Fabricating MDF Doors on the CNC

You can make MDF doors quickly with specialized tooling, or slowly with generic tooling. March 9, 2008

We are thinking about cutting MDF doors on our Thermwood because we do about 5-10 MDF jobs a month. I am wondering if Ecab is sufficient enough to program for the doors, or do I need Panel Matrix? Also, is there good profit in making your own MDF doors compared to buying them?

Forum Responses
(CNC Forum)
From contributor T:
I would suggest that software plays a key role in producing MDF doors. I would also suggest that you check for references before you buy anything.

From contributor M:
I would never buy out MDF doors. It is way too easy to do yourself, and you always have the versatility of making one or two emergency doors, as you need them. All of the custom software packages have a lot of nice tools, but AlphaCam advanced router is all you need for this amount of doors. A lot of shops run Alpha; maybe you already have it.

The method and approach you use depends on how many doors and how much pressure you are under to keep your router running. Most small and medium sized shops never come close to running their router even 50 percent of an 8 hour shift, so consider both methods carefully with an open mind.

If you have a lot of the same type of doors, a 1500-dollar investment in a good set of custom insert tools will save a lot of machine time. Vortex will make anything you want and also has a good general set if you aren't looking to make something too fancy. You can get it down to 1 or 2 minutes per door this way, even less if you have very simple profiles. I usually square up the inside corners with a 1/16 ball mill by tracing the profile back down in a small square at each corner, adding about 30 - 40 seconds per door. This method works very well with constraints in AlphaCam.

The other way is this. I have made many hundreds of doors of various profiles from complex gothic cathedrals to simple beaded frames with flat panels, even one-piece beadboard doors with just a simple set of ball mills. It takes a bit of time, but unless you are doing a lot of the same profile, it is better to let your router run for a while, even at 16 to 20 minutes per door. No big investment in tooling this way and you can truly do any profile under the sun. This method is very versatile.

For small jobs or unique profiles try using the “profiled rough/finish” toolpaths in Alpha. Set it up with a constrained template and you can get them programmed and out to the router pretty quick once you figure it out. I normally hog out most of the material with a 3/8-ball mill and then clean it up with about .001 to .002 maximum error or say 40 passes per inch of profile using a 1/8 or 1/16 ball. It takes about 15 to 25 minutes per door this way depending on how complex the profile is. If you nest, you just let the machine run for a few hours per sheet. Most people balk at this method hearing it for the first time, but taking the versatility factor and adding it to the lack of usage most routers really get in the real world, it can be a very sensible solution. I did this for years before investing in a set of tools.

Another big consideration is what type of MDF you use to make the doors. Sanding them is a real chore with standard MDF. Panfiber Elite is good, but Medex is really worth the extra money. Use a good primer with high solids like ML Campbell Clawlock after burnishing with a sponge.