Chris Schwarz's Blog

LVL: The Ultimate ‘Uglystick?’

The more I work with laminated veneer lumber (LVL), the more I like it. Unlike using standard construction pine, the LVL doesn’t move around on you like solid wood.

As a result, it is easy to machine, doesn’t pinch your sawblade when ripping and keeps its shape after you machine it.

In fact, one of the planks of LVL we brought in had been sitting outside at the lumberyard and looked like it was covered in a brown substance that will go unnamed. Even this weathered plank is stable.

But when you face plane the stuff and cut through its laminations, it can be ugly…¦ or not. Stay with me here.

I got the inspiration for using this material about five years ago when I met David Puls, a Charleston, S.C., artist and woodworker who uses the stuff to build all manner of cool furniture. He cuts it on the bias, however. When I visited his shop he had stacks of LVL he had collected from construction sites, some of it in massive sizes. I got curious.

Take a look at the cool child’s chair he made from LVL. I’d really like to feature his work (and his techniques) in an upcoming issue of Popular Woodworking. It would give me an excuse to go back down to Charleston and hang out with my dad and eat here again.

In any case, for this workbench, we’re not cutting the stuff on the bias like Puls. We’re treating it more like solid wood. And when we planed down the legs and stretchers on Monday, the boards looked like they had contracted a skin plague.

We knew this was coming, so Managing Editor Megan Fitzpatrick set out to create some sample boards to find us a paint job that would look good. We’ve all been a little worried about how the glue lines and voids will look, and I don’t want to fill the gaps with Bondo.

Well surprise, surprise. When Megan painted the LVL with one of the two red latex paints we have on hand, the pigment didn’t stick to the black glue. And I think it looks cool (not everyone agrees with me, however). But when Megan painted the LVL with a green latex, it covered the glue completely and easily in one coat.

That’s just weird.

Megan’s going to continue investigating the cause of this and I’m going to cut the joints in the legs.

– Christopher Schwarz

16 thoughts on “LVL: The Ultimate ‘Uglystick?’

  1. imdrmarshall

    i just posted and then thought about, if anyone has tried this, to any extent could you please email me any results thoughts or suggestions at "imdrmarshall@live.com" thanks again

  2. imdrmarshall

    i would do my own experimenting, but the living room in my 2bd apartment in san diego ca, where i have built my woodworking shop for now, just doesnt have the room nor the equipment…lol… so i was wondering if anyone has experimented around with the finished appearance (mainly while cutting on the bias) by strategically placing stained, or painted layers while constructing the boards, and if your OCD is as bad as mine you could plan out your design all the way down to only staining or painting certain exact portions of each layer, sometimes even doing only half (while on the flat) of a layer. maybe i will try my hand in this on the small small scale and see what i can come up with. please let me know if anyone out there has already done so. keep up the good work and thanks to all those who post…

  3. John Fox

    Check out the gallery at http://gogreendesign.biz/. I’ve shared occasional shop space (and monster power tools) with Gudrun & Eric for the past year or so. There are only a few of their lesser LVL pieces featured (bench side table, and ibeams, but I’m going to encourage them to submit photos of others to show that LVL isn’t necessarily limited to the shop.

  4. Fred West

    Chris,

    Strangely when I opened the feedblitz email and just glanced at the picture I thought it was spalted maple. Obviously upon really looking at it it was easy to see that it was not maple. However as I am a huge fan of spalted woods as long as they are not too soft I was wondering if you or Megan has tried some kind of clear poly, tung oil or boiled linseed?

    As Don mentioned I too was really appalled at the treatment that you and Rob received. I have emailed Rob and I am asking you here to please understand that the trolls that attacked you all are a very small minority and in no manner represent what I feel or what it seems the vast majority of your readers feel.

    Lastly, my Step-Mom and Dad have a house down in Charleston and it is apparently quite close to the Thomas Elfe house. I must confess that I have not been down there but now see that I must go make the trip. Thank you for all of the Charleston information as well as all else.

    Fred

  5. Jason Sanford

    I am re-posting as I am not sure my email client sent the post.

    When we painted our dining room with Red paint, the owner of the local paint store had a long conversation with me.

    Red paint is mixed from a clear base and not a white base. This causes it to not have as much covering ability as those based on an opaque base. This is why the green paint covered glue while the red did not.

    We used a tinted primer before the red paint. The primer was opaque and helped cover the previous color.

