Working with Plywood – 18th-century Style
I used plywood for my “Machinist’s Tool Test” project (in the October 2012 issue, and continued in February 2013 issue). In the past, I regarded plywood as being unworkable by hand. But I found a couple tricks to working it by hand:
• Plywood can be sawn using fine-toothed handsaws. I think crosscut saws work a little better than rips, because they leave a smoother edge and don’t tear the bottom face sheets quite so much. But whatever saw you use, I found it best to deeply score both sides of the sheet before attempting a cut.
• You can plane edges and the face of plywood. You need a very sharp iron and I found that the glue dulled my plane blades pretty quickly. I used metal-soled planes to avoid damaging the soles of my woodies.
• High-quality Baltic birch plywood, available from Woodcraft and other online suppliers, is easier to work by hand than the home center stuff. The face sheets are thicker, giving you more opportunity to surface plane it. It typically has more plies and fewer voids than run-of-the mill stuff, making it easier to edge plane.
When I build things for myself, I always seek to learn something new. For me, the finished projects are secondary to the journey. The Machinist’s Tool Chest project presented me an opportunity to commune with the rest of the woodworking universe. I wanted to integrate modern materials, specifically plywood, and stretch my own skill base in the same way I ask you to stretch yours. Like those of you who dabble in period work, I’ve attempted to build something outside my comfort zone without the appropriate tools and approaches. I think I now better understand what you are up against. I still believe all woodworkers should possess basic hand skills. But I’m less willing to suggest, as I think I have in the past, that the 18th c methods are suitable for practically any woodworking situation. Modern woodworking and period woodworking just aren’t similar.
— Adam Cherubini
Check out Adam’s many, many projects and PDF downloads at ShopWoodworking.com.