T track + MDF: On top or in place of stock wasteboard?

Hi All! I’m looking to install aluminum t tracks. I was planning to replace the stock wasteboard with a full sheet of MDF with slots for the t tracks to fit into and then screw to the MDF. However, most installations I’ve seen are done on top of the stock wasteboard and with MDF fillers, rather than a full sheet. Few questions:

Has anyone tried replacing the stock wasteboard with a full sheet of MDF with aluminum t tracks slotted in? Any pros and cons?

Is it really worth installing an additional base with t tracks on top of the stock wasteboard and losing about 3/4” of Z height?

Are MDF fillers really a better option than a full sheet of MDF for the tracks to slot into?

I’ve seen t tracks most often set below the top of the MDF. Is this to reduce the chance of the cutters hitting the track?

Thanks in advance for helping a Shapeoko newbie :).

I think you’ll loose the rigidity that the full base gives. I would be worried it will be more flexible as a result.

As an x newbie… I did t-track from day one and got annoyed with it. I moved to threaded and it is so much better!

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Good points. Thanks Ben! What did you find makes the threaded wasteboard better? I thought screwing and unscrewing in clamps would be annoying, so I’m definitely curious!

The loss of rigidity from the slots is significant, and it also makes adding a spoilboard more complex — the nicety of the MDF base layer with T-track and filler strips on top is the filler strips may then be easily replaced — doubly so if one uses standard lumber sizes as I did at:

Threaded inserts have the advantage of infinite customizability and I’ve previously opined that if I have to set up a machine again my inclination would be for threaded inserts, but rather than installing an array of them, I would create a master file, and would drill for inserts as and where needed, installing them only at need — that way I’d be sure each insert was used at least once.

I wouldn’t take any of the baseboard material away, I went the other way and bolted mine down to the bench it lives on to improve the rigidity and get rid of some unwanted deflection.

Increased Z travel is a double edged sword, it can increase issues with bit chatter and spindle deflection as you move further away from the X rail by increasing the leverage.

As Will says, threaded inserts are a good idea, I started with T tracks between my extra spoilboard strips and thought that would be great. It wasn’t, I was constantly trying to figure out how to lay out the workpiece so I could reach it from the T track clamps, they’re good, but not enough on their own.

I finally added a grid of 6mm threaded inserts to bolt extra clamps in, where I actually want a clamp, they’re on 100mm centres, between the T tracks.

I also had the Shapeoko mill a grid of 10.2mm holes in the spoilboard in which I can put little 10mm Aluminium rod dowels to help me align the stock on the machine, which saves a lot of effort getting stock squared with the machine or re-zero-ing when making multiple pieces

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Some like the T slots. I do not. I made an mdf tee nut supplemental spoil board. I have 2 inch spacing with a left and front fence (Myers spoilboard). I used Myers cam clamps and have Carbide3d gator clamps and oops clamps. I mostly use the large cam clamps. The T slots did not work for me and the clamps stick up too high for my taste. I am going to try the blue tape and superglue on a project that tabs would be in the way.

Super helpful! Thanks so much for your thoughts; especially about rigidity. Planning on threaded inserts now :slight_smile: .

@WillAdams, thanks for the link—great idea—planning on something like that for the fillers now.

@LiamN thanks for the details and pic! Do you still find the t tracks you have helpful/worth it for y axis pressure, or not really? @WillAdams, curious on your thoughts on this too.

@gdon_2003, thanks for the input on clamps and reference to Myers methods.

I’m currently using a T-track setup on my XL as shown/linked above — I use Gator Tooth clamps on it for wood. One SO3 has an aluminum wasteboard (as does my Nomad) and I use Tiger Claw clamps with Gator Tooth clamps as stops on it for metal, the second will have threaded inserts — eventually it will get upgraded to an XXL and will continue w/ threaded inserts.

I used the Myers Woodshop spoilboard for the XXL. I like this plan but really it is the modularity that I like. The XXL spoilboard has 2 inch spacing for the Tee nuts as well as the fences. By having the 2 inch spacing I have made jigs that I can cut holes in so I can bolt the jig down to the spoilboard. Just having the regularity of the holes makes clamping easy. The fences that go with the spoilboard are ok but I rarely secure in the lower left corner. I use the center of the spoilboard more just because that is t he way I like to work. The default in CC seems to have the origin in the lower left corner but I prefer to have my origin centered on the object I am cutting. Just my preference and others may like the origin in other places.

For my Tee nuts I got 1/4-20 5/16 inch tall. Because my spoilboard is 3/4 inch thick and my cam clamps all have a 1/2 inch from the bottom of the clamp to the top of the recess that makes the 1.25 inch length bolts work so I do not bottom out the clamp down bolts on the base board of the Shapeoko (I use a washer in the recess of the clamp). As I trim down my spoilboard I have to carefully measure and either replace my bolts or add washers to keep from bottoming out the bolts on the base board.

