Precision Board Versus MDF & EPS

Coastal Enterprises, manufacturers of Precision Board HDU, is proud to host guest blogs written by some of the industry’s biggest movers and shakers, posted to the Precision Board Blog.  This guest blog is written by Jody Wyse, Western Regional Sales Manager for Hawkeye Industries, manufacturers of Duratec polyester and vinylester coatings, headquartered in Bloomington, California. 

In our February Tooling Tidbit e-blast we talked about the benefits of using Precision Board urethane tooling board for soft tooling applications.  In this month’s guest blog, Jody discusses the benefits of using Precision Board Urethane Tooling Board over other soft tooling substrates like MDF and EPS.

In Jody’s own words…

My previous blog was about the various Duratec coatings that could be used on Coastal Enterprises’ Precision Board Tooling Board and was a broad discussion of products in general.  In this latest blog entry, I will cover the beginning steps for choosing the correct substrate for a tooling project.

Not every tool, plug or shape being made needs a perfect surface.  In fact, I’ve used everything from a sheet of 6mil plastic over a dirt shape dug in the ground all the way up to high end metal tools.  Both surfaces were the correct ones for the jobs being done.

Tooling board comes into play when you need a reliable and dimensionally stable substrate and you don’t want any unpleasant surprises at a time when it is too late in the process to make simple and cost effective changes. Sometimes the problems don’t show up until the final stages of the project, like when the first part, or the permanent final tool is being pulled from the mold or plug you spent the last month (maybe much longer) and possibly hundreds of man hours building.

People frequently ask about using MDF or EPS foam as a substrate for a plug or tool.  These materials work, but it’s not what they were designed for.  They just happen to work in non critical parts, and they work adequately at best. The most common reason for using these products is the low upfront cost.  Another reason is a low number of parts needed (5 or so identical parts off the shape, and the dimensions are reasonably critical, and so is the finished surface of the final part).

Let’s take a look at each of these materials.

MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard)

MDF is cheap, but the quality and consistency is very unreliable.  What you buy today may be very different than what you buy tomorrow.  Even sheets in the same stack can have very different properties. One big problem with MDF is that it’s always changing shape.  MDF is very sensitive to temperature and humidity.  So whatever shape you make today will have changed by tomorrow. This gets worse over time, and the changes can be amplified after the first part is pulled from the shape.

After the first part is pulled from an MDF plug or tool it will normally have changed dimensionally, plus the surface profile typically deteriorates. All the work put into creating a shape with the correct dimensions and surface profile may need to be done again, resulting in delays and more man hours, which can increase the costs rapidly.

EPS (Expanded Polystyrene)

EPS foam is cheap, but it can be difficult to shape depending on the density.  Low density EPS tends to crumble or come off in small chunks when using hand tools. It also requires different coatings that are compatible with it to create a surface.  One of the bigger disadvantages is its very low strength.  Rarely can you get more than one part off of an EPS shape, so it normally is used for only that one part.


This doesn’t mean MDF and EPS should never be used, they just have some very limiting physical properties that may be very difficult and expensive to work around.

Precision Board Urethane Tooling Board can be chosen to meet the exact set of physical properties needed for the job, no more, no less. The experts at Coastal Enterprises can help guide you to the correct product for the current job that will save you both time and money.

Having a substrate that is the same today, tomorrow and next week, is required when the surface profile and shape are important.  And if more parts are needed off the same shape, a higher density of Precision Board tooling board can be used to increase its durability.

I make samples to show customers using MDF, EPS and Precision Board so they can see first hand the differences in each substrate and what to expect in the finished shape.  I also show them what each surface looks like after the first part is made off of it.  They are frequently very surprised at how different the surface quality is after only one use.

In some cases the parts made off of low quality substrates need to be extensively reworked before they can be sold or used for their intended purpose.  This usually means the original shape also needs similar extensive rework before another part can be made from it, and that’s only if it survived the de-molding process, which they frequently don’t.

My next guest blog will go into the details of cost effectively choosing the correct Duratec coating(s) to achieve the desired surface properties on different densities of Precision Board tooling board.
mdf eps

Hawkeye Industries is proud to be the master distributor of the Duratec line of putties, primers, sealers, and topcoats.  Duratec Polyester and Vinyl Ester products are famous for their ability to cure completely when applied to plug/pattern surfaces.  That thin-film, air-cure capability makes Duratec ideal for the composites industry.  Check out their website or give them a call at (909) 546-1160 0r (800) 977-0060 if you are interested in more information on how Duratec products work with Precision Board tooling board.

Coastal Enterprises manufactures Precision Board, a versatile, cost-effective and eco-friendly urethane material used extensively in the tooling industry.  It is a closed-cell, rigid, dimensionally-stable substrate that is ideal for use in a number of different tooling applications.  Request free samplesget a quote or sign up for weekly e-blasts packed with helpful information.

Molten Metal Brought To Life In A Canadian Foundry

Behrends is a Canadian foundry and sign shop that has specialized in bronze, aluminum and brass plaques since 1952. A recent article in Sign & Digital Graphics showcases their talented processes and end-result creations.

Precision Board Plus plays an important role at Behrends, being utilized whenever they require patterns or finished products that require a high degree of detail and consistency. Other applications include concrete stamps, cast plaques that feature photo sculpts, and cast 3D crests.

