agab6601

Is Plywood Really Evil?

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Iv'e noticed a rejection of the Oak Express, Ikea, Pier One type of furniture from a lot of members of my generation. They don't care if they have to save for years, they want something that's high quality, unique, & something that's going to last a long time, even if that means they have to save for years to afford it.

I'm actually shocked by the number of non-woodworkers I know, that can easily spot the cheap furniture.

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I make a decent living woodworking and can say 90% of my work is plywood case work with solids for face frames and doors. I will say we are moving the direction of the EU and Festool is making a bunch of folks see how easy the EU style cabinet making can be.

For my part it is not FEstool who showed me that, but the carpenter who rent me a part of his shop. HE bougth a CNC (approx 200K€), an edgeband gluer (100+ K€) and a digital table saw (25K€) with a table that roll on 3m05 which is the length of a panel here... And it is just amazing to see how fast he and his two employee can makes furnitures. He has also a bunch of software to roughly design then export each boxes to an cut optimser and to the software which communicate with the CNC. It is realy far from the stuff I see on the US blogosphere.

This carpenter order his panels by one hunderd unit to get a better price. I was impressed at first, but I've already made three project with more than 30 panels, and I'm self employed only since october 2009.

Currently we dont have the great inventory of melamine's or veneer over mdf that the EU does. Heck we have to special order black melamine if we wanted it and pay twice the price of white. If we want a sheet of say walnut veneered mdf we have to make it ourselves and by the time were done solid would have been cheaper.

Realy? So our market are very very different, it is amazing. I had the chance to work as a project manager for a really big carpentry company which make office furniture and office "wall". So I could have a good view of the supplier market in my country. And there are tens of HUGE supplier (in a realy small country) who can offer several tens of different colors, structures, etc... for veneer, melamine, laminate. When I go to show the possibilities to a customer I have to bring a huge bag of samples with at least 150 different finish, and I only bring two brand among the 5 or 6 I could offer.

For the veneer, I know at least 5 supplier who can supply more or less any kind of veneered panels. Obviously not all as quickly. But I cant count on "in stock" oak, beech, and walnut. And I'll have to wait two or three weeks for the rest. They can glue this on any kind of panels, from 4 mm to 60mm thick, standard, ligth, heavy, waterresistant, fireresistant, low formaldehyde, etc etc.

Ho and just to reassure you, we do pay more for black melamine too. It's just that they produce millions of square meter of white one, so the white are always cheaper. The black is usualy not twice the price, but it can be the case for some sort of structure / finish.

We cant compete with ikea. The people that want ikea cant pay our prices anyways, which is one reason there are very few small shops left.

I guess nobody can compete with Ikea. (look the price of one kitchen boxe with five drawer, finished, hardware included, drawer face included. it is something like 120, 150€ for this price, excluding taxes, I can buy four drawer hardware and cry :) )

On the other side I think here there is not a diffference between "people who go to Ikea" and "people who don't". A lot of people does both. (And some have no choice obviously). In every works I did, there was some Ikea furniture not so far. The customer choosed to save some money on some stuff, and spend more on some other.

About the disapearance of small shop, it is clearly true in belgium too, but not completly. If you're ready to comply with the reality of the market and to make what can be sold, there is still a lot of work to do. But it is clear that if you dream of the good old time of hand made carpentry and do not want to come close to a MDF board... you risk to spend a lot of time sharpening your tools, and less actualy working for money :) On the other side I know two colleague who are quiet "plain wood snob", and they solved the problem working almost only in structural carpentry (car port, timber frame, stairs...). at first it was hard, but after one or two year, it realy started and they have a planning as full as mine.

We all love working with solids but the jobs are getting fewer and farther between. Doing a set of custom end tables and coffee table for a client is a great little project but it in no way pays the bills, it keeps the sanity and adds a change of pace.

Hobbyist like to look at the Maloof and many of the other great woodworkers idealize the way they worked. The folks that are left that have the same sort of skill level make their livings teaching and consulting the woodwork is just a hobby.

Don

So if I understrand you well, it means that most of the guys on the blogosphere make a living in being on the blogosphere more than in selling their works? Like our dear Marc? I always wondered. (maybe I am too curious?)

