When you work on projects around the house or have a workshop building some of the most ambitious projects you can imagine, you will work with plywood. Plywood may need to be cut straight, or in the worst-case scenario, the edges need to be planed to get everything perfect and straight.
To plane plywood, you need to have sharp blades on your plane and have the plywood secured onto a table. With a piece of scrap wood on the plywood away from the edge, you need to have a sharp blade on your plane and start planning as you would normally.
You need to know several things about plywood, and when you have to plane it, the glue and the layers will have odd effects on the process. Many people damage the plywood or cause their planers to become damaged when working on plywood.
Can Plywood Edges Be Planed?
Yes, despite the prevailing opinion from many artisans, plywood edges can easily be planed, with the challenge coming from the required preparation. Unlike many other pieces of wood, you cannot just grab the planer and start planing the plywood, as there are a few things that will cause damage.
The biggest challenge with plywood is that the wood is made of layers, with glue in between each layer of wood. This glue is often harder than the wood and will not behave normally when you are cutting it with the planer, which can cause tear-out and damage.
The planer needs to be sharp and ready to easily cut through both the wood and the glue while going against layers of wood that are not with the grain. Plywood has a parallel grain to each other, which causes even more problems when planning.
What Are The Tools That You Need To Plane Plywood Edges?
To plane plywood you will need four tools to do it properly, ensuring that you can easily get the best possible finish after you have planed off everything you need. Many people do not always correctly prepare their tools and plywood that end up without shattered plywood edges.
Fortunately, there are just four tools that you will need to have on hand when planing plywood as it can quickly go wrong. One thing not working perfectly or not being set up properly can mean that the edge becomes damaged or that the plywood damages your planer.
- Hand Planer: The hand planer you are using will decide how well you can cut plywood edges, as the wood can be different from piece to piece. If your hand planer has a smaller opening or softer blade, it can have trouble planing plywood, while harder blades with larger openings are better.
- Clamps: As you are planning plywood, you will need to have clamps to hold the plywood in place and ensure that the extra wood is kept in place. We recommend having more clamps in place as less vibration in the plywood may ensure better planing.
- Glue: If you don’t have enough clamps, you can use glue to ensure that the extra piece of wood you are using as a guide is secure. Using regular wood glue would not be good as this will damage the plywood; we recommend using a softer glue that can be peeled off without damaging anything.
- Extra Wood: While it is not needed, you should have a guide piece clamped onto the plywood; at the exact depth you need to have cut. This will ensure that the plywood is not cracking or shattering as you plan it.
What Are The Steps To Plane A Plywood Edge?
Now that we know what tools you need, we can look at the steps you need to follow and how to do them correctly. Each one will ensure that the edging is both smooth and perfect once you are done, without spending too much time finishing the surface afterward.
If done properly, the edge of the plywood will look as good or better than the surface it had before you started planing. However, we always recommend that you apply a veneer to plywood to make it look perfect instead of just looking okay.
- Clamp Extra Wood Away From Edges
If you are planning the edge of the plywood, it may be that you need a weird turn or need to make it perfectly straight or angled. With only a certain amount of depth that you would want to cut into, you should have measured before you started preparing everything to be planned.
We recommend using a piece of scrap wood that is clamped perfectly at a depth of the plane that you need to make. This will ensure that you will know when you have reached the right depth and stop the plywood from cracking or shattering.
- Ensure Plane Blades Are Sharp Or New
We see many people that grab the planer out of the back of their truck or from the shelf and expect to start making perfect cuts. You need to ensure that the blade on your plane is as sharp as it can be, preferably newly sharpened or brand new out of the box.
This will ensure that the plane easily cuts through the wood and does not get caught on the harder glue contained within the plywood structure. Further, the edges that are not with the grain of the rest of the sheets can easily be cut through without working or forcing the plane through them.
- Secure The Plywood
Because plywood is a layered structure, it tends to vibrate when being sanded or planed much more than other woods may. We recommend that you have the plywood clamped so that the piece you are planing cannot vibrate, ensuring that it does not become a problem.