The Myers Woodshop has 2 types of cam clamps, a large and a small. I mainly use the large but I made a change to Myers design to make sure the grain of my oak clamps is in the right direction. The grain follows the long part of the clamp. I was concerned that if the clamps were made with the grain perpendicular to the length of the clamp they would be weak and possibly snap.

Myers sold his designs on etsy.com, had links from his youtube.com channel and has a website that you can get the files free. You can always download the files and modify them any way you like. But you can get a starting point if you want to design your own.

I do still use the T tracks because they’re there and they’re quick and easy to use. I bought a handy T Track clamping kit with a whole range of clampy things that fit that and T tracks on other equipment.

Whether I would buy them again and fit them to a new machine is a different question. It would probably depend on what sorts of workpieces I was cutting, for big bulky stuff like doing joinery on 2x4s the T track and pegs are a great combination, fast and easy to use. For more delicate things that require more precision, like surfacing a glue up of boards and then machining, inserts and blue tape with superglue are likely a much better bet.

There is an old woodworking saying “you can never have too many clamps” which I have yet to disprove, choices for how to clamp on your spoilboard save a lot of time and trouble.

The only clampy thing I made but don’t use at all (as per Guy’s post) is the right angle fence pair for the bottom left corner, I made one based on Myer’s Woodshop’s video, used it once and since then it’s sat on a shelf. The grid of pegs is much more useful to me.

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Couldn’t inserts be used as pegs holders?

I am about to move away from the t track and install insert (next week) and I plan on using some small bolts with metal sleeves as pegs.

Just my two cents.

You could, it depends on the accuracy you are after.

The issue with that is that the inserts don’t go very precisely into the middle of the hole due to the nature of their self-threading so you’ll end up with random offsets in the bolt positions.

If you just want a repeatable set of positions then pegs anywhere is fine, if you want them square with the machine and in line with each other it’s probably best to mill out the holes and use round inserts.

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Thanks @LiamN

That makes perfect sense, now!

Glad you replied, that will save me from doing all that work and not getting the accuracy I need.

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NP,

And don’t worry, you’ll always find something else to go back and improve :wink:

My pegs BTW are cheap 10mm soft Aluminium rod from a local DIY store, I just saw off lengths and file down the edges. As well as being dirt cheap these are soft enough that when I leave them in and then crash a toolpath into them there is generally a loud noise and a new peg needed but an intact cutter (1/4 inch 201, 90 degree chamfer etc.). I occasionally have to clean a bit of aluminium off the flutes and re-home the machine but better than mangling a cutter on a hard steel pin.

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Super, super helpful. Thank you all so much! Saved me time, money, and I’m sure a lot of regret for spending that time and money unnecessarily ;).

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I’m surprised there is so little love for t-tracks. I started off with threaded inserts, but drilling them distorted the MDF, and they kept pulling out. Switched to t-tracks and prefer them. I set the t-tracks on top of the original wasteboard and added filler strips. The advantage for me is I can replace the strips when they start getting beat up or over-used.

I also took the time to use a v-bit to mill the limits of travel and a 25 mm grid.

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Everybody works different. I prefer the Tee nuts and 2 inch spacing. Since it is your machine you should do what you like. I use T-tracks on my drill press table and my offset router table with an Incra Positioner. The T-track works well for securing my fences and I put a power switch on an L bracket on the router table so I can slide the switch close behind the fence. I have a Shark CNC and it originally had T-Tracks but I eventually migrated to the Tee Nuts and cam clamps. I recently bought a big tube of super glue to try the painters tape and super glue for a project with small objects that I do not want to have to cut the tabs off of. There are many ways to skin a cat but in the end you have a skinned cat however you do it.

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That’s a great tip and something I should do, it’s got to be the easiest and most convenient way to align stock (I tend to use vertical and horizontal marks from previous overcuts as visual cues…but actually carving a grid is much, much better)

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Here’s a good rule to use when deciding on T-track versus threaded inserts. (OK, its two rules, but they are the same rule. :smiley: )

If the majority of your parts are large compared to the grid, you’ll prefer threaded inserts.

If the majority of your parts are small compared to the grid, you’ll prefer T-track.

Why is this? Granularity.

Many times I fight for a threaded hole to use for my clamps on small pieces. My grid is from the Myers wasteboard and is 2". They don’t line up just right with the length of my clamps. Then I’m thinking the T-track would give me more granularity in adjustment locations.

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My biggest objection to T tracks is the large gaps under the material — if I had room to store them I’d just always cut a spoilboard sized to the current stock to go underneath.

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