  6. Tom Bier

    I like the look of the red paint with black glue bleedthru. If you do the whole bench it’ll look like a hotrod with custom flames.

  7. Gary Roberts

    A couple of comments on this stuff. The adhesive holding the fibers together is hellish on blades. The materials safety data sheet should be reviewed before inhaling. Splinters are rampant, wear gloves. While suitable for building materials, what looks like ply is ply, only under a different name and different manufacturing specs. LVL, Ply, Oriented Strand, etc. All in some way or another are addressed to the needs of specific fields, mostly in construction.

    It’s great to see alternative materials being evaluated. But… do I want my Witherby chisel to slam into an LVL benchtop?

    Nope.

    Gary

  8. Lee

    Chris,

    On the subject of eating in Charleston, have you tried Fulton Five or Anson. Both are outstanding and have been favorites of my wife and I for the last 15 or so years. The crispy flounder at Anson is a definite must have. For breakfast, the Baker’s Cafe is hard to beat. Their eggs southern are one of my favorite indulgence breakfasts. Just thinking about these places makes me hungry.

    Lee

  9. Don Peregoy

    Chris

    Given the appalling treatment that you and the Tattooed Woodworker have been subject to recently I should start by assuring you that this is a concern not a criticism.

    I have followed the progress of Megan’s LVL workbench with much interest. I know how much fun it can be to explore all of the possibilities of something new. As I have stated before I have great admiration for your intellectual curiosity. I all so know that there are times when this sort of product is the best material structurally and that using solid wood would be wasteful.

    Given our dwindling hardwood supply it is almost a moral imperative that we make sensible chooses (as you have) in our woodworking.

    But I have seen other Fine publications wonder off into the land of Americanplywoodworker never to return.

    One of the best things about Popular Woodworking / Woodworking has been the encouragement of a high level of craft in both power and hand work. I hope you will continue to bring us information on a wide variety of materials and I look forward to more news on the workbench.

    Thanks
    Don

  10. Christopher Schwarz

    Heart pine would be a great workbench material. Softwoods don’t move much at all after they reach equilibrium. I’ve been very pleased with all the softwood workbenches I’ve built.

    Chris

  11. Ian Milliss

    I’ve just started playing with this stuff after doing a lot of work with recycled plywood and the wild contrast between glue and grain that you get by putting it through the thicknesser is pretty amazing especially if you then do a bit of painting with stain to exaggerate areas of blotchiness. I’ve fallen in love with it, for the moment at least.

  12. Mark Harrison

    I’ve been experimenting with home made milk paint. I wonder if milk paint (home made or bought) would look. I personally think it looks much better straight on raw timber than any latex paint.

    I just bought some hydrated lime and cement coloring from the local big box and used fresh skim milk. I’m considering using powdered skim milk to control the consistency along with Whiting bought from an art store.

  13. Charles Davis

    Lol at the title of this post.

    I have to take issue with the sacrilege displayed in the last picture. Using a Lie-Nielsen box as a simple paint tray? Is nothing sacred anymore? Those boxes are to be passed down generations along with the tools (preferably in unused condition for collectors not born yet). Please tell me that you didn’t use a Lie-Nielsen chisel to open the paint can. Where does the madness end?

    With that red paint… it’s as if the box is bleeding… Could this be what happens when certain people have an expertise in Shakespearean tragedies (and a compulsion for one-ups-manship perhaps??).

    On a serious note, it’s interesting to see this material being explored. I remember seeing it used once in a home construction show where they did kerf-bending on it for an archway. Wonder if this stuff is a good kerf-bending material in general.
    Charles

  14. Christopher Schwarz

    Yellow pine isn’t so good outdoors. Not so sure about the glue in LVL. There might be some Microlam product designed for outdoor applications, however. It’s worth looking.

    Another solution would be a cover for the bench, or make it out of white oak.

    Chris

  15. Tom Goodman

    Hi Chris,
    The LVL bench is turning out to be very interesting.My work space is not weather proof (it’s a carport)and my current bench is a plywood torsion box w/ 1 3/4" solid core door for a top. It seem to be holding up ok, but I’d like another one. Do you think LVL would survive ok outside? Should it have some kind of finish?
    Alternatively, would old heart pine be stable enough to not move around too much?
    Thanks for all the great articles and blogs.

    Tom Goodman
    Bailey, NC

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