Good 1/4" or 1/2" material for jigs

Hello,

I am looking to make some simple laser cut jigs for some woodworking projects so it obviously doesn’t need to look nice. But ideally I’d like them to be cut from 1/4" or 1/2" stock to be a bit more sturdy. Is there any decently easy material to cut at this thickness that is laser safe? I have a GF Basic. I have had good success with 1/4" acrylic, but that’s a bit pricey for this. I tried 1/4" BB plywood but at the lowest speed possible and full power I barely made it through and it generated tons of smoke. Any other ideas? MDF? Not sure if any of that is easier to cut than plywood and if any of it is laser safe.

Thanks!

“Draftboard” is most similar to MDF, and is likely to be your best option (although only available in 1/4" thickness)… In other words for up to 1/2", you’re likely looking at (just under) 1/2" MDF.

Cut 2 layers of 1/8 and double it up.

Make registration holes and pin + glue them together.

The Glowforge is not ideal for 1/4” materials. You’ll get more consistent and reliable results using 1/8”.

(@rbtdanforth will probably disagree, he does a fair amount of 1/4”, but I believe he has a pro.)

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What evansd2 said, use 1/8" plywood to create 1/2" plywood - yellow wood glue and clamps. I wouldn’t worry too much about making each layer 90 degrees to the other they’ll be plenty strong for anything not really load bearing. As you aren’t worried about pretty edges the registration holes and pins may not be necessary. If you do use them, they are a nice to have, don’t make the pins a tight fit, it’s frustration you won’t need.

And by pins, just cut rectangles from your plywood. There is no need to use dowels. Make them longer than you need and saw off the extra with a hand saw.

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I definitely agree with @evansd2 and @caribis2 on layering up 1/8" plywood. I do wonder though, if GF sells 1/4" draft board as @eflyguy mentioned, a.) can this be cut on a Basic and b.) is there anything similar in MDF from Home Depot or something that is reasonably laser safe? Just would cut my time in half with glue ups to create 1/2" etc.

Thanks!

Home depot doesn’t carry mdf in 1/8" thickness, which stinks.

Not sure where you are but rugby architectural building supplies carries it, and they have a number of locations in the US. They also carry 1/8" baltic, which is very good for this purpose.

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Glowforge sells thick draftboard. Whatever they sell can be cut on a Basic, Plus or Pro. I haven’t measured it lately, but my guess is around the 3/16" mark.

I buy 1/4" plywood that is nominal, 3/16" actual.

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For a very long time I redistricted myself to 1/4 (often 0.20) wood as I had tried to cut ordinary 3/8 plywood and it had made a charred mess. I have since found that a great many species work perfectly well up to 1/2 inch. Among these Maple. Walnut, Paduk and perhaps Gum do very well at that thickness. Oak has issues and needs care but it also makes good cuts at a half inch. Some Mahoganies, Zebrawood, and in general any softwood as was the case with that plywood needs care not to burn up. If you are working on a planar design, even if to be made into something like a box, thickness is less of an issue but obviously any deep engraving needs to be thicker.

As for MDF and any similar particle board I avoid it as much as possible, It is very much not a long term thing at all and likely to fall apart eventually as anyone who has had a desk made of it has discovered. Cleaned with any solvent will dissolve it immediately, and even water or humidity will cause it to swell or corrode or both.

From Lowes I have found “revolution ply” and Oak plywood particularly inexpensive and useful and I have seen others on an irregular basis. All better than MDF with the exception of the cheaper birch that has large amounts of laserproof Bondo like filler.

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Good stuff. A few points:

  1. Good to know on these species for 1/2, I may try that for something else. I got through some 1/2" oak, but it definitely was heavily charred for sure.
  2. For plywood, I tried some 1/4" baltic birch from a reputable hardwood dealer who sells a lot to laser folks and I could only barely get through it at 100/full and it too was a charred mess. So I can’t see myself trying anything thicker in plywood unless it was truly the vendor’s material that was the issue.
  3. MDF is terrible for any construction but for one time jigs I don’t really care about the longevity. I seem to see many different posts from folks talking about 1/4" home depot MDF, so seems likely possible? Reasonably laser safe? I seem to find different opinions on that though I could certainly suck it up and by thick draft board and would be fine…

The last time I bought “revolution ply” it was $15 for a 4x8 foot sheet that I cut up to 5 -19" x 48" sheets that I can feed through the pass-through slots. It has a few knots hiding behind the surface. and the surface is extremely thin but it amounts to 25ish sheets of real plywood that can look good and there is almost no fill except between added sheets and that is not laserproof. And very light engraving is not awful as can be seen here…

Home Depot carries 1/8" hardboard, which is more dense than mdf or draftboard, but cuts and engraves well. It’s about $9 for a 4x8 sheet, which can be cut in-store to 16 12x20 pieces and change. Pretty economical. The biggest drawback is that it’s only finished on one side.

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Anything like this in 1/4 or 1/2" that would work?

Home Depot did have this hardwood in 1/4", but I haven’t been able to get it the last couple of times I went in.

Any idea if this Home Depot hardboard is relatively laser safe?

I’ve never seen it in 1/4, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist…

It is safe for our machines.

As half inch will not go through the pass-through it is not so good unless you are stacking multiple layers to have a cylinder or similar, but where it is really useful is in really deep engraves like this…


and of course you want solid wood like Walnut, or Maple etc that will stand up to the laser without burning up.

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How sturdy do the jigs need to be?

If it were me, I would run an experiment using glued up cardboard. It can be cut faster on the laser than any of the other materials and if glued up to 1/2" should be pretty rigid, just look at heavy shipping cartons for appliances and such.

(or the machine itself…)

All very good points. For this project, probably a bit more sturdy than cardboard, but for other projects this might be a good call, thanks!