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Iv'e noticed a rejection of the Oak Express, Ikea, Pier One type of furniture from a lot of members of my generation. They don't care if they have to save for years, they want something that's high quality, unique, & something that's going to last a long time, even if that means they have to save for years to afford it.

Ho I am sure there are plenty of guys like that, but on while they are saving to pay for their dream furniture, on what are they seated? where their table come from? What's the brand of their dressing? :)

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Actually, most of them are women, and yea, they are buying cheap stuff at first, but they aren't going back every 2 or 3 years to buy replacements.

Ho I am sure there are plenty of guys like that, but on while they are saving to pay for their dream furniture, on what are they seated? where their table come from? What's the brand of their dressing? :)

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Also, not everything from Ikea is badly built. I got my dining room table from them. Solid beechwood, nice reddish stain, good construction, and it's held up to heavy use for 20 years and looks like it could last 100 more. I don't consider it a compromise.

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For my part it is not FEstool who showed me that, but the carpenter who rent me a part of his shop. HE bougth a CNC (approx 200K€), an edgeband gluer (100+ K€) and a digital table saw (25K€) with a table that roll on 3m05 which is the length of a panel here... And it is just amazing to see how fast he and his two employee can makes furnitures. He has also a bunch of software to roughly design then export each boxes to an cut optimser and to the software which communicate with the CNC. It is realy far from the stuff I see on the US blogosphere.

Thats what most would think of as a factory not a wood shop or even a cabinet shop. There is lots of ways to skin a cat but once you start letting the machines do the work and you just become a button pusher I think you step away from wood working and step into the role of manufacturing.

MDF is optimized for those sorts of factories and is very suited to the machines and the assembly process. I dont think it has much to do with the material but rather what material is best suited to an automated method. We have our share of large cabinet and door companies that hire button pushers and material handlers also. I believe most of the folks you will see chatting on the internet are actually woodworkers not manufacturers.

Don

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Also, not everything from Ikea is badly built. I got my dining room table from them. Solid beechwood, nice reddish stain, good construction, and it's held up to heavy use for 20 years and looks like it could last 100 more. I don't consider it a compromise.

See I think the key part might be it's 20 years old, last time I was to Ikea, i didn't see a single thing that I thought would have survived my childhood let alone 20 years.

check out this table they are currently selling, I can't picture it lasting 20 years in a home that has children.

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/00116265/

Table top/ Extension leaf: Particleboard, Birch veneer, Birch veneer, Clear acrylic lacquer

Underframe: Solid pine, Birch veneer, Clear acrylic lacquer

Leg: Particleboard, Clear acrylic lacquer, Birch veneer

Rail/ Extension rail: Solid wood

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Thats what most would think of as a factory not a wood shop or even a cabinet shop. There is lots of ways to skin a cat but once you start letting the machines do the work and you just become a button pusher I think you step away from wood working and step into the role of manufacturing.

Don

MMmmmh I do not know, my former employer had a 3 million € workshop. Ok that's more a factory than a carpentry shop. But there are still some guys in there who are skilled carpenter. You cannot do anything with machine. OR sometimes you could do it, but the good old ways is still the better way because you just have to do one or two of the stuff and not 500.

The shop I work in for now is clearly over equipped regarding to the size of his workforce (Two employees + the boss) but it is very much fited to make what they make, kitchen. He does almost only kitchen, and there is no 36 ways to make those, whatever the door or viewed part are made of.

And it is weird (and a bit sad) but this guy actualy bougth an old workshop which was only making plain wood furniture for furniture shop mainly, not for the end customer. He ceased to do that, because there was no way to make a living out of it (says he, but he is not a very good manager I think). Anyway, one of his employee is 55 years old and is still working in the same company he started with wen he was 18. So he has an huge experience in real woodworking... and cut MDF 90% of his time.

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Wow. Interesting. I'd say that the US is a little different from your Belgian observations. Maybe it is because we have more trees on this side of the pond???

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In some of the circles I run, plywood is the cat's meow. Obviously, not complete crap C-D stuff, but baltic birch.

