MDF VS Baltic Birch

Looking for an inexpensive material to use on our pro that is located in a school and hooked up to the compact filter. We really like the simplicity of using the 1/8" draftboard but Glowforge is currently out and we are working on a budget. I have located a lumber yard that can get us 1/4" Formaldehyde free MDF.

So my question is what are be better off with the 1/4" MDF or 1/8" Birch?

Is traditional Birch ply a health issue to be cutting?

I want to use a material that is easy to cut since with student use the machine will get a decent amount of use.

Appreciate any and all experienced feedback!

For cases where cheap and fast to cut are important I recommend x-board. It’s like a heavy posterboard.

It comes out to something like 12 cents per square foot.

MDF is cheaper than Baltic birch but it is also dirty and will clog your filter. I’d stay away for that reason.

Baltic can be had for about 69 cents per square foot if you find a local source. Where are you located? I like a good hunt.


I would echo EvansD2’s comment. If you are using the CompactFilter - DO NOT use MDF or Draftboard. There are many reports of 10 hours (or less) completely clogging a new Compact Filter. That “cheap” material would end up costing far more in filter repacement costs.

If you DO want to use those, I’d strongly suggest that the school look for options for venting. It would likely be less expensive in the long run than the filter costs.

Note: I have a Compact Filter and have been very happy with it, but only use it for certain projects. Otherwise, I vent. (and use a booster fan due to my configuration).

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1/8" Revolution Ply or underlayment from Home Depot is also a good & cheap alternative for those kinds of uses.

Kids will do a lot of trial & error stuff that cheap is a good thing. It’s under $10 for a 4x8 sheet which makes for a lot of 20x12" pieces and HD will make the cuts for you.

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This why I asked !

So no MDF

Are there any health concerns with the level of Formaldehyde in ply?

1/8" birch will use less power/time than cutting 1/4" MDF so will save you some wear and tear, plus IMHO looks a lot better. Plus your students will have the option to stain if that works for their projects.

At my local lumberyard 1/8" BB ply is $11 for a 5’x5’ sheet and they cut it down for me for a couple bucks. That makes each GF sized sheet under $1 :grinning:

along the lines of what @evansd2 posted, you can also get chipboard at art supply stores. for example:

pretty cheap per sq ft, good for simple builds.

there’s a reason many laser cutter users prefer baltic birch. it’s more consistent than most other plywoods and it’s pretty inexpensive considering the consistency. as @evansd2 said again, find a local supplier for best pricing.

Ceramic tiles are cheap and won’t clog the compact filter if you are printing designs rather than building things with wood/cardboard.

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Same, only my source will make one cut for free. I just have them cut it at 20", then it will fit in my Sorento, and I can finish the cutting when I get home, usually with a straightedge and circular saw. A little sanding and prefinishing, and I’m golden, for about $0.45/square foot. I opened a contractor acct with the store, so I get a discount on the lumber. I’ll buy about 10 sheets at a time, and that lasts for quite a while.

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Who are your sources?


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The sell online, too, but you’re unlikely to get the same treatment there. They have a local outlet less than an hour drive away.


As the design area of a 12" x 20" sheet is only 11 x 19.5 cuttable area anyway you can have the sheets with four cuts each way instead of three making 25 sheets instead of 16 with a bit of scrap making the 9.25’ x 19" sheets much more acceptable for projects for how many more sheets you get.


You may want to look at the material on
It is pressboard with a wood looking cover and is a cheep alternative to real plywood.
they will send you free samples.

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