Working with plywood

Of course, marrying fine design with inexpensive building materials is nothing new. Not every project requires exotic woods. Sometimes, as master builder Hendrik Varju points out, plywood does the job.

By Adrian Jones

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Cross cutting plywood

Plywood also needs special precautions when cross cutting. While a combination blade gives the smoothest edge from one core veneer layer to the next, my primary concern with sheet goods is protecting the face veneer. There is no use in spending top dollar for A-1 black cherry ply only to chip the veneers when cross cutting.

While a 60-tooth blade works best for thicker solid wood, plywood beckons for my 80-tooth super-fine cross-cut blade. It leaves the best possible endcut on those delicate face veneers. Keep in mind that zero-clearance protection is required on the underside of the panel, as well as on the front edge (closest to the front of the tablesaw), in order to avoid tearout in those areas. This means you should use a backer board on a mitre gauge and a zero-clearance insert. Better yet, use a cross-cut sled, as it already offers zero-clearance surfaces on the fence and base. I often stack my panels and cut them all at once to ensure they end up the same length, so only the bottom panel requires zero clearance. Panels higher up on the stack already have zero-clearance protection from the panels beneath them.

Iron-on edge banding

An easier option over solid-wood edging is iron-on edge banding, which you can buy from local lumberyards or home-improvement centres. I’m not talking about fake-wood laminates, but real-wood edging that comes in 25′ rolls or longer with hot-melt adhesive on the back. Just remember that this kind of edging is only 1/32″ thick after application, so the edges of your completed panels must remain square. There is no material thickness there to rout a decorative profile.

Since boards don’t generally come 25′ or 50′ long, rolls of edge banding have finger joints connecting one piece of edging to another to form a long roll. These joints are sometimes difficult to see in the raw, but a stain applied later will easily highlight them. I prefer to cut all the finger joints out of a roll before I begin so that I can see what lengths I have available for different panels in the project. Edge banding is easy to cut with a pair of sharp scissors.

Cut the banding about 1/2″ longer than the edge of your panel and apply it with a hot iron set to the cotton setting (quite hot). Keep the iron moving to avoid scorching the wood, but use the other hand to ensure the banding stands proud of the panel on both sides. Immediately after ironing the whole length, press the banding down firmly with a small, flat piece of hardwood. As you slide back and forth, the hot-melt glue will cool quickly to hold the banding on.

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