In those cases, they aren't running from the edges and the layers. They are embracing it. I've beveled the edges myself to purposely reveal the layers.

I don't fall into this trap of someone telling me the work doesn't live up to this or that because there is plywood in it. Good craftsmanship and design will transcend the material.

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I don't fall into this trap of someone telling me the work doesn't live up to this or that because there is plywood in it. Good craftsmanship and design will transcend the material.

Wow. Well said. Now I don't feel so bad about my particle board shop furniture.

-- Russ

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Wow. Interesting. I'd say that the US is a little different from your Belgian observations. Maybe it is because we have more trees on this side of the pond???

cleary that has to play a role. And another thing too that can impact the number of supplier and their range of product: If you exclude the city states and other tiny islands, Belgium is in the top 10 (top 5?) of the country list by density of population

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_sovereign_states_and_dependent_territories_by_population_density

(belgium 919 people / mi², Us 83, Canada: 9 !!)

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In some of the circles I run, plywood is the cat's meow. Obviously, not complete crap C-D stuff, but baltic birch.

In those cases, they aren't running from the edges and the layers. They are embracing it. I've beveled the edges myself to purposely reveal the layers.

Clearly, i've worked for an architect who could barely restrain himself to put viewable plywood edge in every project he did

I don't fall into this trap of someone telling me the work doesn't live up to this or that because there is plywood in it. Good craftsmanship and design will transcend the material.

yeah! \o/

:)

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Wow! I think I lit a powder keg here, that is cool though I wanted to know what peoples feelings were on the whole subject. I am a hobbyist now, however it would be nice to sell a piece here and there but that is down the road a piece. I honestly think that it is matter of taste and style. If you are making saw dust for $$ money than one would have to use what is most economical and what the customer is willing to pay for. So again I am thrilled that everyone is weighing in on this, thanks everybody!

-Andy

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Clearly, i've worked for an architect who could barely restrain himself to put viewable plywood edge in every project he did

yeah! \o/

:)

LOL...um, I am an architect....

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I honestly think that it is matter of taste and style.

This is probably the heart of it.

Also, and I didn't see anyone bring this up, but would the guys making their Chippendale pieces back in the day use plywood if it was available back then?

Another point to consider is to look at the biggest names in the last 100 years...Look at how much Eames furniture is done with laminated pieces (and isn't plywood just laminated pieces?). You won't catch me calling that use of plywood crap.

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LOL...um, I am an architect....

No shame to that!. Despite the fact I have to work with them, I've not (yet) became an architect-hater. I've even good friend who are architect! No kidding :)

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Those all fall under what someone said earlier about design and craftsmanship transcend all. Cause all three of those in my opinion are gorgeous uses of the material.

I also have to say I use ply and hard wood in all different kinds of applications. I build custom furniture for clients and even know I was train to build a house from the ground up I focus mostly on the finish. I will use what ever material will get the job done the best way for the client.

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I think using plywood in appropriate situations is just fine. There are definitely those out there that will say "if it's not solid wood it's crap!". But plywood is useful as a tool in situations where you need to control wood movement in a certain way. And remember, bent and other laminations are a type of plywood, because in the end plywood is layers of solid wood laminated together. So if you buy a good grade of ply with a good core and a nice veneer layer, you can treat it with tools and finish just like you would solid wood. You can cut dovetails in it, half laps, tongue and groove, add stain and finish like any solid wood.

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Having something flat and stable is a great advantage, especially for the inexperienced who struggle with solid wood (me, for example). The evil part is that the glue used for the laminates is so hard it quickly takes the edge off hand tools - and power tools too, probably. I can plane the edge, but after 10 - 20 minutes the blade needs a good rehoning.

John

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Talking about "flat and stable", I just bought four different panels of plywood this week (two of some cheap brazilian wood, and two of meranti) and those were strongly bended. (almost one inch in the short side) I Wonder why, because I had a look on the pile of sheet the second time I came to the reseller, and it was properly stored, nice and flat. To pile looked just fine, but when you took one of the panels out of the pile, it bended right away.

Is it not supposed to bend less thanks to the perpendicular way they glue the sheets?

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