Aluminum Versus Phenolic CNC Tables

Table material is not a high-priority issue, but here's a look at the pros and cons. March 12, 2015

We're about to purchase our first router and have narrowed it down to two choices. One has a phenolic table and the other aluminum. Of course the salesman of each claim that theirs is better. It seems to me that phenolic would be more forgiving. I've never run a router before and I understand that it's not an “if but when” I run the bit in to the table. So, phenolic seems easier to repair and potentially cause less damage overall. Also, it seems like it'd be easier/less expensive to replace if we should ever need to do so.

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor D:
Table material is way down on the list of why I would buy one over the other. Mine is phenolic. We hit it a couple times early on but nothing since.

From the original questioner:
It is pretty far down my list, but it is a factor and I'm just curious.

From contributor M:
I agree with Contributor D. I have had routers configured with both materials and as far as I am concerned, it doesn't make much of a difference. There are a lot more important issues to consider, especially if this is your first machine.

From contributor R:
I would put a spoil board on the table and machine it flat anyway. No advantage to either.

From Contributor W:
The router bits you will be using can cut through aluminum without any problem. Aluminum can be repaired. Most of all good habits will prevent most damage.

1. Always properly measure your tools

2. Always check your program with a good editor such as cimco edit. It will give you your tools used and the depths that they will be cutting to. That way if by chance you make a mistake you can catch it before you do any damage.

From contributor L:
My first router had a phenolic grid top, current one has aluminum. Doesn't much matter which. You will take a cut on whichever you get. For the most part a few nicks don't really matter if you are using a spoil board. We also have a P2P that is relatively smart about making those kind of mistakes. So far we haven't trashed a pod on it. Probably will sooner or later. Good tech support is far more important. If you get Fanuc controls, motors etc. there is a lot of third party support at less expensive prices than the factory techs.

From Contributor Y:
I have an aluminum table but kind of wish I would have bought the phenolic just for the ease of the occasional use of pods, my aluminum does not have grids. The salesman and tech say that I don't need to use a perimeter gasket with a spoil board like you do a phenolic. I have found that I do need a gasket to get a good seal and have started using a stick on gasket.

From Contributor A:
If you are doing standard plywood and MDF machining then phenolic is fine. If you're doing heavy duty solid wood machining you may want an aluminum table to dampen vibrations. The weight of the frame will assist in vibration control also. Phenolic also has more movement from humidity so if you're looking for tolerances at .001" you may require aluminum. If you want to accept pods then you need a grid table installed I top of your plenum table. My machine has aluminum plenum tables with phenolic grid tables and we are very happy with the results. We have gasketing material around the outside of both our plenum and grid tables.

From contributor C:
You can still use Better Vacuum Cups on your flat table.