Get creative with plywood
William Holman / Storey Publishing
A Rubber Hose chair featured in "PlyDesign," by Philip Schmidt, that can be made with reclaimed plywood and an old air hose.
Kristin Hare / Storey Publishing
This Bespoke chair is crafted in part from white oak plywood, and featured in "PlyDesign," by Philip Schmidt.
Thomas Cooper, Lightbox Images Photography
A plywood Reluctance sofa-table can be built according to instructions in the book, "Plydesign," by Philip Schmidt
It's not that fast or dirt-cheap, but it can be that easy, according to woodworking experts who speak fondly of plywood's many merits.
"Plywood is the starting point for many of the things I build," artist and designer Jimmy DiResta of New York City said. "With some imagination and inventiveness, it can become anything."
Plywood is cheaper and often stronger than solid wood, easy to find at home-improvement or lumber stores, and -- darn it -- it looks good.
Plywood is made from thin layers -- called plies or veneers -- glued together under heat and pressure, with each ply laid perpendicular to the next. This "cross-graining" gives plywood its strength and stability, Philip Schmidt, author of "PlyDesign," said.
Since plywood comes in more than a dozen standard thicknesses and twice as many grades, check a buying guide -- Home Depot has one online -- before purchasing it.
Schmidt recommends using a cabinet-grade material, such as Baltic birch, for do-it-yourself projects. The plies are thin and even, and the exterior is smooth, sanded and blemish-free.
"Beluga caviar notwithstanding, Baltic birch plywood may be Russia's finest export," Schmidt writes in his book.
"PlyDesign" includes 73 projects for novices and experienced builders. Do-it-yourself project magazines such as Ready Made and Make, and online sites such as Instructables offer many other ways to use plywood.
A jigsaw can cut straight lines and curves, so that's your primary tool, Schmidt said. After that, invest in a good-quality drill. If you want to go deeper into plywood DIY, get a circular saw and a router, which helps cut out multiple pattern pieces.
"I don't own a table saw or any stationary power tools," said Schmidt, a project designer and author of 17 design books. "I'm more into DIY."
DiResta recommends the jigsaw and circular saw for most plywood projects, and suggests starting out by building a storage box or simple bench. He offers video tutorials on YouTube, sponsored by Make magazine.
Plywood has its drawbacks. Schmidt warns against sand-papering through the thin top layer, ruining the look of your piece. To avoid this, use a fine-grit sandpaper, and be careful.
DiResta recommends wearing gloves when cutting plywood and sanding cut edges with a sanding block.
Then there's "the edge thing," as Schmidt calls it: Do you cover the exposed plywood edge or let it be?
Design will dictate, both DiResta and Schmidt say. Some modern-looking pieces look great with their plywood edges exposed, and the better quality the plywood, the better it'll look. For other projects, you may want to cover that edge with veneer.
For some, a project is too delicate or the plywood too high-end to entrust the cutting to one's own hand. If that happens, find a local furniture-design business to cut the piece for you. They use computer-controlled routers that make precise cuts.
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