Anyone who’s worked with wood long enough knows how effectively a router can change the game by accomplishing specific tasks simpler and faster.
A router is a great power tool to own because of its wide range of applications like trimming, shaping, and cutting wood. Its diverse use comes in handy in multiple decorative and functional techniques.
However, as a woodworker with no experience working on plywood with a router, you may be wondering whether it is appropriate for handling its delicate layered edges.
So, can you use a router on plywood? Yes, you can use a router on plywood, but with some reservations. You must use suitable plywood, prepare the edges, and use the right tools to avoid damaging your wood.
Read on as we share some of the woodworking experts’ best-kept secrets for using a router on plywood. We’ll also highlight the best tools to use with your router.
What Is A Router?
A router is a tool used to hollow out an area of a relatively hard material like wood. There are a few different types of routers, like palm routers and trim routers. Although its specialty is woodworking and carpentry, especially in cabinetry, it can also be effective on other materials such as metal sheets and plastic.
It is primarily designed to make fine cuts which include developing edges, creating grooves, and curving out patterns. Consequently, it opens up opportunities for woodworkers to create unique and decorative designs, which is perhaps the most exciting thing about this tool.
Using A Router On Plywood
Plywood slightly differs from other wood types you might have already experimented with. It is engineered wood and has a unique layered profile which makes it more challenging to use a router with it.
Plywood is a composite wood usually less than two inches thick. It is constructed of pressed layers of wood veneer bonded with glue and is extremely hard to cut or shape without damaging the edges.
To effectively use a router on plywood, you must take the following measures:
- Ensure that the plywood has been reinforced by edge banding with a hardwood. The plywood will hold up better, and any finish you put on it later will sit neatly.
- Check that there is no void in the plywood. Voids compromise the strength of plywood, so choose premium plywood like ApplePly or Baltic birch.
- Use the necessary tools for stability and employ the correct technique when using the router.
- Finish off your plywood edges appropriately.
Detecting Voids In The Plywood
Plywood is engineered and layered wood, and unlike natural wood panels, it is improbable for you to find any void within high-quality plywood. If you are curious to know what voids are, well, they are enormous naturally occurring holes found on wood surfaces.
It is rare to find gaps on plywood, but if they are there, it is not advisable to use a router in trimming the wooden project you are handling. This is because plywood sheets are delicate where there are gaps, and an enormous hole in the sheet will undoubtedly affect the wood’s structure and stability.
It is important to note that plywood is thin and, therefore, has a high risk of breaking. You should be more cautious when handling it if you’re used to high-quality hardwoods.
To detect any voids on plywood, carefully inspect its surfaces and sides. If you note any large holes, those are voids. However, if you don’t spot any holes, then you are good to go in with your router.
Tools And Materials Needed When Using A Router On Plywood
Before you begin to work on your plywood with a router, you’ll need more devices to give you better control of the router and plywood. Below are the necessary tools and materials you should use for a hassle-free time.
1. Router Table
This is a specially designed table for working with routers. It is readily mounted with a woodworking router and is stationary.
A router table is an essential piece of equipment for serious woodworkers, as it is more flexible and precise than the hand-held router. It allows the woodworker to work the router at various angles, including upside down and sideways.
This kind of maneuverability would otherwise be impossible if you were using a hand-held router.
There are two types of router tables: freestanding and benchtop. Freestanding router tables are stationary and cannot be easily moved around because of their heavy weight. Benchtops, on the other hand, are lighter and can effortlessly be planted elsewhere when needed.
2. Adjustable Router Planer
An adjustable router planer is a tool that removes a fraction of material from the wood to flatten and smooth the surface of the plywood.
If you are planning to do an extensive amount of work on plywood, then you may expect your router bits to lose sharpness. This is common because the adhesive glue used on the hardwood veneer plywood will stick on the blade around the router.
With time, it will end up dulling the blades, which you will need to replace, eventually. Therefore, opt for Carbide bits. They are far tougher than the cheaper steel ones.
