Prototyping Material

Just curious…what do people typically use to test out designs? I’ve been using the medium draft board that came with my machine but I go through that pretty quickly. And I can tell it dirties up the insides pretty quickly. Is there a cheaper/better material?

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I usually use corrugated cardboard from old shipping boxes. Just need to watch it closely in case of fire. I’ve never had a problem, however.

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Yeah. I tried cardboard once and it did seem to smoke a lot more than I was comfortable with. Maybe my settings were wrong though.

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Cardboard (shipping boxes) or Lauan plywood.

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It’s more like cheaper sources… and “cheap” is subjective.

I use baltic birch for testing almost everything, because I can get it for very good prices, about 60 cents for a square foot. If you buy from amazon or etsy or ebay, you’ll pay several times that. Find a local source that will sell you full sheets of material and cut it down for massive savings.

Cardboard is far less expensive than that even, you can get it for free, essentially as its a waste product that most of us have anyway.

But then there’s the question of what is “cheap” here. I don’t spend time goofing around with cardboard prototypes, I’d rather get a sense of the real build, and for many projects Baltic is better in almost every way. You can build structures with it, test strength much more reliably than you can with cardboard, etc.

Also your prototyping methods can be optimized to save time and materials. You don’t really need to build a plain box to see how it works, you already know what a box is going to be. If you have a weird corner design or a latch/hinge that you really want to test out, make a small test piece and go for it, then incorporate the successful prototype into your larger design.

So. In the end, my time is too valuable to mess with cardboard, even though it’s a less expensive test material.


I found a seller on Amazon that sells 12x20 sheets of MDF that end up costing me about $2 per sheet. There are probably even cheaper alternatives out there, but this gives a better idea of fit and flexibility than I have gotten with cardboard, and it is scads cheaper than proofgrade. And it cuts like butter. If I find the link, I will edit to add. EDIT Nevermind. The seller was Cherokee Woods, but they have raised their prices now. It was 64 sheets for $128, now it is 64 for $169. That is a big jump.


Thanks anyway. I did find some “Glowforge Ready 12”x19” on Amazon that’s 20 pieces for $64. That’s about $3.20 per sheet. I guess that’s not bad. I do have a table saw and can cut larger pieces if I can find any at a local places like Lowe’s or Home Depot. But I’ve read some mixed reviews on how well that stuff cuts on the Glowforge.


What you’re looking for in sheets is Baltic Birch B/BB- not just birch plywood. The name/grade requires specifics as far as inclusions/materials go. The stuff is wonderful, and you can definitely get it cheaper than Amazon/Etsy. I don’t have/have space for a table saw so I get it pre-cut, but if you’re able to deal with sheets do eeeet!


I get 1/8" MDF for about 50 cents per glowforge-sized sheet by buying 4’x8’ sheets($7 or so) and cutting it down.

Rugby architectural building supplies carries BB and MDF at great prices.


Your woodshop, your rules… but cutting full sheet goods on a table saw requires a really large shop and solid safety protocols. I would recommend using a circular/track saw (or best of all a panel saw :heart_eyes:) or getting it cut by the seller.


A 4’x8’ sheet of 3mm (just under 1/8”) tempered hardboard was $8 last time I bought one, and it’s still my favorite prototyping and sometimes final material.

The back side is textured, so that’s a potential downside. But it’s strong, consistent, and pleasant to work with.


What’s the cut speed/messiness compared to MDF? They seem lock step pricewise.

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A tiny bit less smoke IMO, but a tougher, smoother surface on the front side and stronger overall. Speed and power about the same.

I can’t easily get big sheets of 1/8" MDF. Well, for some definition of “easily”. The Home Depot is just 5 minutes away. I’d have to drive 45 minutes one way for good BB or thinner MDF in full sheets.

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… and we’re back to my point about “cheap”. :slight_smile:


That’s actually surprisingly not bad considering lumber and construction materials have skyrocketed around 300% since the pandemic began. Thanks for sharing.

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I found this. It comes out to $2.33 per piece.

just get a couple of saw horses 3 2by4’s, a skil saw(circular saw) and a rip fence.

I have a very nice table saw. but with the aforementioned setup I just drag a sheet out of the back of the van and rip it. if you ever get so inclined.

much easier to deal with glowforge thickness sheets than building something sheets :slight_smile:

Sadly not an option where I live. I have a circular saw, but still no space.

i hate using draft/MDF/HDF because they cut so dirty. i’ll generally prototype (if i do) in BB or cardboard.