Material Monday: HDPE

CNC & Machining Digital Fabrication
Material Monday: HDPE

As promised, we are moving away from strictly filament based coverage of materials and onto other materials you can use with digital fabrication equipment. One major advantage of subtraction technologies like CNC mills are their ability to cut a wide range of materials. One of best cutting substances you can put in your machine is HDPE or high-density polyethylene. HDPE in a CNC mill cuts like butter and leaves you with extremely useful parts. HDPE is a strong resilient material that is great for making projects from. Shopbot uses HDPE for the frame of their Handibot CNC router thanks to its sturdiness and ease of cutting for manufacturing.

HDPE comes in many different colors and can even come in dual color sheets with a different color core from the outside of the sheet. This creates a great effect when the top layer is milled away to reveal the core color. We have used dual color HDPE sheets for years in our CNC testing because it cuts and photographs so well.

That’s not the end for HDPE, you can also laser cut it. HDPE is a thermoplast so there will be some melting in any laser cut parts but it’s still an option.

You can source HDPE for your projects from many sources online and your local plastics suppliers will likely have it in stock also. Even if you are in a remote area without a local plastics supplier, HDPE will probably still be easy to get, it’s the most common resin used for making plastic cutting boards for your kitchen.

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Matt is a community organizer and founder of 3DPPVD, Ocean State Maker Mill, and HackPittsburgh. He is Make's digital fabrication and reviews editor.

View more articles by Matt Stultz


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