Design & DIY

6 secrets to finishing plywood edges

furniture edges and TOOLS. Plywood cuttings for use as textures or background Photo by Roman Kosolapov/Shutterstock

I like plywood: It’s economical and stable, can be cut to any size, and comes in grades, thicknesses, and surface veneers that work for bookshelves, cabinets, tabletops, and many other projects. But it has an ugly flaw: its unfinished edge.

Iron-on edge banding
Where edges aren’t prominent or damage prone—cabinet shelves, painted projects—iron-on edge banding is an easy-to-apply option. Banding is available in many woods and in melamine. Buy a roll that’s slightly wider than the plywood edge.

1. Cut a banding strip about 1″ overlength.

2. Clamp the plywood in place. With an iron on its hottest setting, iron on about 6″ of banding. Rub down the hot banding with a wood block, tilting the block slightly to adhere the edges.

3. Continue ironing and rubbing, covering some old ground with each pass.

4. To cut off the end of the strip, position the banded edge down on a flat surface and score from the back with a utility knife.

5. I trim the banding’s long edges with a flat file. Hold the file at a diagonal, almost resting on the plywood’s veneer. Always file towards the plywood, working carefully to avoid scratches. (A utility knife or a veneer-trimming gadget doesn’t work here for me; the blade can wander and damage the banding edge or the veneer.)

6. Sand lightly, easing corners and removing any glue squeeze-out.

If the banding lifts over time, don’t come unglued. Just iron it back down.

You don’t need a fancy gizmo to trim iron-on banding: use a file instead.

Solid-wood edging
Use a solid-wood edging strip where your sheet will get knocked around, or if you plan to rout a decorative profile on the edge.

1. Rip a strip, as thick as you like, from wood that matches or contrasts with the plywood veneer. Make the strip slightly wider than the plywood edge.

2. If you have several bar clamps, you can use glue alone to secure the edging strip: Put pieces of scrap wood between the clamps and the strip to spread clamping pressure evenly. Or secure the strip with glue and a few brads, but remember that filled nail holes always show. After clamping, wipe away glue squeeze-out.

3. Trim the top and bottom edges with a router fitted with an edge-trimming bit, or use a good block plane, being very careful not to gouge the veneer.

4. Sand, easing the corners.

No time for edging?
One type of plywood needs no edge trim: Baltic birch plywood is composed of thin veneer layers, so its edges are clean and void-free, with a subtle, regular stripe. It costs about 50 per cent more than ordinary birch veneer plywood, but is worth it.

Attach solid-wood edging to an overlength piece of plywood, if possible, so you can cut plywood and trim to length in one go.

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