Friday, 20 October 2017

Wearing a Veneer of Perfection Never Did Me Any Good...

I hope it works out better for my cabinet.

I've been out of it for pretty much the summer. I have no excuse for it, other than just being a lazy old fart. But the times they are a changin'.

In truth, I have actually been at it, not hard, but at it. I haven't written about any of it yet, but that will change over the winter months. While I'll include a few images here, I'll mainly be putting all my time and energy into getting my damned tool cabinet built, and given its size, that can only be done outdoors. Will the cabinet be anything like I have yacked about in the past? Ya, close I guess, but there will be some supple differences from the original drawings. There will also be one major difference; it will be made from veneer covered plywood. 

Going with veneer wasn't an easy decision to make. Like most in my generation, every time I saw a piece of veneered furniture I would actually cringe a bit, so deciding to use it on this project was a HUGE change for me. If you were raised during the '50s and '60s, you will remember all the mass produced furniture that was being pumped out. Walk into any Kmart or Woolworths back then and you would see acres and acres of cheap, crappy furniture that was typically made pressed board (pressed paper), smothered in less than paper-thin veneer, which as often as not, wasn't made from wood. The printed-to-look-just-like-wood plastic laminate was pure junk, as was the pressed board it was sort of stuck to. As a result of this trash furniture, I, and the majority of my generation, came to look down upon veneered furniture as cheap crap that we wouldn't give house-room to. We were wrong, but hey, it was the '50s and '60s, so none of us would listen.

So what changed my mind about veneer?

Cost.

I wanted to build a 1" thick solid maple cabinet with dovetailed joints and burled floating panels, but getting into it, I realized the material bill would equal the family jewels. Rough 5/4 maple sells for around $7 a board foot in Ontario, Canada, so I figured the wood bill for the whole thing would run around $800, plus the usual additional costs. Given this cabinet will never sit in my wife's living or dining room, and that, maybe, if I had a party or something, maybe 8 people would see it before I'm a goner, so I came to realize that a solid maple cabinet would be the epitome of overkill.

With the decision to go with veneer finally made, I started looking for a source. Enter, surprisingly, eBay. A gentleman was selling out his father's small mill, and he had a huge selection of veneers. I wanted maple, and he just happened to have some...well...actually, he had a lot. I offered to purchase 24 consecutive sheets of maple, 14" wide by 12' long for $300. Surprisingly, he took it and we both walked away from the deal happy.

I used scrap wood as spacers between the
different lengths of veneer and
sandwiched them between
two pieces of ply.
The veneer arrived stacked in sequence and rolled up together so my first job was to get it all numbered, cut to rough lengths and sandwiched between some plywood to keep it all flat. It took me about four hours to go through everything.

Where no spacers were needed, I used clamps
to hold the bundle together and keep
it all flat (the veneer outside the
ply will be trimmed off)
For the substrate, I decided to glue together two sheets of 11mm good one side plywood, giving an overall thickness of 22mm, or roughly .87". I went this route because gluing two pieces of plywood together results in a very ridged panel which is thick enough to handle any joining I could come up with. I also did a few things a bit differently because the panels will be veneered as well. I didn't bother with clamps for the glue-up. I just laid one piece good side down, then I spread yellow carpenters glue over the exposed rough face, positioned the second sheet over it with the good side up and screwed the whole lot down to the bench top (I flattened the top before I did this) using 1 1/2" deck screws. I wrapped the whole lot in a tarp and let them dry for a couple of days. The result was some great panels to work with.

Here, I just finished driving 17 screws through the ply and
into the bench top to ensure the panel dries flat

Given the wet weather we have had here this summer, the
whole lot was wrapped in a tarp which was held down
by cleats and left for a couple of days
I also think the hardest part of a cabinet to veneer is the edges, and the proof of this is how many cabinets I have seen where the edge banding has fallen off. To get past this, I bought some solid 3/4" thick maple and cut it up into 1" strips. I then glued a strip on the edges that would be exposed once the cabinet was assembled. When the glue dried I planned off the excess using my old man's No.4 Stanley plane, letting the heel of it rest on the panel so it worked as a guide. I'll run the veneer right up to the outside edge of the maple and I'll plane the whole lot flat and square.

Here the 1" strip of solid maple is glued and clamped to
the exposed edge of a side
Once I had the panels glued up and edged, I gave each side a fair coat of Bondo auto body filler. This was done to not only fill the holes caused by the screws when the panel was glued up, but to help flatten the ply, filling in the hollows that are always present in this cheaper, construction grade plywood. The Bondo will be hand sanded with a 18" sandpaper flat that will be fitted with self-adhesive 120 grit paper. The result should be hard, flat, and properly toothed for the veneer to be attached using hide glue, my first time for it as well.

Here the different panels have been coated with a thin coat
of two-part auto body filler to true their surfaces
Peace,

Mitchell