router will often damage delicate pieces. Thin (1/4″) MDF is a good choice for quick and simple interior wall hung characters. 3/4″ MDF is readily available, but not likely a good choice for most projects.
Particle board should be used for interior applications only because if it gets wet it tends to swell and deform. It is very brittle (even more so than MDF) and edges tend to flake away easily. It is fairly inexpensive however and would be a decent choice for larger, heavier, designs that are just going to be painted over with a solid color, but generally speaking, we wouldn’t recommend this for most projects.
Plexiglass is much more expensive by volume than wood, and as such it is only readily available in very thin panels. We have available two kinds of plexiglass: Lexan (or polycarbonate) and Acrylic. At first glance these both look the same, but there are some distinct differences. Acrylic is shinier and Lexan is stronger. Acrylic is a little less expensive but much more brittle. Lexan is more impact resistant but easier to scratch. Both require us to set our machine to move at very slow speeds to minimize the size of the shards that break away from the edges of the router bit. The slow speeds and high cost of source material end up making plexiglass a very expensive option, but it does allow for a very unique look.
Our CNC machine can handle most softer solids such as those woods above, plastics, and even soft metals like copper or aluminum. Not all soft materials are great to use for any project however. Metals can be expensive and take a very long time to carve out a simple pattern. Various plastics have different properties, and some have a tendency to really grab the router bit and prevent good clean straight cuts from being achieved. Small projects, or skinny designs also may have complicated challenges even on wood or fiber-board. That being said, if you have something in particular that you would like to have fabricated, let us know what it is and we may work with you to see if it can be done…