The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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On a recent trip to the Depot to pick up some paint thinner I found myself in the lumber section. The Home Depot usually has a not too bad selection of Select Pine in different thicknesses, not just the standard 3/4″, and the wood is usually clear, dry, and flat. I built my last two projects from Home Depot Pine and I think they turned out nicely, so I’ve decided to not buck the trend and make my bookcase out of Pine as well. Because I wasn’t feeling well for a few weeks, and because my weekends were booked full for the past two weekends, I haven’t been doing much woodworking besides some basic tool maintenance and plan drawing. One of the things I wanted to do was pick up the lumber for my next project but because I had little time, and because money is a little tight, I decided against it, or would have except for one thing: I decided to make the carcase for my bookcase out of Baltic Birch Plywood.

As I was leaving I passed by the Depot’s selection of cabinet grade, hardwood ply and was mildly impressed. They had a decent selection of Maple, Oak, and the Birch; I fingered through the stacks and found mostly nice looking sheets with very few defects. The best part, however, was the cost. The Birch was under $50 for a 4×8 sheet. A sheet that size will be enough for the entire carcase as well as the shelves. I had originally budgeted around $300 for the bookcase, with around half of that going for the carcase itself. The plywood is less than 1/3 of the cost. If I stick to my original plan I can build the entire bookcase for under $200. So I picked up the sheet and had one of the guys use the panel saw to rip three pieces 12 1/8 x 8ft which left me with one cut-off roughly 11 1/4 x 8ft, which is still a very usable piece. At that point I considered making the face frames and decorative pieces out of something a bit more exotic than Pine. But this case is going in my living room with some other pieces I made and I want them to look like the came from the same collection, so I will stick with Pine this time.

This will be the first time I’ve used plywood to build a carcase. I do have some experience using ply to make case backs and drawer bottoms. I had no complaints other than it is not a very traditional material, and I am a traditional woodworker when it comes down to it(I never thought I would be saying that). But, Christmas is coming, and we are also saving for a new car, so if I can save a hundred bucks here or there and still continue to woodwork on a regular basis then plywood is okay in my book. My biggest worry is finishing it. I am hardly the best finisher to begin with, and I’ve never finished plywood on a large scale. I’m hoping that it’s not much different than finishing a solid board. In fact, if anybody out there has any tips I would appreciate them.

There is still a small part of me that feels bad about using the ply. I wish I could say what the reason is, but I almost feel like I’m cheating.  I guess that since I’ve been woodworking and reading about woodworking I always envisioned working on solid boards with exciting grain patterns and no warp. Warp nearly destroyed my last project, along with my sanity. With the plywood the chances of warp should be lessened greatly. If I were building this piece to sell it would be different, and I probably would go the more traditional route( as well as use Mahogany ) But this bookcase is being built because we need one for our living room, and because I want to have some fun woodworking. So I will attempt something new and go with plywood, and I will hope for the best.



  1. Jay C. White Cloud says:

    Other than the bamboo ply, this is all I use, good choice, if you want to use plywood.

  2. billlattpa says:

    I’ve used it for drawer bottoms. I’ve never put a finish on it large scale, just a clear coat for the drawer bottom. I don’t foresee any issues with finishing or using it to build a carcase. I think it’s going to turn out nicely.

  3. Tired Doggie says:

    I think pretty much every woodworker has reservations about using ply. Like you said they “think it’s cheating” but almost any professional out there I’ve seen or talked to says there is nothing wrong with using plywood. Heck, my bench is laminated plywood and is an awesome workspace. Don’t worry about the ply, as long as you cover the edges I’m sure it will look great! As for finishing, just be careful about blotching. You have to make sure its applied really evenly.

    • billlattpa says:

      I’ve recently gotten over my reservations about using plywood. I don’t need to tell any woodworker that materials aren’t cheap. Using plywood will allow me to work on 5 or 6 nice size projects a year, not 1 or 2. And I will be able to use more diverse material rather than Pine and Oak. It will be nice to perhaps make a face frame from Walnut or Mahogany, or even quartersawn Fir, which I’ve always wanted to use.
      My only issue now is applying the finish. Like you said, there can be some blotching. I usually use a coat of pre-stain conditioner on every project, I think with the plywood I will try two coats and see what happens. Thanks for the tips.

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October 2012
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