Llama

Plywood...

Recommended Posts

Ok, I figured it would be safer to post this in the hand tool village :)

I have a hard time getting behind the idea that fine furniture can have plywood components. That doesn't mean that a piece can't look nice, but just seems to me like using hardwood is "better".

Is my thought process wrong?

Is this thought always wrong? ie. when is it ok?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Plywood permits a freedom of form that some designers really exploit...  Add a vacuum press and you build away...
 

The folks in Northern Europe do amazing things with plywood (and before you ask, I'm not talking about Ikea)...  There's also some cool stuff coming out of California...

 

I've found a few interesting chairs to consider...  They may not be 'traditional' furniture, but I'd certainly take one...

 

 

 

, , ,

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Those are beautiful pieces.

The main part of my criticism would be the incorporation of plywood in more traditional pieces. The pieces you've posted are very beautiful, like art. Functional art. Not a traditional huntboard, for instance.

I would be disappointed if I bought a piece that was little more than sheet goods with a veneer, or strategically pieces of hardwood with no other purpose other than to mask the use of plywood.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm with you in thinking about plywood that way Mel. There seems to be a big difference in Eames furniture and plopping a piece of plywood in the carcass of a highboy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Ok, here's a twist... In March, 2010, FWW did a poll on plywood.  Here are the pieces they posted for consideration...
 

           

 

 

Both make extensive use of plywood...

 

Poll results: 7% solid wood only; 51% make use of plywood for doors/panels/backs/etc; and the remainder use plywood extensively to save $$

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Both pieces look nice. My viewpoint is less on how it looks, but how the piece is represented. If I bought one of those and I was told its a custom piece and we decided on cherry. Then I get the piece and cherry veneered ply is used, I'd have a problem. Again, I may be wrong :) And that's ok. But at what point is it ok to substitute ply for hardwood on a custom piece?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now for full disclosure, I don't really use plywood outside of built-ins myself....

 

Just throwing some ideas for folks to consider...

 

Plywood is just a source material...  It's what the craftsman does with the materials at hand that counts...  Folks make amazing furniture out of concrete, steel, whatever...  I'm not one of them, but I certainly respect what they do... It may not be traditional, but some of it is pretty cool...

 

I'm getting into vacuum pressing these days... My first vacuum-formed curved piece will be done in a couple of weeks...  Won't be traditional, but hopefully it'll be cool...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's all about context for me Mel. Ply is a fantastic thing for dust boards and the bottom of drawers and panels too. If the type of thing your building would be "cheapened" so to speak speak or your clients expectations would be solid wood then steer clear. I know one thing for sure the old timers would of loved to have stable substrates when required for veneering on rather than using solid timber that then shrank/swelled or whatever ruining their hard work.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am trying to formulate a statement but my thoughts are fuzzy. I want to ask a statement like is ply the new secondary wood? Would the old timers have used ply as prominently as they did other secondarys? Do we thumb the nose in illegitimate fashion claiming a higher class of craftsmanship because after all the old timers never had to choose? I also prefer solid wood. I find that this is usually aesthetic however and find myself enjoying ply constructs quite often.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Freddie,

This is exactly why I asked. I wanted to inspire conversation. I certainly didn't want to offend anyone for their use of materials. My main point was a switcharoo, or the use of ply on a period piece, or simply when it makes sense to use ply over solid wood.

The one piece that stood out in my mind as I wrote the original post was a maple side board that Mario Rodriguez made a while back in Popular Woodworking. It was a beautiful piece, but I couldn't help myself from asking why he used ply and not solid wood.

I am fairly certain nobody here would question whether or not his skill warranted the piece to be classified as "fine", regardless of the materials he chose to use.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mel an interesting question. I think context is key. I quite like some bespoke pieces I've seen in plywood. I also think that a proportion of earlier craftsman would not have rejected modern materials or equipment. I've used plywood for drawer bottoms. I've also used veneered MDF for some door panels. Either my relatives have been very polite or they just couldn't tell it wasn't solid wood. I saw a design for a Morris armchair and the arms were made from laminated strips of oak curved over a former and glued Is this really that different to plywood? I think it all depends upon expectation and the intentions of the designer/ maker...there has to be plenty of good furniture that's veneer over a secondary wood...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with what you are saying.

