Plywood is an engineered wood with uniform strength. It is relatively light in weight, affordable, and suits various applications.
You can get it in different grades and sizes based on your requirement, but it is difficult to process it through cutting jobs like planing.
Plywood can be planed using powered or manual planers, but due to their adhesive layers and fibrous grains, it accelerates tool wear and chocks the machine parts with long chips. Its unique structure makes it very challenging to plane.
This article discusses plywood planing by looking into various aspects like procedures, factors, and alternatives.
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Can you Plane Plywood? Tested Results
I tried planing plywood using a hand planer and a benchtop planer.
Since plywood has a lengthy fibrous grain structure, the planer cut it off as long slices, causing tear-outs.
The planing job tore off the plywood surface exposing sharp wood fibers that can scrape the skin and cause injury.
To prevent it from happening, I had to follow it with a sanding job to get a better finish.
Sand the ply along the fiber/vein path. Otherwise, sanding will only worsen the surface texture of the ply, causing minute tear-outs on the surface and giving it a rough texture.
Things to Consider When Planing Plywood
Planing plywood is not straightforward as it reacts differently to natural wood.
You can use manual or power tools to plane plywood boards, but it can damage the tool.
To get a better result, consider the following factors when planing plywood.
|Factor||Influence on Planing|
|Adhesive||It can dull the blades on a planer|
|Grain||Long cross-grain shavings can clog the planer|
|Surface||The core is exposed, this reduces plywood's durability|
Plywood is an engineered wood made by combining thin sheets of veneer. The number of sheet layers on a ply will differ based on thickness.
Depending upon the application, various adhesives are used to bond the sheets together, but phenol-formaldehyde resin is the most common.
Once applied, the resin becomes very hard and thermally and chemically stable. The resin is also waterproof, making it suitable for plywood construction.
When the cutting blade on a planer comes in contact with such adhesive materials, it slowly dulls the planer's blades.
Hence, the cutting blades will require frequent sharpening to keep them functional.
The veneer sheets on plywood have grains at an angle of 90 degrees, preventing splitting and resulting in uniform strength. This makes it impossible to plane plywood along the grain.
Cross-grain planing requires you to remove long strips of plywood, which can clog the planer. Hence the planer has to be cleaned frequently, making the process harder.
Plywood can be divided into three segments: face, core, and back.
The face is the outer layer, and the core is the layer between the face and back.
High-quality wood makes the face layer, while the core and back use a cheaper material.
Sometimes additional materials are added just below the face layer to improve its strength.
When you plane plywood, it removes the tough and durable face layer, exposing the low-grade core.
It makes the plywood more susceptible to weathering and significantly reduces its strength and durability.
So after planing plywood, you'll have to add a coating layer to protect its core.
Hand Planing or Power Planing?
You can plan plywood either using a hand planer or a power planer.
A hand planer can reduce the plywood's thickness, but it requires more physical effort and can be very challenging if you don't use the right tools.
Consider the following factors when working with a hand planer.
A planer with a shorter body, like a block plane, is recommended for planing plywood. This is because a short body planer can be held easily, allowing precise and controlled work.
Note that planing is done on plywood to reduce thickness and not to level its surface.
You must regularly maintain the blade's sharpness, as dull blades can easily tear up the plywood.
The glue from the plywood can also get stuck on the blade's edge. So it is essential to clean and sharpen your blade for better performance.
The blade's angle determines the cut depth. For shallow cuts, use a low blade angle.
Selecting a shallow angle to plane plywood is crucial as you do not want the cutter to go deep into the layers, as the adhesive can impede the cutting process.
Power planing also suffers from the same issues as hand planers.
Unfortunately, power planers only provide a lower degree of control than manual planers.
The blades on a power planer get dull frequently due to the high cutting force. Hence you should sharpen it regularly.
Also, the long strips formed because of the continuous cutting action can clog the machine parts, requiring repeated cleaning of the parts for an effective operation.
Planing across the grain is unavoidable and can cause the plywood layers to split while cutting.
So it is essential to start with a small depth and gradually increase it based on your requirement.
Alternatives to Planing Plywood
Generally, the plywood planing is done to reduce its thickness as it already has a flat surface.