4. Protective Equipment
Woodworking tools generally expose you to wood dust, excessive noise, and excessive vibration, which can cause some health issues. Routers are no exception.
It is essential to use safety equipment such as safety goggles, bar clamps, and hearing protection gear when operating a router on plywood.
Correct Use Of A Router On Plywood
How the router moves direction-wise is of utmost importance when working with plywood. This is especially true for a handheld router.
Gliding up and down or across the top and bottom of the grain patterns will damage the plywood. Placing your router down on the wood is the best way to avoid scratching it.
Always move in the opposite direction to the bit, which is anticlockwise. Begin on the right side of the edge and move toward the left so that the cutter is rotating clockwise and against the wood.
The router should not push you. It would help if you moved the router to where you want it to go. For the best results and the cleanest cuts, work in sections doing a couple of shallow passes rather than one long continuous pass.
Finishing Off The Edges
Unfinished plywood edges are usually unattractive to look at, and to achieve a professional advantage, finishing them is recommended but not quintessential.
Some people prefer to leave the veneer layers visible to add character to their wood projects. If that is not you, there are three options you can use in finishing plywood edges; edge banding, covering, painting over them, or filling them.
First of all, let’s familiarize ourselves with the term edge banding. What is it? Edge banding is the plating of the exposed and raw side of materials such as plywood, or particle wood with a narrow strip of smooth material.
Plywood edges are usually ragged when unprotected or unfinished and look unsightly. Edge banding serves to create both a functional and eye-pleasing finish.
First, it covers plywood sides to lock moisture out, serving as a protective layer of the inner material. Secondly, it improves durability and resilience as it enhances impact resistance.
Lastly, edge banding creates a glossy appearance matching your sides and tops by covering ugly perimeters and replacing them with softened radical edges.
Edge banding tapes are available in different materials, including PVC (polyvinyl chloride), solid wood, Veneer wood, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), acrylic, and melamine. However, let’s focus on a few materials that are commonly used, which are PVC, solid wood, and Veneer wood.
PVC is a product of thermoplastic resin and is well known for its inexpensive nature, flexibility, and durability. On the other hand, Veneer wood edge banding tape is made from actual wood.
The wood strip is pre-sanded and layered together for a naturally attractive appearance and high durability. Veneer edge banding tape is available in both finished and unfinished forms, depending on whether the plywood will need to be stained or painted.
Third on the list is solid wood. Like others, it’s stable and hard-wearing, offering backing, especially to plywood. It is recyclable, economical, and easy to fix and refine. It is the best edge banding for plywood you want to use with a router.
All edge banding tapes come in different thicknesses.
Painting Over The Edges
Painting over plywood is the most common way of finishing edges, and it does not consume a lot of time. However, it is tedious to paint over a rough exposed wood layer.
Also, getting paint to fill and mask the ruggedness is tricky, as the fluid will slip through the crevices down to the plywood core. Not only will this waste your paint but it will also leave the wood interior feeble.
In such instances, you will be required to apply wood fillers first on the cracks using a knife and scrape off the excess—afterward, sand off the excess hardened fillers.
You can then apply your paint, but do not expect the filler to be entirely invisible because it absorbs paint differently than the wooden sections. Painting edges is the best option to consider if the plywood has perfect edges and has few voids or cracks to be concealed.
Wood Filler Coverage
Another way of covering plywood edges is with wood filler. The key is to create a seamless solid surface that can be sanded to hide the unevenness of a typical plywood edge.
However, it only works for paint-grade builds, and you will have to do a bit of sanding to get the professional look. Adding putty is another way of filling holes and repairing defects. It differs from wood fillers in terms of composition.
Unlike fillers, putty does not harden. It contracts and expands along with wood. This is ideal for outdoor wood projects exposed to heat, cold, and moisture.
Up Next: The Best Paint For Plywood