As far as ply drawer sides or bottoms... If my flame maple shaker table was built how it is, (solid wood) and had a plywood drawer bottom and/or sides, is this ok?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mel, if you have concerns I would stay away from drawer sides. You do not want to edge band these and would probably be better off not showcasing the ply edge. You also have to consider how the ply is most likely to fail. I think that wood to wood friction on the bottom of the drawer sides would be likely to delaminate the ply and cause splinters. This use would lead to a less than "fine" quality level with regard to how the piece will hold up over time. PB is always on about ply warping and he certainly has the edge on experience, but I have not seen anything that would keep me from using it as a drawer bottom.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think there is a place and time for plywood. Personally I find it wasteful to use solids on things like backs and drawer bottoms. Drawer sides I could go either way. Plywood is more stable but just doesn't look quite right in a "fine" piece but in the long run if implemented properly will last as long or longer than hard wood.

For me a pet peeve is seeing stuff made with particle board or MDF that has hardwood dovetailed drawers. I like going to furniture stores and looking at different designs. Its just gets my goat when the sales person pulls a drawer to show me the dovetails and hardwood sides when the rest of the thing is MDF or particle board.

I believe as long as you find the right balance and are not going out of your way to deceive plywood is acceptable for many uses even in "fine" furniture.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As for Mel's "switcheroo", we have a set of flat-pack file cabinets (OfficeDepot or OfficeMax...I forget) that were advertised as follows:

 

Solid Wood Construction

with wood veneers

 

Each cabinet has a grand total of two pieces of solid wood (the front stiles have a crude bead profile routed in the face) and everything else was sheet goods.  Sigh.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

==> Its just gets my goat when the sales person pulls a drawer to show me the dovetails and hardwood sides when the rest of the thing is MDF or particle board.

 

You know, this actually happened to my wife... About six weeks ago, she needed a dresser and my 'honey do' list was already eight-months-out...  There was a 'BIG Labor Day Sale' from one one of the 'high-end' furniture shops in the city...  She drove into Manhattan for the 'BIG Sale'...

 

The salesman picked the wrong mark -- my wife let him have it...

 

She came home empty handed, $50 lighter in tolls, parking, etc... and pissed...

 

My honey-do list got promptly 're-prioritized'...   :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is great!

 

This is what I wanted. Not a plywood bashing, but more of a let down when your "solid wood" piece has sheet goods in the mix.

 

I am sure the same sentiment would hold true if I sold a maple shaker end table for lets say, $800 and advertised it as "hand made solid wood, blah blah", and the client opened the drawers and saw the plywood.

 

I know I was furious when I got a craftsman style bookcase from Crate and Barrel for around $900 and the darn thing was full of plywood. The fronts were solid, but thats it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest

my favorite is the "cherry finish" or "mahogany finish" when it is all some cheap hardwood veneer raped from a rain forest run by drug lords.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I know plywood has it's place.  Being stable dimensionally is surely a good thing in places like drawer bottoms and case backs.  Personally, I don't like working with the stuff (in my brief experience).

 

I do consider paste board and MDF in a different category and don't like it at all.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Plywood had its place in my shop. And I use it all the time. It helps with time and can cut on some costs. Although, it is not my decision. It is given as an option to my "clients". I'll build it either way. It's just what they want to pay for.

What caught me off guard once is my fiances relatives house. She is well off, very well off. Of her several houses, her main house is a glamorous mansion nested in a nice urban sprawl community. The house is trimmed out in magnificent hard woods. Solid wood floors with 5-6" wide planks and ALL clear. The kitchen is really something to rival, and so is the theatre room. But, when I opened a drawer to get a spoon one day, the entire drawer box is made of 1/2" ply. Not even covering the plys.

Spend all this money on the house and then plywood drawers?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sam, i feel the same about drawer boxes. For the teak cabinets, the only hardwood used was the 5/8" maple drawer boxes. The bottoms received 1/2" maple ply.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest

Plywood had its place in my shop. And I use it all the time. It helps with time and can cut on some costs. Although, it is not my decision. It is given as an option to my "clients". I'll build it either way. It's just what they want to pay for.

What caught me off guard once is my fiances relatives house. She is well off, very well off. Of her several houses, her main house is a glamorous mansion nested in a nice urban sprawl community. The house is trimmed out in magnificent hard woods. Solid wood floors with 5-6" wide planks and ALL clear. The kitchen is really something to rival, and so is the theatre room. But, when I opened a drawer to get a spoon one day, the entire drawer box is made of 1/2" ply. Not even covering the plys.

Spend all this money on the house and then plywood drawers?

I have seen baltic birch drawer boxes that look good. I haven't done a price comparison but I dont think it is materially cheap than solid maple. And maybe for deeper drawers it would be better than edge glued hardwood?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.