What’s In My Material?

CT Hobby uses, and sells, a wide variety of woods, vinyls, sublimation hardboards and acrylics. But what are these made from, and what should I know about them? For more information not listed here, please contact us!

Woods

Solid Wood

wood lumberSolid woods (“boards” or “glue-up panels”) are often used in high quality furniture and building materials. These can be milled to various thicknesses, but thinner boards become more expensive due to the higher end tools needed to resaw and plane thinner pieces. Thicker boards are more difficult to intricately cut, requiring either CNC (often a computer-controlled router) or longer focal length lenses to laser cut.

Glue-up Panels

glueup panel, panel board, large boardWider boards require cutting down larger trees, which in turn require longer growing time. The result is that wider boards cost more. Finding a single board big enough for a tabletop would require a single tree that was huge when cut down! Solid woods this large are normally made by gluing, side-by-side, multiple boards together in what then is called a “glue-up panel.” This process is time consuming and requires a large amount of high quality boards, but results in a high-end furniture-grade product.

CT Hobby does not normally work with these products. We do have the tools and equipment to do so, and arrangements can be made to fabricate this type of material on a case-by-case basis.

Plywoods

plywood sheets, real wood, layered wood

Veneers

Sometimes the tree can be “peeled” in a circular way, producing an extremely thin sheet of wood called a veneer. While this is not structurally usable by itself, it can be glued over the top of other materials to enhance the appearance (MDF or particle board, for example). Plywoods can be either Engineered Core, or Veneer Core, depending on what’s in between the two outer veneer layers.

Engineered Core Plywoods

This type of plywood is very common and can be the least expensive option for larger pieces. Grain may rise slightly and need sanding between coats of paint. engineered core plywood often contains “voids”–holes in the middle of the wood, that are covered on both front and back by the outer veneer layer. You’ll want to fill these holes prior to painting, or at least prior to sealing the edges of your finished project. Otherwise, humidity from the surrounding air can be absorbed by the inner layers, with disastrous results to your finished product!

Costs of these plywoods vary significantly, based on:

  • the material in the inner core, and
  • the material in the veneers

CT Hobby stocks, sells, and uses 1/4 inch Engineered Core Birch Plywood. We purchase and stock this in 4 ft x 8 ft sheets and cut it down to required sizes using both saws and lasers. Exact sizes of the resulting pieces may vary by 1/4 inch.

Veneer Core Plywoods

Veneers can also be glued together in layers, with each layer rotated 90 degrees. This type of product is known as “veneer core” plywood. Russian Birch and Baltic Birch are examples of this.

CT Hobby stocks, uses and sells 1/8 inch or 3mm Russian Birch plywood. We purchase and stock this in 5 ft x 5 ft sheets and cut it down to required sizes using both saws and lasers. Exact sizes of the resulting pieces may vary by 1/4 inch.

Plywoods are sometimes called “real wood” by those unfamiliar with the various manufacturing processes. This term is both misleading and somewhat inaccurate.

  • real wood is an incomplete description of the material’s makeup
  • the “plys,” or layers, in a plywood product are generally held together with various types of glues, which typically cannot be cut as easily as pure cut woods (“boards”)
  • engineered materials (such as particle board and MDF) are primarily composed of wood products

You will recognize that anything with “Russian” or “Baltic” in the name is hard to find, and expansive, given current conditions in some areas of the world….

CT Hobby stocks, sells, and can use 1/4 inch Engineered Core Birch and 1/8 inch Baltic Birch upon request. We do not currently stock or use other veneered plywoods, or 1/4 inch and thicker veneered core plywoods.

For more information, see “The Heart of any Panel: Which Core is Best?” by Columbia Forest Products, and “MDF vs Veneer-Core Plywood” by Woodweb.com.

Rev Ply

Revolution Plywood, engineered and patented by Patriot Timber but manufactured in China, is a special type of plywood made from all renewable materials using no Amazon deforestation woods. Rev Ply takes stain beautifully, although with a very straight grain

  • Rev Ply is most commonly using in flooring as an underlayment, similar to Luan. Its soft surfaces can conform to slight irregularities, resulting in a smoother floor surface.
  • In crafting uses, Rev Ply can be stained, but has a very straight grain similar to bamboo but without the irregularities bamboo often contains.
  • Rev Ply can also warp quickly when not completely sealed.

CT Hobby stocks, sells, and can use 5mm Rev Ply upon request.

MDF

MDF, or Medium Density Fiberboard, in an oversimplified definition, is basically sawdust and glue, rolled out like a pizza crust. If you’ve ever seen piles of sawdust from different woods, you may have noticed how different colors appear in certain areas of both the wood, and the sawdust that comes from those woods. This can be due to a variety of factors.

“Heartwood” comes from the center of the tree, or it’s “heart,” and is often darker than outer areas of the tree. This is often noticeable in wood species like Redwood, Cedar, and Poplar.

Different species of wood also have naturally different colors. Pine even has names like “Yellow Pine” and “White Pine.” Walnut and Cherry are usually so dark that laser-engraving is hard to see without some kind of accentuation (such as a paint fill).

MDF is (relatively) inexpensive and fairly easy to paint. Though you may find it to be quite thirsty on the first coat. Priming with an inexpensive house paint is recommended, so as not to use more expensive paints, such as acrylics, on a paint layer that will most likely soak in (only partially sealing the wood) and be unseen when covered with another layer of paint anyway.

“Light” MDF

Lighter shades of MDF are generally made from softwoods such as Pine, Poplar, Acacia, and Rubberwood. These woods are easier to cut, and are suitable for RF tube lasers such as Epilog and Universal.

“Dark” MDF

Darker shades of MDF are generally made from hardwoods, such as Oak, Cherry, Maple, Walnut, Birch, and Ash. These woods are denser, making them harder to cut for RF tube lasers. Cutting the denser wood requires slower speed and more power, often leave a heavier “char” when laser cut. This can often be cleaned with a rag or wipe, lightly moistened with alcohol. The alcohol will evaporate faster than water, reducing the damage to the workpiece from moisture.

Sublimation Board

MDF (usually the darker, hardwood-based variety) is at the core of sublimation boards such as Unisub.

Sublimation boards often have a lightweight, clear or colored plastic protective film over the sublimation coating which can be laser cut as well. This film protects the sublimation coating during shipping and handling, and should be removed prior to the sublimation process. Edges can be wiped down with an alcohol rag prior to sublimating, removing much of the char left by laser cutting the denser hardwood based MDF. The alcohol will evaporate faster than water, reducing the damage to the workpiece edges from moisture.

CT Hobby has, sells, and can use 1/8 inch double-sided sublimation board upon request.

Veneers

Veneers are “sheets” of wood, cut or milled to 1/16 inch or less in thickness. Often these thin layers are glued to lesser quality (therefore less expensive) materials, such as MDF. These materials are then called “MDF Core” plywoods. Technically, this wood be a 3 layer (“ply”) material, so it can be called “Plywood.” These materials combine the denser core (virtually no voids), with the look and stainability of “real wood.”

Vinyls

CT Hobby carries the world’s best quality adhesive and heat transfer vinyl products, including Orafol Oracal and Stahls’ CAD-CUT. Ask your NFL friends what vinyl is used for the names and numbers on their game-day jerseys, and you’ll find that CT Hobby has this HTV (ThermoFILM) in stock. YOU could be making the actual jerseys for your school or travel teams on your Cricut! And our exclusive Vinyl Club members get pricing so low, we’re not allowed (by contract) to advertise it!

Adhesive Vinyl

Coffee Mug, coffee sayings, day without coffeeCT Hobby is an officially licensed Reseller of Orafol products, and stocks Oracal adhesive vinyls such as Oracal 651. This is a permanent, calendared vinyl with a solvent-based adhesive, rated for 6 years in outdoor use. The product can be easily cut by craft cutters such as Cricut, silhouette and others, but should NOT BE LASER-CUT.

Adhesive vinyl is often used for decorating hard surfaces, like window decals, drinkware and door / wall art.

Heat Transfer Vinyl

Thermo Film Vegas Gold heat transfer vinylCT Hobby is an officially licensed Distributor of Stahls’ products, an active part of the Stahl’s Reseller Network, and stocks CAD-CUT heat transfer vinyl for apparel decorating. These are (mostly) polyethylene products, and can be easily cut by craft cutters such as Cricut, silhouette and others. Most CAN be laser-cut, but some are PVC based. Contact CT Hobby for individual product use.

Acrylics

Acrylic is a petroleum-based product, usually clear or colored. The material can be manufactured by either extruding or casting. Acrylic sheets come with a plastic or paper protective covering to reduce scratches during shipping, storage and handling. Acrylics can be glued or welded, using products such as Weld-On 4 and similar products.

Extruded Acrylics

Extruded acrylic does not engrave as well as cast, but is generally less expensive. Either can be cut with a laser or CNC. Being petroleum-based, acrylic is highly flammable, and is often a source of laser fires. When laser cutting, the laser does not actually “cut” the material, it “melts” and “vaporizes” the acrylic. Air assist is critical, to get these flammable fumes removed from the heat of the laser quickly. As the vaporized acrylic cools, it condenses and may form a “ridge” along the cut. This can be gently scraped in the process of peeling the protective layer off the cut product.

Cast Acrylics

Cast acrylics are great for engraving, such as table decorations, tree ornaments, and edge-lit signs and pictures. Very little depth is needed to produce nice vibrance.

Laser-cutting has the advantage over CNC cutting, in that the heat of the laser beam can effectively “flame-polish” the edge during the cut—a separate step required when cutting with a CNC. The disadvantage, as mentioned, is that this flame must be monitored carefully during cutting, to prevent it from getting out of hand and becoming a full-blown fire in the laser machine.

PVC

Extreme care must be taken to distinguish between acrylic, which can be lasered, and PVC–which can be easily confused with acrylics. PVC, more fully PolyVinyl Chloride, releases toxic chlorine gas when burned (such as with a laser). This can be fatal if inhaled, and causes rapid oxidation (rust) of equipment such as laser and exhaust machinery. DO NOT LASER PVC. If in doubt, ask the seller to furnish a Safety Data Sheet for your purchase.

PVC is less expensive than most acrylics. PVC is often milled using CNC equipment.