fiberboard (MDF) by its trade names
of Masonite, AllGreen, or Synergite.
MDF is a manufactured product,
usually available in 4 by 8 foot panel
sheets, and is made by compressing
wood fibers bound with a resin. The
thickness and strength of an MDF
panel can be controlled during the
manufacturing process. There are
quite dense MDF panels that are
extremely hard and durable. Others
(like particle board) consist of larger
fibers and wood chunks, and aren’t
Various brands and styles of MDF
panels are routinely available at home
improvement stores and lumber yards.
Look for cut pieces so that you don’t
have to purchase an entire 4 by 8 foot
sheet. Or, find a low-cost paper
clipboard at the office supply store.
Many use MDF in 1/8” thickness.
The downside to MDF panels —
especially the less dense particle
boards — is that they are quite heavy
for their size. A 12x12 inch sheet of
1/4” MDF can easily weigh several
pounds. Other disadvantages include:
the use of urea formaldehyde or other
harmful chemicals that can leach out
of the wood over time; the corners
and edges can break off more
readily than with ordinary wood; and
dimensional creep, where the wood
can warp when under constant weight.
Not all metals for robot building
are rigid and tough. Other metal
material that is useful in certain
robotic constructions is wire mesh;
it’s like metal sheets with holes in it,
because that’s exactly what it is. The
metal gives the material a stiffness,
and the mesh allows it to be shaped
to most any contour. It’s commonly
used to form the shape of an object
for sculpting or molding with papier
maché, but it’s also a suitable material
for lightweight robot parts.
Metal mesh is not strong enough
for the body of a robot but the metal
can be shaped and reinforced to make
a protective undercarriage for your
robot; a protective shell around
62 SERVO 05.2009
electronics or battery compartments;
the scoop of a Sumo (wrestling)
robot; or the semi-rigid (and therefore
semi-soft) bumper or skirt material
around the bot which protects the
robot and its surroundings.
WireForm is a common metal
mesh brand. WireForm is a brand
made by Amaco; there are others.
It is available in 16 by 20 inch sheets,
and comes in a variety of meshes and
colors. Find it at the better arts and
Even More Materials
to Choose From
Space doesn’t allow me to
cover each and every alternative
construction material, such as
fiberglass, machinable wax, resin- and
rubber- casts, even taxidermy supplies.
With a bit of research on your own
and out-of-the-box thinking, you’ll
discover many of these as you work
with your robotic creations.
Check your local home improvement or hardware store for items like
MDF board, and well-stocked craft
supply stores for things like foam
board, corrugated plastic sheet, and
other possibilities. Below is a selection
of some online resources for foam
boards and other substrates, specialty
woods, and other unusual materials
useful in robot building.
American Art and Clay Co., Inc.
Amaco manufactures and sells
(mainly through retailers) a line of
arts and crafts products which include
WireForm wire mesh (can be sculpted
to form a shape), Friendly Plastic
(softens in warm water), and Easy
Metal (thin metal foil).
Polyurethane resin molds. Much
of Armorcast’s product line is
“scenery” — things like miniature trees
and rocks for models. Suitable for
robot displays or for a playing field
for your combat bot.
Art supplies: craft boards (such as
foam board), plastics, and adhesives,
and lots more. Their online store lets
you browse by category or search for
specific products by name or brand.
Art Supply Warehouse
Artists accessories, brushes, foam
boards, and paints.
Constantines Wood Center
Not a hardware store per se, but
a huge depot of all kinds of woods.
They also sell tools, adhesives, and
Now you can go to the hardware
store using only your computer.
CornerHardware.com is like the
neighborhood hardware store, except
it’s open on Sunday.
Crafts, including knitting and
needlepoint. Use the plastic needlepoint “canvas” for making grilles,
bumpers, and other parts for your
robot. Local and online stores.
Dick Blick Art Materials
Complete line of craft materials
and art supplies. Also local stores
(predominately in the Midwest and
Great Lakes areas of the United
Fire Mountain Gems
Large and varied online retailer
of jewelry and bead-making supplies.
They offer a good selection of
polymer clays, tools, and ovens.
The site bills itself as the “World’s