Best material for newbie to start with?

Newbie here any suggestions on best material to start out with? Hard foam maybe?

Get yourself a sheet of MDF, it is very inexpensive and carves really well, you can get it about any size you want. You can buy a half inch thick 4 foot by 8 foot sheet for about $25. That’s about 80 cents per square foot

The key word is cheap, the high density foams for carving are very expensive.($12 to $20 per square foot) Until you get through your learning curve stick with inexpensive materials so when it goes bad you did not ruin anything expensive. The reason to use the MDF first (beside it being cheap) is it is a very uniform density and is very forgiving if you make a DOC or Feed Rate mistake. This will really help with not breaking your tools.

The MDF can’t be stained but if you seal it first it will take paint very well.

Thank you

MDF is really good to start with and you can get precut pieces that will fit your XC pretty cheep ($12 at my local home depot) but does have a few challenges. Pick up a downcut bit you will have much better results. They should have a 1/4" downcut bit in the router bit section of your hardware store.

Also get a respirator. MDF can make a TONE of dust and some of it is a fine powder that will go right through your shop vac.(At some point you may want to invest in a real dust collector system. Harbor freight has some inexpensive options. I also recommend a Dust Deputy)

I also like to use cedar and redwood fence planks for 3D carving tests. It is soft, cheep and can be cut fast, but most of them are pretty warped and the thicknesses is not consistent so it takes a bit of getting used too.

FYI: my local Ganahl Lumber sells of remnant wood inboxes of Hardwood Firewood for around $7.
I have gotten some nice planks of oak perfect for carving on the XC from those. You may want to check out your own local lumber yard and see if they do the same thing.
(Tip: the heaviest boxes are the best. The lighter ones tend to be all molding and trim)

As other have said, get some MDF.

Also, look on ebay for some scrap lumber like this:

I found that cheap insulation foam was the best starter material.

MDF is cheap, the pink foam from the big box store works reasonably well. Start with either foam or wood, and graduate up to aluminum, plastics, carbon fiber etc.

One thing I’ve noticed with MDF is my bits tend to dull faster. I’m guessing this is because of the glue compound. Think of it like the same reason you never run a board with paint on it through your planer unless you like sharpening blades. Look on craigslist for wood deals, I managed to snag up 500+ square foot of solid oak flooring for $50. Run it through the table saw, glue it, and let the CNC surface flat and engrave.

Ok thanks

Found Pergo Wood Flooring samples @ Lowe’s Home Improvement store in a variety of colors, just 25 cents each!

These 3/4" x 5" blocks are made from real hardwoods and would look great with something carved into them.


Home Depot has similar wood floor samples, but theirs are free (at least in my area). I use those to test speeds and feeds for different materials and make small carves for friends/family. A lot of the samples are composite materials but there is a very large selection of solid wood samples.

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Great idea for smaller projects!