DIY Essen­tials

15 tips for bet­ter cab­i­nets and fur­ni­ture

The Family Handyman - - CONTENTS -

The right plywood can make or break a project. Here’s how to get the best for your buck.

Build­ing fur­ni­ture and cab­i­nets is an in­vest­ment of both time and money. So when you’re buy­ing plywood for these projects, shop wisely. Your choices will have a huge im­pact on the build­ing process and the re­sults. This ar­ti­cle will help you de­cide ex­actly what you need and help you avoid com­mon plywood pit­falls.

1. CHECK FOR FLATNESS

Don’t ex­pect per­fec­tion—you prob­a­bly won’t find it. Just try to find the best of the pile. Sight down all the edges just like you’d do if you were buy­ing 2x4 studs. Some­times, sheets are warped in mul­ti­ple di­rec­tions, re­sem­bling a potato chip. Leave these for some un­lucky, less­in­formed buyer. If you’re buy­ing 1/4-in. plywood, don’t worry about flat and straight; it won’t be ei­ther. But you’ll likely fas­ten it to struc­tural parts, which will keep it flat.

2. INSPECT THE EDGES

Look closely at the core ve­neers on the edge of the sheet. They should be straight and of uni­form thick­ness and have few, if any, voids. If you see a lot of voids and over­lap­ping core ve­neers along the edge, there will be more through­out the sheet that won’t be vis­i­ble un­til you cut it. Over­lap­ping ve­neers cause un­du­la­tions that aren’t vis­i­ble un­til af­ter you’ve ap­plied a fin­ish.

3. BRING A FRIEND

Plywood in 4 x 8-ft. sheets is heavy and un­wieldy. Un­stack­ing, in­spect­ing, restack­ing, load­ing and un­load­ing are much eas­ier with an ex­tra set of hands.

4. WATCH FOR BURIED TREA­SURE

The most beau­ti­fully fig­ured face ve­neers will be at the lum­ber­yard. But when I’m at the home cen­ter, I like to check out the back faces of the plywood or even plywood that’s meant for un­der­lay­ment. Be­cause most peo­ple look for con­sis­tency of color and grain, there are some strik­ing ve­neers that get writ­ten off as ugly. Quite of­ten, some­thing catches my eye that could be a re­ally cool de­sign el­e­ment.

5. SPECIALORDER FROM THE HOME CEN­TER

Some home cen­ters will spe­cial-or­der many dif­fer­ent species, core op­tions and ve­neer cuts. But be­ware: You won’t be able to look at the ac­tual sheets be­fore buy­ing, and you prob­a­bly won’t be able to re­turn or re­ject them un­less they’re dam­aged or oth­er­wise un­us­able. If it’s just that you don’t like the grain pat­tern, you’re prob­a­bly stuck with it.

6. US­ING STAIN? BE­WARE OF BIRCH

Any species ac­cepts a clear fin­ish such as polyurethane just fine. But if you’re plan­ning to stain your piece, be­ware of birch, pine and maple. These species take stain very un­evenly and can end up look­ing blotchy. If you’re set on one of these species, use prestain con­di­tioner, which helps them take stain much more evenly. Even bet­ter, look at sam­ples of dif­fer­ent species with a clear fin­ish and see if there’s one that has the color you like without stain.

7. KNOW THE GRAD­ING SYS­TEM

Hard­wood ve­neer plywood has a front and a back face and is graded by the qual­ity of each face. The front face is graded us­ing a let­ter (A – D), with A be­ing the best. The back face is graded us­ing a num­ber (1 – 4), with 1 be­ing the best.

