Introduction: Easy Edge Banding for Plywood

Plywood is one of the more versatile options when doing large wood working projects.  It is much more cost effective than joining solid lumber boards together, and it can be bought in a variety of grades and veneers to custom fit your needs.  While any material has its drawbacks, one of the main issues with using plywood is the edge.  Depending of the design of your project, the laminated layers of the plywood, when seen, can detract from the look of your work.  The solution to this problem is edge banding.

Edge banding can be done in a variety of ways.  You can buy thin veneers that can be applied to the plywood either with contact cement or by using the banding tape that comes with an iron on adhesive.  While this is the most commonly used option, it is by no means durable and can actually limit your design options.  This Instructable will cover using solid wood as edge banding.  These techniques can also speed up the process, allowing you to do production runs more effectively.

Tools and Materials Required:
  • Plywood
  • Lumber at least 1/4 of an inch thicker than your plywood
  • Table saw
  • Hand held electric planer
  • 1/4 sheet or orbital sander
  • Chisel
  • Wood glue
  • Packing tape
  • Bar clamps
  • Block plane

Step 1: Cutting the Banding

The type of design you want is going to determine the wood you use for the edge.  It is more common to have the lumber match the species of the veneer on your plywood.  However, different woods can be used to add accents to your piece.  This example uses birch plywood and poplar as the banding.

To cut the banding, you'll need to use a table saw (a band saw with a fence can also be utilized).  The thickness of your banding will depend on your design, but it should be at least 1/8 of an inch thick.  This will give you enough material to work with while still allowing it to be flexible enough to conform around curved profiles.  

Set the fence of the saw to the desired dimension.  While cutting thin parts in this fashion can increase the danger in using the saw, this will allow you to get uniform cuts every time, especially if you need a lot of banding.  Depending on the design of the saw, you may need to remove the blade guard.  Always take precaution when doing this, and always wear safety glasses when using power tools.  

When you are finished, cut the piece so that it is four to six inches longer than the edge of your plywood.

Step 2: Applying the Banding

To apply the edge banding, first clamp your piece in a table vise.  Apply an even coat of glue along ONLY the edge of the plywood.  Because of the material is wider than the thickness of the plywood, this will keep excess glue from dripping onto the veneer.  It will also keep the banding from slipping around when applied.  Spread the glue evenly over the surface using a brush or your finger.

Press the banding firmly onto the edge of the plywood, making sure that it overhangs on all sides.  Starting at one end, apply pieces of packing tape by pulling tension over the banding and affixing the ends of the tape to the plywood.  Continue applying the tape along the length of the piece.  Packing tape is used in this case for its durability.  Blue painters tape is usually not strong enough for this method.  Items like duct tape will leave an adhesive residue on your material, so avoid them.  Remove any drips on the plywood with a damp cloth, but don't be concerned with minor amounts of squeeze out.

Once you have taped the banding, lay the piece on its side and use clamps to apply more pressure.  If doing several pieces at once, you can use longer bar clamps, and butt the pieces end to end.  Allow the glue to cure for 24 hours.  

Step 3: Trimming the Banding

After the glue has cured, remove the clamps and tape.  Using a chisel, cut away any large pieces of dried glue, being careful not to cut into the veneer of the plywood.

For trimming the banding, an electric hand planer is used.  This can also be done with a block plane, but will take longer.  Set the depth of cut on the planer to zero. Adjust the bases of the planer so that the blade will overhang the edge of the base by the thickness of the banding.  This is going to allow you to trim the banding, without cutting into the veneer of the plywood.  The overhang of the banding will give the planer an edge to ride along, keeping the tool in control.

Place the front base of the planer onto the plywood.  Turn the machine on and ease the planer over the starting edge of the banding.  Ride the planer along that edge across the entire length of the material.  The excess banding on either side will keep the material from chipping out at the corners of the plywood.  Flip the board over and repeat the process with the other side.  Once flush, cut the remaining banding off with a miter saw.

You can remove any remaining unevenness with a sander.  Be sure to use a fine sand paper (around 220), and take very light passes so that you don't dig too deeply into the veneer.  

With a little practice, this technique can allow you to quickly enhance many of your wood working projects.