Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hidden layers: applying the edge banding

So I left off last time with all of the pieces being cut to their final size. All that's left now is beautifying the pieces and then assembling the unit. The first step in the beautification of plywood is the application of some kind of edge banding. The purpose of this is to hide the layers that make up the plywood sheets. This can be done usually one of two ways, 1) by gluing a piece of solid wood to the edge, or 2) using commercially available iron-on edge banding, which is a wood veneer with a heat-activated glue attached. The first method, in my opinion, usually looks nicer since you can turn this process into a design element, rather than simply a tool for hiding the plywood edges. However, a table saw and more experience than what I have is required, thus I will be using the latter option (which can also look really good when done properly). Below are shown all the tools and materials necessary for this process.
Only a few simple tools are required for this task
What you see here are a couple of clamps to hold the work piece, of course a roll of iron-on edge banding I bought from Windsor Plywood, a pair of scissors and a utility knife for cutting and trimming the banding, an iron which will be used to activate the glue, and a small plane and sandpaper to trim the banding to width and create a finished look.

The first step is to mount the work piece in a vertical position as shown below. Ideally this would be done maybe in a bench vise, but this setup sufficed for me.
Okay, a bench vise would have been better, but in the end this worked out
This overall process really showed me how bad these Mastercraft Turbogrip clamps are. I bought them during a sale at Canadian Tire (60% off) along with several other clamps, so I'm glad I didn't pay too much for them. Several times the clamps gave way, dropping my work piece. No real damage was done fortunately.

On nearly the hottest setting, I then ran the iron over the edge banding. Immediately following this, I applied pressure with a block of wood to ensure a good contact between the banding and plywood.
Apply heat then pressure: the two ingredients needed for a good bond
Once cooled, I used the utility knife to score the ends of the banding flush to the plywood. The excess pieces then snapped off with ease.
After scoring with the knife, the excess piece will snap right off
The edge banding is quite a bit wider than the thickness of the plywood, so sanding all of the excess off would be very painful. Instead, I found a small, inexpensive trimming plane to do this job. I am actually very happy with this plane, for its price it does a very good job. Once I have trimmed the banding as close as possible to the plywood surface, I used a makeshift sanding block with 150 grit sandpaper to take care of the rest, and ease the edges.
The plane removes the bulk of the extra banding, then the sandpaper gives it finesse
As you can see below, the clue in the banding really clogged up the sandpaper. I went through quite a few squares by the time I finished.
Glue can really mess up the sandpaper
Overall, I was pretty pleased with the result. If you don't look too closely (like in the photo below), it looks like a solid piece of wood.
Even this close it almost looks like a piece of solid wood
With all of the pieces edge banded, I am ready for the next step of beautification: applying the varnish, which will be a story for the next posting.

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