This project features Precision Board PBLT-40 that was CNC cut into a pattern for a bronze crest for the Tacoma Police Department. Years ago, Behrends used MDF for these types of patterns, but MDF wasn’t stable enough to retain the levels of detail they needed when cut on the CNC machine, meaning a lot of extra time was spent in the finish stage hand-tooling the final products. Switching to Precision Board Plus alleviated this problem.

Please visit to see more of their amazing projects.

Additional information about the bronze casting process can be seen in the Sign & Digital Graphics Article on page 88.


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Tacoma Police Department 010

Click here and navigate to page 88 for a behind the scenes look at Behrends Bronze.

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Woodwork Detail

We love to design and create things here from scratch – we also get to work with great Artists, Architects, Interior Designers and creative people who bring us their designs and challenge us to make them.

Sometimes we do large jobs and sometimes we do small ones. Here is an example of a small woodworking detail that just came off our MultiCAM 3000 CNC.  Mark received the file and cut this piece out of 1/4″ MDF – it will go out to the paint shop then to the client to be used as a custom element in their new interior design.





Published with permission from KDF Custom Graphics. Source.

Design For Manufacturability in the Architectural Field

Having a vivid imagination in the design world is an asset, but being able to realistically apply it in the real world is a learned skill.

Within the Department of Architectural Technology at the New York City College of Technology (CUNY) , the Introduction to Computation and Fabrication course aims to teach students introductory CNC techniques, with added focus on Design for Manufacturability.

Using parametric software such as Grasshopper in combination with RhinoCAM, students are taught to create their own tool paths. These tool paths are then “proofed” on a CNC machine using a variety of materials, such as Precision Board, to analyze the design for imperfections or errors.

If the student has designed a complex tool path with many tight, narrow valleys, they may realize as a consequence that the machining time is far too long – with the result being a design that no customer could afford.

If the tool path proves successful, the design is then produced on materials including Precision Board Plus HDU. The goal of this is to teach students that when they design something, they should also have a pretty good idea of the output technology required to bring their design to life.

Additional information on the Introduction to Computation and Fabrication course, taught by prof. Anne Leonhardt and Zach Downey, can be seen at:

Brian Ringley, Technology Coordinator for the National Science Foundation ATE Fuse Lab grant program which initiated the course, sent us pictures of several projects featuring Precision Board donated by Coastal Enterprises from their exhibitions.

These pictures show student-created projects made using Precision Board Plus PBLT-4, PBLT-6 and PBLT-8 for the Intersections 2013 exhibition:




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This project was created by esteemed artist and designer Francis Bitonti as part of a student-artist collaboration exhibit called “Intersections” held in 2012. The project is titled the “Schistose Mirror” and shows Precision Board Plus PBLT-10 mounted onto Trupan MDF being cut on a CNC router. After it was CNC cut it was professionally painted by an auto body shop. See more work from Francis Bitonti at:







The Anatomy of a Formula SAE Race Car

The University of Maryland Terps Racing team recently unveiled their brand-new 2012 Formula SAE car. They are looking forward to an upcoming first race, which will be held in Ontario, Canada on May 24th, and is known as Formula North. Over 70 school teams out of 1200 worldwide will be competing, and University of Maryland currently ranks 10th out of all 1200 schools. All of the individual school rankings can be seen here. They will be competing in two major races for Formula SAE, and will also participate in an additional 8 races for the SCCA, or Sports Car Club of America.


I had the opportunity to speak with C.J. Gorrell, student at U of MD and also Project Manager for the 2012 Terp’s Racing program, about some details of the new car. This year, Terps will be using a single cylinder 450cc Honda Dirtbike engine. This engine, coupled with the aerodynamic bodywork, will enable the car to accelerate from 0-60 in less than 3 seconds. They are also expecting it to pull 3-4 lateral g’s on the corners. Last year, the 2011 car used a Honda FY 600cc street motorcycle engine, and while it did have slightly more horsepower (60hp as opposed to this years 45hp), the lighter weight and improved design of the current car will enable faster lap times. They are also planning on turbocharging the car later in the season, which will bring the horsepower to 60+. A penalty is issued for using too much fuel, so keeping the displacement, and weight down are key to top results.


Aside from an improved engine configuration, lap times this year will also be decreased due to a major redesign of the car’s under tray. As referenced in our previous blog post: Terps Racing – 2012 Racecar Design, Coastal’s donation of high-density Precision Board Plus was used to make a 3d model of the under tray. This will add 150lbs. of additional downforce to the car and improve aerodynamics. In the past, students have used MDF to create master patterns, which took over 10 weeks for machining to be completed, as opposed to the 1-2 weeks Precision Board Plus took. They also praised the higher level of accuracy attained by using HDU.


Each race takes place on an auto-cross style track, and each team is ranked by time trials.  The track is quite narrow at 12ft. wide, and has many varying curves designed to challenge each driver. The University of Maryland will field 4 different race drivers, who were selected based on lap times from earlier tests. Speeds will reach over 60mph for the faster cars.

Check out the Terps Racing Facebook for many more pictures and regular updates on the car!

Also see the Official Terps Racing Website:

Here is a great video of the 2011 Terps Racing Car in action: