View Full Version : Baltic Birch - Is it supposed to have voids?

Cherie Irwin
12-29-2011, 8:12 PM
Hi everyone! I have been cutting out all sorts of things with my 40 Watt Epilog. (See photo of my creations below.) My material of choice has mainly been 1/4" birch veneered MDF, but the stuff smells terrible when you vector cut it. It looks great, but really stinks. Adding to that, it is laden with formaldehyde glue. Even though I have a really good ventilation system, I'm certain that the material itself is putting off carcinogenic formaldehyde vapors after it is cut. The cut boards literally will stink up my studio for a day or two if I don't close them up in in a cabinet right away. So, I decided to check out the 6mm Baltic Birch. I found two suppliers within a 45 minute drive of my house. I first bought a sheet from the lumber supplier closest to me. A 5 x 5 sheet was $19. Not a bad price. My laser cut right through most of it, but I discovered there were some places it just wouldn't cut all the way through. On every board that I tried to cut, there was a always at least one place that wouldn't cut through. I thought perhaps the place I got it from just had a poor quality supply. Then, I bought a sample piece from another lumber store. The stamp on the second sheet was K I/II (similar to the stamp on the sheet from the photo Michael K posted in another thread). The problem did not go away, and I was under the assumption that this was a better grade sheet. Thinking it was a putty filled hole or a knot, I pulled the plies apart to see what the problem was. Instead it was a void, a hole measuring 3/16" wide by x 1/2" long. The inside of the hole was charred pretty bad. That being said, I probably had my frequency way too high. Now my questions:

I was under the assumption that Baltic Birch should be void free. Is this true, or did I just get some crappy stuff?
If I adjust the frequency, will I be able to cut through the voids?

If I can't cut through the voids, and if there is no such thing as void free plywood, I will have to come up with another option. But, it is extremely difficult to find a veneered NAF or NAUF MDF that is truly 6mm or 1/4". Veneering my own would prove to be a giant hassle and would be very expensive. All of the options available on the open market all seem to be a little too thin for my needs.

Steve knight
12-29-2011, 8:42 PM
it can have voids for sure. I prefer the Russian/euro ply it is 4x8 and usually better quality and void free. I have cut hundreds of sheets on my cnc router and very few voids do I see. for better material if you can find appleply it is even better with more plys.

Bill Cunningham
12-29-2011, 8:49 PM
I don't do a lot of BB but the stuff I pick up at Michael's seems to be void free.. I do all cutting at a freq. of 150.Faster, and it chars..

Cherie Irwin
12-29-2011, 10:13 PM
Bill: I can't afford Michael's prices. I go through about five 4' x 8' sheets of plywood a month. That's 100 12" x 18" boards, and I don't think I can get that type of quantity at Michael's. I'd have to drive to every one in my state to find that many.

Steve: I've considered the Appleply, but thought I'd give the Baltic Birch a try before I went to the trouble and expense of sourcing Appleply. There is only one distributor here in Missouri, and I would have to have it shipped to my cousin's cabinet shop to have it cut down for me. I can't really do anything with a 4 x 8 sheet of wood, since I have no place to store saws. Also, I read that someone had problems cutting the Appleply on a laser that is similar to mine. Anyone have a positive experience?

Allan Wright
12-30-2011, 12:05 AM
I've been using Baltic birch (called 'Arctic Birch' by my local hardwoods supply house) for years. I've noticed recently the composition of it has changed slightly. I'm not sure if it is the glue or the wood used, but it's not cutting as cleanly as it used to. I get more charring lately. I'm hoping it's just moisture content and storing it in my normal storage place will even that out.

Allan Wright
12-30-2011, 12:08 AM
In answer to your question, yes the stuff I get has occasional voids. It also has the occasional 'paste' filler in between the layers that totally defeats my laser. Both are infrequent enough that I don't worry about them and are willing to re-cut any ruined products caused by them.

Mike Null
12-30-2011, 7:13 AM

My compliments on your designs!

I've purchased my wood from Mike Kowalczyk here on SMC and have never encountered voids.


Cherie Irwin
12-30-2011, 1:56 PM
Thanks Mike! You probably know of both suppliers I purchased from: St. Charles Hardwoods and The Wood & Shop in Eolia. Since I had a bad experience with the BB from the former, I went out to see Bruce at The Wood & Shop. He cut a couple small pieces for me to try out. Right away, I experienced the same problem I had with the first sheet. Count me as FRUSTRATED! So, I will definitely contact Mike to see if can help me out.

My photo booth props have been selling like CRAZY, and I don't want to shut the whole operation down, but the BB that I have sourced has been nearly impossible to work with. And, dealing with the MDF could potentially have some health effects in the future. While it was never really my intention to sell the props, I posted pictures of my personal collection on a forum for Photo Booth owners, and the e-mail requests started coming in one right after the other. So, I built an online storefront to sell them. I also decided to post the boxes on Etsy, and a novel writer contacted me to design custom boxes for his books. He ordered 20 custom boxes to send his book out to publishers. They looked amazing with the blackened edge from the MDF core, but I nearly coughed up a lung when I walked into the room where we were assembling them. The smell was horrendous. That was the moment that I decided that I just couldn't work with it anymore. At least I made a lot of money on those boxes.

Michael Kowalczyk
12-30-2011, 3:18 PM
I have had some 3mm come through that has had the inner core with small pin knots. Someone called it the "Black poof of death" because there is always the poof of black smoke were it happens. I made sure I bought my last load of 6mm from a different mill this time to see if there is a difference. Under normal circumstances the center core should never be less than than a BB on a B/BB sheet but I think that some of the Russian mills are throwing what ever they can in for the center core because most people that buy 3mm and 6mm ply are using it in larger pieces than we do and cutting it with a table or band saw so it does not effect it like a laser does.

Since they had to comply with CARB II I have seen the above changes in a few sheets but as some of you have said that you get charring on your edges, I can assure you that nothing I get has ever charred, it is always a golden brown. We make sure it has interior glue and is not some Chinese or other import substitute.

Getting sheets from any of the hobby stores means your going to be paying high retail prices. It is also many times a Finnish wood made for RC planes and other modeling so it is a good wood just a little over kill unless you need it and can justify the premium price.

Allan if you are getting putty in the center core or outer core you are getting a "C" grade material typically used in making crates or is unseen because it is covered with something. Ours will never have any putty.

Cherie, Appleply is typically sold by the unit and only go down to 1/4", they do not have any 1/8" (3mm), and you can specify what species you get on the face but you will pay dearly for it. They use Birch from Russia and Poland and it would be cool if I could get some 3mm from Poland that was reasonably priced and try to market it... From one Pole to another. Sorry I drifted a little but please let me know if I can help you. *** Update I just got your PM and will reply shortly.****

Thank you and ...

Cherie Irwin
12-30-2011, 3:43 PM
Thanks Michael. You were really the person that I was hoping to hear from. I had a feeling that you would know "what's up" and might be able to help or offer some advice.

Khalid Nazim
01-04-2012, 3:07 PM
Hi Cherie,

On a completely different topic to the subject of this thread, I noticed that you have made some really nice boxes for beverages. Did you make the design from scratch or used one of the free sites or used a program like boxmaker?


Craig Matheny
01-04-2012, 6:41 PM
Cherie, There are changes that have been made on the wood like Mike said I am lucky enough to live in California where we have been CARB II for a long time now. I have tried 4B and 3B the two main grades that we would laser on. The difference is 3b will have a bb side and a b side the core will e no less then the bb. Here is the breck down of the coding for the wood from the Russia Market

They are indeed different from the domestic grades many of us are used to seeing. Baltic Birch is manufactured in accordance with the Russian export GOST 3916.1-96 standards. We have simplified the extensive list to what you see below. The baltic birch full grading standard is available online.

B----Selected one-piece face, generally light and even in color. Occasional small pin knots and some brown streaks may be allowed, but generally no patches, voids or mineral streaks. Sanded surface intended for natural finish.

BB-One-piece face generally light and even in color. Pin knots and mineral streaking or discoloration is allowed with occasional sound tight knots permitted. Open knots and defects in BB face veneers have been cut out and replaced with small oval or round veneer "football" patches before gluing. The veneer selected for the patches is of the same general color as the face veneer. Sanded surface.

CP-One-piece face very close to grade BB. Rejected from BB for small defects with more streaking. Occasional hairline splits of less than .5mm are allowed. The oval or round patches may or may not be matched for color with the base face veneer. There will normally be more patches per face than the BB grade. Sanded surface.

C---Patches, open knots and veneer splits allowed. Not sanded.

Hope this helps

Cherie Irwin
01-05-2012, 2:57 PM

Craig: I was informed that the first batch I hat was a not the highest grade of Baltic Birch available. I could accept that was the reason why I had so many problems. So, I sourced a piece of B/BB and that was where I found that large void. I nearly had a breakdown because it appeared to be the same problem that I had with the first batch...but was nearly double the cost and was supposed to be the best available grade. Still exploring other options.

Khalid: I used the online boxmaker to figure out the notch length and width, but I spent hours designing the custom pieces in Illustrator.

Craig Matheny
01-05-2012, 3:04 PM

Craig: I was informed that the first batch I hat was a not the highest grade of Baltic Birch available. I could accept that was the reason why I had so many problems. So, I sourced a piece of B/BB and that was where I found that large void..

As you can see that was not true B/BB I would take it back to the supplier and make them give you what you paid for or a refund. I had a full lift of wood that I got 130 sheets cut down to 1x2 and started using it turned out it was terrible same issue the gave me a complete new lift and I kept the other wood so you can get a lift marked incorrectly in Russia it happens. Here is the other question How do you know it is true Baltic Birch and not the stuff brought in from China different rules there. Well good luck I would try a lumber yard that imports specialty woods they a lot of times sell the 5 x 5 sheets and can cut to size.

Larry Allred
01-07-2012, 1:44 AM
The stink on burning can have a lot to do with the amount of glue in the wood. I use baltic birch ply rather than mdf. Much easier on the nose and the cutting grid, less mess, looks nice. The few voids I get are worth the difference. My wood supplier cuts 4 x 8 sheets to 2 x 4 for next to nothing, and front loading in the laser only takes :30 per cut to get them down to bed size.

Some of the cheaper plies can be worse than mdf and really make a mess of the laser fast. But I don't have that with good bb.

Don Williams Michigan
01-08-2012, 10:59 AM
I have a supply of excellent 1/8" Baltic Birch that I had special ordered. We no longer use this material so I would be willing to sell below my cost to make room in our shop.
All is stamped BB -14-4 and is the best BB I ever used. Extremely clean both sides, no biscuits or fillers. Many sheets are already cut to 12 x 24.
PM me if anyone is interested?