CNCROi.com goes through a lot of MDF and metal in a given week, but I still get questions as to production questions of each of these materials so let’s run through that shall we?
I’m willing to bet that you weren’t ready for just how different the production of metal vs MDF really is, it’s night and day is just so many ways, it’s like comparing the Moon to the Sun.
When it comes to metal, there are pricing, volume and assembly challenges that just aren’t present with MDF, which is basically compressed wood sawdust with glue while metal is extracted from the ground or recycled from old beer cans.
When it comes to design options, the biggest consideration to keep in mind is strength, metal is exponentially stronger than MDF, joints can be made crazy strong by welding while bonding MDF together is strong but it still remains a week point by comparison.
Cutting metal is also done using different technologies depending on the spec of the material involved, for instance, CNCROi.com can cut metal using CNC waterjet, CNC plasma, CNC laser or manual tools (if required).
While MDF has only a few limited options, CNC router or CNC laser if you exclude manual tools, if we stuck MDF on a plasma table, we’d make an instant fire, if we stuck it in a waterjet, it would expand and end-up looking like a pile of wet dust.
MDF expands and warps with humidity while metal rusts but like MDF, most metals can be cleaned-up using sanders, angle grinders and the like… if your MDF goes to hell after leaving it outside in a rain storm, it’s best to just throw it away.
MDF costs next to nothing and is available anywhere while metal, depending on the grade, costs exponentially more and there can be some lead times required before delivery to CNCROi.com, for instance, with our metal 316 stainless steel plates, it can take up to two weeks turnaround to get into production while MDF is a 24 hour process.
MDF cuts just as well as metal, it’s the power settings and equipment required to cut through the metal that’s different, while with MDF, our Austrian CNC laser at 140 watts CO2 cuts it like butter, you really need a kilowatt range laser to do the same with metal.
Or a 60 000 PSI waterjet to do the same type of work, different technologies to produce optimal results for metal vs MDF.
As for clean-up, we use our sand blaster with metal while with MDF, we use just regular sand paper and/or mask the surface depending on the production requirements of the end-user.
With metal, you have burrs that are a million times sharper and more painful than MDF if they get into your skin while with MDF, I’ve yet to even see a splinter get through my fingers.
As for the design options, keeping strength and longevity requirements in mind, I’d say you can pretty much make the same things regardless of a metal or MDF design.
For instance, if you wanted this exact same custom tea light box made out of metal or MDF…
It would be interchangeable metal vs MDF but there would be a few major differences.
The first is weight, metal weighs substantially more than MDF, as I showed in the CNCROi.com video at the top of this post, just one side panel of 1/8″ or 3 mm 316 stainless steel weighs exponentially more than MDF.
Raw material wise, the metal would also cost exponentially more than MDF.
Production of a unit would cost exponentially more in metal and MDF.
And assembly is a totally different ball game, with metal, you want to weld it together while with MDF, just regular carpenter’s glue is totally fine.
It goes without saying that welding costs a lot more than glue.
To put it lightly, everything costs more, raw to finished product in metal than it does in MDF, and that’s why you see most cheap furniture made out of painted or laminated MDF rather than metal or just about any other material, it’s just so much easier working with MDF.
Additionally, when it comes to painting, it’s very easy to make MDF look like just about anything else (short of transparency) over say metal.
Sure, there are lamacoids and aluminium that CNCROi.com could make a custom tea light box with, but the lamacoid that’s just cut through is kinda redundant as you want laminated lamacoids for the color contrast while the anodized aluminium is light weight BUT cut through, I’d argue that you might as well go with MDF.
Why? Because the cost of anodizing short runs of aluminium is crazy compared to spray painting MDF and although they’d weight about the same, at a distance, you’d have hard pressed to notice or see a difference between the two.
Let’s say that your budget was extremely constrained and you wanted a custom TeaLightBox.com, I’d suggest you still go with MDF over say, cardboard which would be an even cheaper material.
Why? Because the extra strength will make a massive difference and it’s easier to assemble something with a little rigidity rather than flimsy cardboard regardless of the thickness at use.
When it comes to painting, MDF is very easy even for the most unexperienced of people, just spray it, let it dry, and if the coverage isn’t perfect, guess what, you can spray it again!
Do you want to pay 20K$ for a custom gold tea light box or 20$ for something that looks almost identical?
How about a custom silver tea light box from TeaLightBox.com?
Do you want to spend 8K$ for a custom tea light box or 20$?
The custom tea light boxes look amazing, at a distance, totally look like their metal counterparts but you saved THOUSANDS of dollars going with MDF that you paint yourself verses going with the real metal and guess what, no welding required!
Another option would be to go with laminated Formica which would be more durable than just straight MDF and it’s available in a ton of different colors.
But again, the cost of Formica will exceed that of paint, but it’s a different production with a different demographic look.
Basically, CNCROi.com can make whatever you want but it always comes down to budget, volume and timeline challenges as to what material and process we use to make your custom product, a tea light box or anything else.
At a distance, the custom tea light boxes below could be absolutely anything material wise, so why spend the extra money on the real metal when MDF painted to look like metal, reflections and everything, is so readily affordable and easy to work with!
I guess a major advantage of making these out of metal would be not having to worry about these catching on fire if you used a real candle but with TeaLightBox.com, we use LED candles, so that safety concern just no longer exists in the modern world.