If you are planing, you want a piece of wood that moves as little as possible; this will ensure that you can make an accurate cut along the edge of the wood. However, if the piece is vibrating or just too loose, you can easily make a mistake or cut much too deep.
- Plane The Plywood
Now with your guide wood securely clamped and the plywood also securely clamped, you can start to plane the edge of the wood. We recommend taking a few practice cuts before you start planing the wider piece of the plywood edge; this ensures that you know how it feels.
Plywood does not behave like regular wood when it is being planed; this is because the wood chips and cracks rather than smoothly cuts. Which significantly diminishes the overall way you can cut it when you are using a hand plane on the edge of the plywood.
- Plane Plywood Edges Until Desired Thickness Has Been Reached
You will need to work slowly while planning the plywood edges, especially if you want an edge that is either curved, angled, or even just perfectly straight. You will often cause the edge of the plywood to look much worse than it would if just being sanded.
However, we know that sometimes you will want to use the plane tool to achieve the finish that you are most comfortable with. In these instances, we recommend always working in small sections at a time, allowing you t easily plane the plywood with your hand plane without leaving an ugly edge.
- Sand Down Plywood Edge With Low Grit Sandpaper
Once you are done with the planing, we recommend that you go over it again with a belt sander or just a piece of sandpaper. This will create smoother surfaces and help you have a better overall edge across your plywood piece rather than suffer from imperfect cuts on your edges.
If you have completed everything properly, you will only need to go over the pieces a few times instead of sanding for several hours. With only the roughest parts of the edge being sanded smooth enough to allow for a veneer to easily and cleanly fit onto them.
- Remove Extra Wood From Edges
Now that you have finished the planing, we need to remove the guide piece of wood on the plywood. If you have clamped it on, it should be pretty simple to release, but if you have glued it on, we recommend that you pry it off to reveal the soft glue areas where the wood was.
Remove the excess wood from the plywood piece by simply scraping it off with a chisel or putty knife, careful not to cut into the wood itself. If you have used glue that has hardened significantly, you can use the hand-planed to scratch it all off lightly.
- Sand Down Entire Piece
This may not always be required, but we recommend going over the piece one last time to ensure that everything is smooth and ready to be treated. Using high grit sandpaper will ensure that everything that should be smooth and soft to the touch is.
Often projects that have taken weeks to create are undone by some fine detail that the artisan has missed. This leads to a piece that has been finished with one or two indents in them from a clamp, that was missed in a rush to get something done instead of getting it close to perfect.
Why Is It Not Recommended To Plane Plywood?
Plywood is created from the layering of wood and wood glue, which means that there are no thick grains to follow as you plan it. When planing, you are usually cutting along the grain to remove a certain amount of wood to create a perfectly smooth finish that can be treated.
Further, planing is best when the wood has no hard spots, and the plane can freely move across it without being stopped by glue, grain, or hard spots. The hand plane is usually an older tool used when cutting on a table saw or with a circular saw that would not give the desired finish.
Further, a hand plane is one of the quickest ways to cut off sharper edges on ordinary pieces of wood. However, a hand plane cannot cut off plywood’s sharp edges with the same speed or ease, as the layering and the wood will not be smoothly cut.
How Do You Put A Nice Edge On Plywood?
The best way to put a nice edge on any piece of plywood is to use a veneer that can be applied with heat. You require almost no special tools to apply them, and unlike planing the edge, it can be done within a few minutes, and the edge will be completely smooth to the touch.
Usually, plywood is used as a support structure inside of other larger pieces of wood, which means that the edge of the plywood is never seen. The best alternative to veneer found when having to show the edges of plywood is to put a piece of solid wood on the edge.
There are no other alternatives, with plywood edges always looking quite bad as the layering does not create a smooth grain to follow through the pieces. We always recommend that you use a veneer, you can stain these to be the same color as the rest of the piece, and it does not add any extra weight.
When planing your plywood edges, we always recommend that you have the right tools and a hand plane that is as sharp as possible. You will not be able to create a smooth finish in the same way, sanding will, but you will make a perfectly straight edge.
Whatever you do, please don’t try to hand plane your plywood for deep edges; just cut it with a table saw!