It's finally Autumn! I'm fairly busy in the shop, working time is about a week prior to ship.
It's finally Autumn! I'm fairly busy in the shop, working time is about a week prior to ship.
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Why I use plywood instead of hardwoods

maple plywood materials

For now, I've chosen to work primarily with plywood for my products. This is because:

-Plywood is more affordable than hardwood, which makes my products more easily attainable for my customers.
-Plywood makes sparing use of slower growing hardwood trees. Because it uses only a hardwood veneer sandwiched on a softwood core, plywood uses less of the trees that take a long time to grow and more of the trees that grow quicker. This results in a more renewable material.
-Plywood's default form is sheet form. This fits my machine and is easy to work with. The material is already stabilized and less likely to warp.

Image: The exposed plywood edge on one of my Maple Cut Chairs.  Do you see the void (hole) in the bottom center of the picture? That will need wood filler which will mostly blend in.  It's part of the challenges of working with plywood.

But from a furniture and woodworking perspective, plywood is really problematic:
-The hardwood veneer is super delicate. Chipping or marring it is easy to do and happens with almost any accident. Even sanding near edges can cause it to flake.
-Repairs are almost never perfect. Once the veneer is damaged all repairs will be seen. I can blend them in as much as possible but it will never be perfect.
-The core (middle) is prone to breaking when exposed. For this reason most cabinetry shops add edge binding to the sides so that the core isn't seen or exposed and subject to damage. Because I am designing modern furniture I always allow the core to be seen, but this means that it's more prone to breakage.
-There's no ability to "sand it down" or level it. Because the veneer is only .05 thick, almost no sanding can be done with anything but 220 grit. This means parts need to be good from the start. Traditional hardwood furniture can be shaped and planed and sanded until it fits just so. Plywood furniture doesn't have that ability and this can be challenging at times.

Most plywood furniture from other companies is made using Baltic birch plywood. This is a beautiful plywood which has a very stable, even core made from all Baltic birch. At the moment I don't use it for these reasons:

-I want my products to be made in the USA. I can't say that if I use primarily imported materials.
-I want my work to be priced affordably. Baltic birch costs more than twice what my northwest sourced maple plywood does. This would add significantly to the purchase price of my goods.
-The face of the sheet has little interest or variation. My maple plywood has beautiful maple patterns on the face of the plywood that add visual interest to my pieces. Baltic birch, while having a pleasing core, has a relatively boring face with almost no visual pattern. This isn't ideal for the work I want to make.

I have interest in using other materials in the future.  I need materials that come in sheet form and are relatively stable, that don't chip apart when being machined.  lexan, Aluminum, recycled plastic sheets all meet those descriptions but they each have higher environmental costs and in the case of lexan (plexiglass) I would be contributing more plastic to the earth, something I'm not willing to do.  It's possible that products using only recycled plastic may be worth perusing but for the present I'm using northwest grown plywood. 

 


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