Marc: Plywood is an excellent material for building furniture. But it suffers from one major flaw, ugly edges. (rock music) Despite what some may think, plywood is not a four letter word. Actually it’s more like seven letters and you definitely should not be afraid to use it in your projects. Some of my favorite pieces contain plywood. The panels of this amoire, the doors of this jewelry box, the top of this hall table, and this entire desk system. Yep, all plywood. Plywood is flat, it’s stable, and it comes in lots of varieties. And you could even use plywood as a base for your favorite exotic veneers. Now, descent plywood should run you at least $40 a sheet, but even the most expensive plywood presents the same old challenge. How do you treat the edges? Now the most common solution is edge banding. Edge banding comes in a number of varieties including; thin veneer, thin home sawn veneer, and then a more substantial solid wood strip.
The thin veneer edge banding usually comes in rolls like this and it can be purchased plain or in the iron-on variety. Now personally I prefer a good quality iron-on banding. By good quality, I mean a nice, clean face and a good chunky layer of glue on the other side. Now, I usually pick this material up at my local hardwood dealer. So why not use the regular stuff, without the pre-applied glue? Well, I find it difficult to get the proper clamping pressure across the edge and it’s a lot messier.
It also takes a lot longer to dry, so pre-glued is the only way to go in my shop. Now, it’s no secret that veneer edge banding gets a pretty bad rap. Most people see this stuff and immediately think that it’s gonna peel off or just become a problem down the road and that’s not necessarily true if you use the right material and you apply it correctly. Let me show you how. Here are the basic tools you’ll need for the job. Nothing really fancy. Start by bringing the iron up to temperature. I like it just shy of the hottest setting. Next, I cut a strip of edge banding just a bit over sized. Now with the work piece in a vertical position, I begin heating up the first 5″-6″ of the veneer. And keep the iron moving in order to avoid burning. Also notice how I occasionally tilt the iron on an angle to ensure good contact between the glue and the edge of the plywood. Once the glue is melted, go over the area with a roller to ensure full and complete contact.
This is really the step that makes a difference between a quality edge banding job and a crappy one. I then repeat the entire process on the remainder of the edge banding and this is a system that I use whether the piece is 1′ long or 6′ long. And here’s a little tip for you. Try to keep the bulk of the material to one side of the ply. This makes life a whole lot easier when it comes time to flush the veneer to the surface. Trimming the ends is fairly easy. With the veneer face down, simply scribe the edge with a utility knife and snap the piece off. I have two methods of removing the bulk of the overhang. The first is with a utility knife.
Simple and effective, but it can be difficult if you’re working on an assembled case or odd shaped parts. The second method is to use a simple block plane. After a few swipes the edging will be flush with the surface. Just take care not to gauge your ply. It’s very easy to do and it looks terrible. (scraping) The final step is 180 grit sanding. This will remove any excess glue and smooth out the edge. When it’s all said and done, you should be left with a seamless transition between the face and the edging. (funky music) So what do we do in a case like this? You’re gonna confront this a lot in standard case work. We’ve got a fitted piece in the middle here between two other pieces.
I’ll show you how that’s done. Once again, I cut an over sized strip of edge banding. The first order of business is to square up one edge. This is easy enough to do using a scrap piece of plywood, a square, and a utility knife. Just watch your fingers and lightly score the veneer before breaking it off. I place the square end of my new strip against the adjoining piece and apply some heat.
I’m really only focused on the first few inches here. Notice that I only roll toward the joint. Rolling away will cause the piece to move and result in a gap. Now that the first few inches are secure, I heat up the rest of the strip. Be sure not to glue down the last few inches. Using a square, I score the loose end of the strip so that it’s just slightly over sized and by slightly, I mean no more than about 1/64th of an inch. Now I lift up the loose end and bend the tip down so it pushes against the adjoining piece.
I then apply heat and pressure. That little bit of extra material is what gives us a perfect joint. (funky music) Now if you want to step up the quality and you want something that’s a bit more durable than veneer, you could always use these home sawn strips. Now I usually cut mine to about 1/8″ thick and about 3/4″ wide. And since most plywood is just under 3/4″, this gives me that little bit of extra material I need to ensure perfect coverage. I have two ways I like to attach thin home sawn strips.
The first is simply glue and clamps. I apply glue to both the strip and the ply. Now here’s a little tip for you. If you use scrap pieces of veneer to prop the piece of ply up, the strip will be roughly centered on the edge. I then use a small strip of alder as a call, which will distribute the clamping pressure across the surface. The second technique is about as low tech as it gets. I just use strips of tape as little clamps that secure the strip until the glue dries. Obviously this is not ideal in terms of clamping pressure, but this trick may get you out of a bind sometime. Once the glue is dry I use a flush trim saw to carefully trim off the excess material. (sawing) To flush up the edging, I start with a block plane to remove the bulk. (scraping) I follow up with a card scraper in order to avoid gauging the ply and finally, a light 180 grit sanding. The final option is to use a more substantial piece of solid edge banding.
This technique is great if you need a really durable edge or if you want to be able to route a profile into it. You can’t really do that with these thin strips. Once again, I have two techniques. The first of which is the standard glue and clamps. The second method I use is for when you’re in a bit of a rush. I use 1/4″ brad nails and glue. Before shooting the brad nails, I place a small piece of tape over each spot that I plan on driving a nail through. Now I’m not a huge fan of this method because nails don’t apply consistent pressure across the surface like clams and calls, but in some situations this may be the only option and since we’re making holes, we need to repair holes and that’s why I put the tape down first.
The tape ensures that the filler goes in the hole only and not in the surrounding grain. Now flushing the edging is the same routine. You start with the block plane, move to the card scraper, and then a little bit of sanding. (funky music) Now you want to have a little bit more fun with your edges? Here’s one of my favorite tricks. If you take a thin strip of one species and glue that on first, then glue on top of that, another species, you get the look of a fine perimeter inlay.
The doors on this jewelry box were done this way, as were the tops of our office desks. Fine furniture can mean different things to different people. While I probably wouldn’t use iron-on edge banding for my ‘fine furniture’, I wouldn’t hesitate to use solid wood edge banding, but you know, that’s just my opinion. And although I try to use solid wood in all of my projects, there are just times when plywood makes the most structural and economic sense. So as you can see, if treated properly, plywood can truly be a beautiful thing. Thanks for watching. (soft banjo music) .