Can I practice turning with MDF?

Q:

Before I turn a few vases from some prized—and pricey—wood, I’d like to experiment with designs on prototypes. Can I turn these prototypes from less-expensive, glued-up MDF?
—Paul Bianchina, Bend, Ore.

A:

WOOD® turning expert Brian Simmons says there’s nothing wrong with turning medium-density fiberboard, Paul, but you should be aware of two caveats. First, MDF is manufactured from fine wood pulp and lots of glue, so turning it creates loads of fine dust, as shown above, especially as you take lighter cuts during final shaping. Wear a respirator to avoid breathing the dust. Second, all that glue in MDF dulls high-speed-steel turning tools much quicker than does regular wood. So if you go this route, use carbide-insert tools to avoid sharpening so often.

For a less-dusty and -dulling test material, make your prototype blanks from a low-cost solid-wood species, such as pine or poplar. Your costs should be about the same, and your shop air much cleaner.

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