8. SHOP THE HOME CEN­TER FOR CON­VE­NIENCE AND SAV­INGS

Baltic birch is a pre­mium plywood found at lum­ber­yards. A 3/4-in., 5 x 5-ft. sheet has 13 core ve­neers and costs about $70. Some home cen­ters carry a sim­i­lar prod­uct, called “clas­sic birch.” A 3/4-in., 4 x 8-ft. sheet has 10 core ve­neers and costs $50 to $60. It’s strong with good screw-hold­ing ca­pa­bil­ity, mak­ing it a good, af­ford­able al­ter­na­tive. It’s per­fect for less vis­i­ble cab­i­net parts, draw­ers and shelv­ing. As for other plywood, home cen­ters have a more lim­ited se­lec­tion, car­ry­ing mostly ve­neer core (maybe MDF core), grade B2 and lower. Face ve­neer cuts are typ­i­cally ro­tary cut or plain sliced, and in-stock species will usu­ally be red oak, birch and maple. But the home cen­ter is a good op­tion to save a lit­tle money.

9. DON’T HAVE PLYWOOD DE­LIV­ERED

If you have a way to haul sheets of plywood your­self, do it. The per­son pulling sheets for de­liv­ery isn’t go­ing to hand­s­e­lect the nicest sheets for you. If de­liv­ery is your only op­tion, inspect the sheets be­fore the de­liv­ery truck leaves and re­ject any that are dam­aged or un­us­able. You may not have the op­tion of re­ject­ing a sheet be­cause you don’t like the grain pat­tern.

10. US­ING PAINT? CHOOSE MDF OR BIRCH

For projects I’m go­ing to paint, I like MDF (medium-den­sity fiber­board) or birch. B-grade birch or lower is fine. Some­times, you’ll even see plywood clas­si­fied as “paint grade.” Birch is closegrained with a smooth tex­ture that doesn’t show through paint. With an open-grained species like oak, the grain is vis­i­ble un­der paint. MDF, of course, has no grain pat­tern, mak­ing it a good choice for painted projects. But for struc­tural parts, I like birch ve­neer. For tips on build­ing with MDF, search for “MDF” at fam­i­ly­handy­man.com.

11. SAND AT YOUR OWN RISK

All plywood needs at least light sand­ing be­fore fin­ish­ing. Some­times, the face ve­neer on home cen­ter plywood is so thin that the pink ve­neer ad­he­sive shows through. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions, I’ve had birch ve­neer turn translu­cent af­ter light sand­ing with 220-grit pa­per. If you sus­pect that the ve­neer is ul­tra thin, don’t use a power sander. Just sand by hand.

12. SHOP LUM­BER­YARDS FOR QUAL­ITY AND SE­LEC­TION

For a large se­lec­tion of the best-qual­ity hard­wood ve­neer plywood, visit a lum­ber­yard. A lum­ber­yard that caters to cab­i­net­mak­ers will give you enough op­tions to make you dizzy. A 4 x 8-ft. sheet will cost any­where from $80 to $120 or more de­pend­ing on the species and the cut of the face ve­neer. Some lum­ber­yards also stock 10-ft. sheets.

13. DON’T JUST GRAB THE TOP SHEET

Be picky and dig through the pile for the best sheets. Spend­ing ex­tra time to find the flat­test un­dam­aged sheets with ap­peal­ing grain pat­tern is well worth the ef­fort. But be kind and restack! And take heart; the bot­tom sheet is usu­ally a bad choice any­way be­cause it’s most prone to fork­lift dam­age.

14. WATCH OUT FOR DAM­AGE

You can of­ten cut around mi­nor dam­age in an oth­er­wise good sheet (if you can, you might even be able to get a dis­count). But sand­ing out deep dents (above) isn’t an op­tion. You may not be able to sand out stains ei­ther. The pur­ple stains shown re­sult from a re­ac­tion be­tween oak tan­nin and steel.

15. LOOK AT THE FACE VE­NEERS

If only one side of your project will be vis­i­ble, like a closed cab­i­net, don’t worry about the back face. If you’re build­ing an open book­case where both faces are vis­i­ble, make sure you like the look of both faces.

MEET THE EX­PERT Brad Holden, an as­so­ciate editor at The Fam­ily Handyman, has been build­ing cab­i­nets and fur­ni­ture for 30 years. In that time, he has ab­sorbed so many sliv­ers and in­gested so much saw­dust that he’s prac­ti­cally made of wood.

Void

Front face – A

Back face – 2

Ve­neer ad­he­sive show­ing through

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