From woodworker and ITP student Ben Light’s site:

A spoil board is sacrificial material that’s used underneath the material you want to cut on a CNC machine. This ensures a better through cut and is usually MDF. I’ve noticed that when the spoil boards are all used up at ITP, some really amazing patterns are formed.

By making careful choices in his display of this found art, Ben really stumbled onto something beautiful that normally would have ended up in the dumpster. It would have been a shame to see this piece spoiled in such a way.

Michael Colombo

Michael Colombo

In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens’ educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.

  • dZed

    I’ve been hearing that term for years — MDF — but realized upon reading this post that I had no idea what the initials actually stood for. Quick Wikipedia read later, I find out, but also learn that there seems to be a good reason to stop using MDF as a spoil board, as the dust is a probably human carcinogen. Youch.

    • dZed

      Not to diminish the art, by the way. I quite like the patterns.

    • Michael Colombo

      Actually there’s good reason for using MDF as the spoil board. Since it’s porous, the vacuum underneath it that keeps the workpiece in place pulls the air right through the MDF – you couldn’t do that with other materials.

      • Daniel McCauley

        A vacuum pull air through mdf? Have you tried this? I think you’d be very disappointed at the volume of air you get. Now water on the other hand…

        • Michael Colombo

          Yes I have tried it, and it works quite well. Keeps the workpiece right in place.

        • phidauex

          Yes, it definitely works! There is also a less-commonly available Low Density Fiberboard which is like “puffier” MDF which transmits vacuum even better. And the best part about a vacuum is that you don’t need much air-flow – just good (negative) pressure, and enough airflow to replace what is leaked.

      • phidauex

        While it is true that MDF is not entirely non-toxic, it’s material properties make it very useful to CNC operators. And in large amounts and frequent exposures, no wood dust is safe either (and many natural wood dusts are more hazardous than MDF, like Cocobolo) and anyone doing regular woodworking should have a solid dust collection system and be using an N95 respirator when working heavily with wood dust.

  • Sean Ragan

    I love this idea! I featured this image on last Sunday’s Flickr pool roundup, too! Maybe somebody will start a Flickr group featuring pretty spoilboard pics!

  • JimO

    Yeah, we’ve been considering similar things with our spoil board; shop furniture, coasters, or as shown here, wall art. I dig the placement of the light and the contrast it brings to the piece.

    It’s fun to look back at a spoil board and try to identify past projects by the shapes they’ve left behind.

    If work slows down enough, we’ll definitely hack something up and post it on Flickr.

  • http://[email protected] Anton Christopher McInerney

    Do exact replications of the Crop Circles using this method!

  • jamesbx

    I find any number of scraps in my shop that could be considered art: snips of molten colored glass, (I call them) backer boards from the CNC mill and drill press, curious globs of metal spit from my abrasive cutoff saw, a ball of rebar wire, the colorful cleanup rag from airbrushing. I used to keep these things. And not to sound mean spirited, but at some point I realized it isn’t art, it is hoarding garbage. To me, mounting and photographing a piece of visually interesting trash is a satire of art, more than actual art. But it is a free country, and they are kind of interesting to look at.

    • JimO

      Indeed, both fine and fuzzy are the lines that define truly satirical trash-art, art w/ found objects, and actual garbage. What you use and how you use it can’t really determine whether what you produce can or can’t be considered art.

  • Joel

    I could see a coffee table made from this, or filling the various lines with colored resin.
    But I second Anton’s thought crop circles.

    • http://[email protected] Anton

      The crop circles with the alternate colored glass and metal scrap would make great bedroom wall art.

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