You can do the same in several other ways without using a planer.
Sanding is one of the safest and easiest methods to reach the desired thickness on plywood.
Use it only if the required reduction is less than 1/2". Anything above that will be difficult for an abrasive to scrape off.
Removing large amounts of material through sanding is not recommended as it is very time-consuming.
The sanding process must be performed carefully to achieve even thickness across the whole board.
Using a sandpaper grit between 150 - 220 is recommended. It reduces the thickness while maintaining a good surface finish and prevents the layers from splitting.
A wide belt or drum sander is used for these operations. You can also use sandpaper, but getting the proper outcome takes more time and effort.
A table saw can also reduce thickness, but it requires setting up a jig to hold the workpiece in place.
The initial set-up time can be high, but the operating time is considerably reduced, making it suited for high-volume applications.
A router is also one of the tools used to reduce plywood thickness.
It requires a jig similar to a table saw to support the plywood and the router. Securing the workpiece is vital to get a good result.
You can significantly reduce the process times by using a large-diameter router bit.
Usually, for plywood planing, the cutting depth on a router is set somewhere between ⅛" - ¼."
Planing vs Sanding - Which is best for plywood?
|Purpose||Produces plane surfaces||Produces smooth surfaces|
|Material removal||High rate of material removal||Low material removal rate|
|Finish||Scalloped surface finish||Smooth surface finish|
|Sharpness||Frequent sharpening required||Sandpaper can be replaced|
|Type of shavings||Long stringy shavings||Small particles like dust|
|Clogging||Repeated cleaning required||Cleaning not necessary|
Planing and sanding are the two popular techniques used on wooden boards.
Planing is usually employed when a large amount of material needs to be removed.
Sanding removes small amounts of material and provides a smooth surface finish.
For plywood, sanding is recommended as, in most cases, you'll only remove a small amount of surface material, and it doesn't tear up the veneer layer.
Planing of Wood - Quick Guide
Wood planing is a process of making smooth flat surfaces by removing excess material.
Generally, the planing operation is done by reciprocating the workpiece against a stationary cutting tool.
The machine used for performing the planing operation is called a planer. The maximum size of the workpiece determines the size of the planer required for the process.
Planer cutting blades closely resemble the facing and turning tools and are usually made from High-speed steel or carbide for a stronger cutting edge.
The planers can either be manual or electrically powered. Various hand planers are available, but the most commonly used is a bench planer. It is best suited for bigger projects.
Handheld electrically powered planers require less effort for the operation, but they can only work on small projects.
In the planing process, the required thickness is adjusted on the planer by lowering or increasing the cutter location. Then the wood piece is fed to the cutter.
Shaving the wood along the grain slope is the best approach to planing, but in some woods, the grain direction changes vigorously, which makes it difficult for the cutter to follow the slope.
Further, the presence of knots can be challenging as they are very hard and can alter the grain structure.
Planing soft wood can get harder if the wood fibers get torn instead of trimmed, while super hard woods such as ipe and wandoo can be challenging to plane.
The ideal wooden board for a planing job has a consistent grain direction, uniform grain size, and will have medium hardness.
You can use the planing operation to reduce the plywood thickness, but it's best to find plywood with the right or closest thickness for your job rather than slicing off thick plywood.
If you only want to reduce the plywood thickness in small amounts, using a router, table saw, or sanding is better unless the job exclusively demands planing.
Planing plywood can cause tool damage, decreased plywood strength, and lifetime.
Also, planers employed at processing plywood require frequent maintenance, which affects productivity.
Using the proper technique and tools will significantly ease the process and outcome.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to plane plywood edges?
You can plane plywood edges using a block plane or a drum sander (for long lengths). Sanding is often recommended as the finish achieved through this process is better. You can also use sandpaper for small projects.
Can you use a file on plywood?
You can use a file on plywood, but its material removal rate is very low, making it unfit for large projects. Filing is performed to finish the edges, and it is always done towards the plywood. Otherwise, it can rip the sheets.
Can you use a jointer for plywood?
You can use a jointer on plywood, but the stiff resin glue can damage the jointer blades. Using a panel sled to square a piece instead of a jointer is better.