Source for materials

Hi everyone, couple of questions about prototyping and materials source.
So what is generally a good material for easier machining and also cost effective for prototyping and experiments? Also is there any popular source for materials?
Any help will be appreciated, thanks.

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Hi @Milen, welcome to the forum!

This really depends on what you want to do. What kind of objects, what dimensions, what would the final material be beyond the prototype ?

  • pine is cheap but not great for machining as it tends to tear out, a tighter-grain wood helps.
  • MDF is cheap, machines easily, but is messy and does not hold fine details very well
  • plywood is affordable but not really suitable beyond 2D cutouts.
  • soft plastics like HDPE machine like butter, but are not really cheap or easy to come by in large dimensions.
  • a superb material for 3D prototyping is Renshape, it machines very easily and holds very small details, but is also expensive.
  • I have a thing for bamboo, it machines very well and can be had for reasonable prices.

Wood is likely going to be cheapest and more easily sourced in any case.

Your local lumber yard.
And in my case, Ikea.


If you are in USA, I get my aluminum from Stoner Metals. They sell on eBay and Amazon. It is packaged very well, always in good condition and shipped to my home in a few days.
Here is a link to the eBay store:
Stoner Metals Aluminum store on eBay


For me, Midwest Steel has lower prices after shipping (for 1/2" 6061 plate at least).


Unfortunately the source in the U.S. Midwest for 4x8 panels of HDPE, Menards has discontinued them.

Usually you can find a sign shop or some other vendor.

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Thank you all, very helpful info.

also I found that on ebay, you can get “basswood” for reasonable prices; like 5x5x1" blocks.
I got a PILE of them initially and I still use them for testing stuff.

It’s relatively soft wood, so cuts quick. It’s also a bit stringy, so super fine 3D carving with a ballnose does not work so well (but 3D carving with a downcut normal endmill works reasonably)

they seem to keep their form well (I’ve not have them cup on me yet)

they ebay guy I got them from sometimes does and sometimes does not have the 5x5 blocks…


Can you give more detail on what, precisely, you’re interested in machining or prototyping?

For example if you’re going to machine something artistic like those 3D terrain maps, you might want a material like Renshape, while if you’re making parts for RC cars, you might want Aluminium or some kind of composite material. There’s a very wide spectrum.

The volume will matter too. If you’re using a Nomad and need small pre-cut pieces of stock, the suppliers will likely be different to if you’re using a Shapeoko and are happy to use the router to cut large pieces out of a large sheet.

And finally, where are you located? There isn’t an “Amazon for materials” so most of the sources tend to be regional.


Right, so I’m using Shapeoko 3 xxl and I am in St. Louis, MO. Aluminum is one of the materials but wood and plastic will be used for most of the projects. Thanks again to all of you for your help.

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For plastics, a place that does signmaking, or possibly printing (I use Allegra printing in Iowa for some plastics), they may have one-off sheets to purchase. For sourcing types of plastics or larger orders (like 20 sheets or more) there is Polymershapes (a plastics distributor), and they do have a St Louis location:

Midwest steel supply has great online prices for aluminum:
(and if you find it needs to be delivered to a place with a dock, again a sign supply place might be able to receive it for you…)

I don’t do too much wood, but I would also like to know where smaller pieces (12"x18"x3" or smaller) of non-construction species of wood can be found for reasonable prices. eBay is a possibility but the shipping kills the prices…


The various specialty wood suppliers such as:

The bottom line is wood has gotten to be expensive — need to look into some alternatives such as: