Introduction: How to Apply Wood Edge Banding to Plywood.
Plywood is fantastic for making furniture. Its super strong, it comes in large sheets and most importantly it is dimensionably stable. So we don´t need to worry about warping. One thing thats not so nice about it are the edges. This is a very simple way of covering them up and it can look really nice.
Materials you need:
Thick wood veneer. Any type will work, but I reccomend getting thicker stuff. Mine was 1/10 Inch or 2.54mm. Anything thinner would be easy to sand through by accident. You could also get a solid board of hardwood and cut it down into think strips. If you use thicker strips you have enough meat to add a round over if you like.
Regular Wood Glue. (You don´t need waterproof wood glue for bathrooms. Only if is actually getting wet.)
Tools you need:
- Cordless Drill
- Block Plane
- Random Orbital Sander
- Some weights
- Edge Band Clamps would work great, but you can get by without.
Step 1: Cut the Veneer Into Strips
You need strips that are a little bit wider than the thickness of the plywood. That makes the glueup easier. To cut it I reccomend using the table saw and a scrap piece of plywood to apply pressure over the entire length of the strip you are cutting. Especially if you cut across the grain you need to keep the veneer pressed down. It is very fragile and soft.
Using Solid Wood:
If you have a piece of hardwood that would work just as well. You can get great stuff if you ask a local hardwood flooring company for some scraps. A single board would probably be enough to cover a whole cabinet. Cutting the board into strips is also easier than cutting veneer and you can get thicker strips as well.
What type of tree should I use?
That is up to you of course, but I used American Wallnut. I liked the contrast between the bright baltic birch plywood and the dark hardwood. There are a ton of different veneers available. Get something hard at least. The edges will get the most abuse.
Step 2: Glue Them On!
Apply a generous amount of glue and spread it out so it covers the entire surface of the plywood edge. That is important so you get a good bond all the way to the edge. I use a little piece of wood to spread the glue.
Apply the wood:
I starte with the wood that I had cut along the grain. On this cabinet there are horizontal and vertical edges, but I veneer to appear like one giant piece. So I had to cut the strips in two different orientations as well. Just place the wood on top and try to hold it down somehow. You can just stack weights on top, or you can glue it down with masking tape. If you use clamps, make sure the load is spread out, otherwise you might get impressions of the clamps.
Work in sections:
It is impossible to cover all the edges at once and get a perfect fit. The pieces can move around while the glue is drying so you cannot properly cut anything to fit. First I glued on the rails of the cabinet and then the uprights. That way I only had to trim the uprights to fit.
Alligning joints properly:
I didn´t do a perfect job here, but you certainly could if you spend enough time on this. A little block plane works great to shave off just enough material to get a perfect fit. If you like you could even add mitres in the corners or glue on decorative dark squares at the intersection where two panels meet. Really fine woodworkers would later route out some of the veneer and replace it with a differnt colour inlay. You can go crazy on this, or keep it simple enough. Either way it will be better than Ikea furniture : )
Step 3: Cover Up Your Mistakes!
Some of my joints had little gaps in between them. To cover them you can get the perfect coloured wood putty by mixing some of the sanding dust with regular wood glue. If you make it a little bit thicker than peanut butter you can smear it into the joints. Don´t try to get it smeared flush. Leave a little extra on top that you then sand away.
The joints should be invisible afterwards. That really depends on what kind of furniture you are making. On large objects, the blemishes will be less obvious than on small more intricate objects like a tressure chest.
If you do woodworking for fun and relaxation than you can spend hours on this to get it perfect. I just wanted to get this piece done to finally be able to store away my towels in the bathroom. So I had different motives.
Step 4: Flush Trim Everything!
You can cut off any access with a router and a flush trim bit. Flush trim bits have a little bearing that run along the plywood underneath for reference. Anything that sticks out will be cut off and theoretically you get a perfectly flush edge banding. This only works well if you hold the router perfectly flat on top of the edge. If you tilt it, it can cut off a little bit more or not enough.
It is worth buying a good quality flush trim bit. I have one of those cheap router bit sets and they are generally good enough, but if you are building a beautiful piece of furniture and put hours of work into it, you don´t want it to be ruined by a dull or wonky cutter.
What about the inside corners?
Your router won´t reach them, so you need to cut them by hand. You will be suprised how easy that is. Just use a sharp chissel and carefully cut away anything that isn´t supposed to be there. Look closly at the tip of the chissel! There is one flat side and one beveled side. They meed at the cutting edge and the cutting edge doesn´t care which side of the bevel is touching the wood. So if you don´t have access to lay the chissel flat against the plywood, you can just as well cut with the bevel flat against the wood. The cut will be the same, but you have more flexibility.
Sand for the final finish:
The router will leave behind flush edged, but they won´t be perfectly smooth. A random orbital sander with a 180 grit sandpaper will make them look and feel a lot better very quickly. Just make sure you keep the sanding pad flat against the plywood. Otherwise you round over the edge too much. Sand all the edges and also the rest of the cabinet until it feels smooth.
Step 5: Apply a Finish.
I love to use oil finishes that consist out of a natural oil blend. They are extemly easy to apply and impossible to get wrong. You just apply them with a rag, a roller or a brush and let it soak in for 20 minutes before you wipe off the access. The oil reacts with the oxygen in the air and becomes hard over a few hours. This reaction continues over weeks and months, but you can touch and use the furniture after a day. Like any paint of varnish, the can needs to be shaked properly before use. This brand is OSMO Topoil, a German manufacturer that you probably won´t get outside of Europe.
The first application soaks up a ton of oil into the fibres. Some of those fibres will stand up and make the wood feel rough again. So you need to sand all the surfaces again, but only after the first coat had enough time to harden. Typically at least one day. This happens with any finish or paint that you apply. A very light sanding with 240 grit sandpaper is enough to make the wood perfectly smooth again. Then I apply two more layers. The oils form a protective barrier.
Oil soaked raggs can catch on fire if they are thrown into trash. Always spread them out on a nonflamable surface and let them dry for a few days. The reacting oil can cause heat when they are bunched up. I just lay mine onto the lawn and collect them a few days later.
Step 6: End Result.
You will get some beautiful edges. Even if you didn´t do it perfectly like I did. This is a method that creates great results even for beginners or the impatient.
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