Achieving Clean Router Cuts on End Grain

      A cabinet shop wants to machine their own rosettes, but has trouble getting clean end-grain cuts. Here's advice on routing wood end-grain, or on using MDF instead. February 9, 2008

We have decided to router our own rosettes and plinth blocks, because we prefer a simple, clean style and want it to be custom. It will be painted, so we intended to use something inexpensive like pine... but the tear out on the end grain is terrible and it's impossible to get smooth, even filling and sanding it. Is there a better choice for the wood that will give us a cleaner edge on the end grain routered pass?

Forum Responses
(Solid Wood Machining Forum)
From contributor A:
Buy a sheet of ultra-refined MDF. It's about $25 a sheet. Must be cut with a carbide rosette cutter. Sand profile to 220 grit and prime with BIN white shellac primer. Re-sand to 220 and prime, then topcoats. Regular MDF tends to be very porous and may need to be coated with spackle and sanded before painting.

From the original questioner:
Interesting... Thank you! I had actually been pondering whether or not you could buy that grade of MDF to use, and whether or not it would cut with a router. Thanks for the info. I'll ask my husband what he thinks.

From the original questioner:
Well, that was easy. I tracked it down at a local building supply (the box stores only carry particleboard, not MDF?). $41/sheet. My only concern is that he said that it is "just MDF." There is no fine grain. He said that MDF is the "powdery sawdust" type grain, as opposed to particleboard, which is rougher. I am going to have to have them order this in, so I am a little concerned about getting the right material. Does that sound like the right stuff?

From contributor A:
If you go to a Lowes or Home Depot you will be able to buy regular MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) for $15-$20 a sheet for 3/4" x 4' x 8'. The product I was referring to is superior, however it must be purchased either directly from a plywood distributor or a cabinet/wood shop. The other option is to use soft maple instead of pine. It is much harder and won't tear out as much as your pine.

From Professor Gene Wengert, Sawing and Drying Forum technical advisor:
Machining end grain is like trying to cut the ends of a bundle of soda straws... there is much more air than material to be cut. So, we either need to stiffen the wood (very low MC and maybe even a hard filler (wash coat or sanding sealer) and then also use HSS cutters and not carbide. Further, a very light cut will only push the fibers over and will not cut them, so avoid slow feed speeds (that is, small cuts per cutter, which means avoid high cutter RPMs and slow feeds) and light (shallow) cuts. Use only fresh sandpaper with minimal pressure, as pressure will push the fibers over. Note that the lower the density of the wood, the greater the problem of mushy ends.

From contributor G:
My supplier calls it "double cut MDF" and it is a darker brown color compared to the standard "single cut" MDF which is more of a pale brown or grey color.

From contributor H:
Plum Creek brand is what we use for paint grade doors in our cabinet shop. Not sure if it is the best, but it works for us.

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