Wood veneer edge banding is used to make plywood appear to be solid wood. It can get kind of tricky, but with the right strategy it becomes very simple, and almost impossible to mess up.
It’s not very attractive to leave the sides of plywood exposed. But even the sides of other manufactured woods like MDF could be greatly improved by adding some kind of edge veneer. Not only to improve it visually, but also to increase its ability to resist moisture, or to take a finish easier.
I’ve been building projects that include plywood and MDF for several years now and I’ve found that the following method for edge banding works very well, and leaves a beautiful finished edge.
The edge band I use, and I recommend using, is the pre-glued iron-on type sold at some home stores, and many places online.
Your Plywood Must Be Prepared For Edge Banding
Make sure your plywood has a nice, flat edge with crisp, clean, sharp corners. You should have no rounded corners, or wavy edges from cutting with a jig saw.
Check for burn marks too if you cut the piece on the table saw. This could be a divot which would leave a hollow space under that part of the edge banding.
Sanding the edge is not necessary. As long as you are left with a clean, flat edge from a table saw cut, or even a pass over the jointer, then you should be good to go.
In fact, sanding could actually make it worse. It’s very easy to round over a corner accidentally when sanding the edge of a board.
Finally, remove saw dust. Compressed air works great for this.
Flatten The Edge Banding First
Veneer edge band comes in a roll, and when you unroll it, it retains a curve.
This can be removed and the process is very simple using a rounded board like a 2×4.
Hold the edge banding against the curved corner of the 2×4 and drag the entire length of the strip across it, applying slight pressure with your other hand.
Do this until the piece lays flat. Here’s a video of me illustrating this process:
Lock The Work Piece In Place
You want the board to be very sturdy. You’ll be putting quite a bit of force on the edge banding so you’ll want to make sure it doesn’t slide around.
You can clamp it down horizontally to your work bench, but it’s much easier if you have a vise to clamp it in vertically.
The vise I’m using is my own design, it’s a type of Moxon Vise and it works great for tasks like this. I created a video showing you how to build this vise, see it here.
Hold In Place With Masking Tape
Hold the veneer edge banding on the edge of the plywood, making sure there is some hanging off in all directions. You’ll clean up the corners later.
Hold it in place with some pieces of masking tape, leaving yourself 12 to 16” of work area for the initial ironing, which I’ll detail below.
The piece I’m doing really didn’t need any tape because it’s so short, and you could easily hold the veneer in place with one hand while ironing with the other.
But for illustration purposes, I’ll be treating this edge banding as though it’s on a longer board, and I’ll apply it in sections.
Apply The Edge Banding Using Medium Heat
The edge banding I’m using, and I strongly suggest you try for yourself, has a sort of hot melt adhesive on one side. This makes the application super easy.
Using a standard household clothes iron, set it to its medium to medium-hot temperature setting. Move the iron along the face of the veneer.
Keep it moving constantly. Holding it still will increase the chance of burning the edge banding.
Heat up a 12 to 16 inch section until it’s being held firmly in place from the glue working into the wood.
Remove the masking tape as you go along to the next section and continue heating the veneer, repeating the process..
While moving along, keep the entire length of the edge banding warm by sliding over the whole piece from time to time with the iron.
You want to keep the whole edge warm because the glue needs to be heated up to effectively be pressed into the wood, which is the next step.
Don’t Skimp Out On The Rolling / Pressing
You can use a commercially sold roller to press the veneer, or you can simply use a scrap block of wood, which is what I do.
What you’ll be doing is pressing the heated glue into the wood, as much as possible.
So when you roll it, push hard, and work it in really well, making sure to push down on all corners as well as along the flat.
Rolling back and forth firmly over a 2 foot section should take you a good 60 seconds at least.
The idea is to really push that warm glue into the pores of the plywood for a strong bond.
To make sure you don’t have any loose sections, you can tap on the edge banding with your finger and you’ll hear and feel if there’s an area that needs more work.
Once you’ve got the entire piece of veneer firmly bonded and the glue pressed in deep, then you can move on.
Here’s a video of the entire process of heating and pressing the veneer:
Sand The Edge Banding Flush At The Corners
The excess veneer on each side and at each end is really easy to trim. One option is to use a utility blade or exacto knife if you want, but you’ll be risking cutting into the finished veneer edge, or possibly into the veneer face of the plywood.
That’s why I like to use sandpaper on a sanding block instead.
Rub the sandpaper downward, at an angle. You don’t want to sand away any of the veneered face of the plywood, but you also don’t want to put a round over or chamfer on the corner.
So sand slowly, and only enough to square off the corners.
The ends of the edge banding can be sanded just a bit until they easily break off. Then finish sanding these edges by running your sanding block vertically.
If you’re edge banding 2 adjacent sides to a corner, then just take it slow and sand downward until the corners meet.
Here’s me sanding the excess away until this strip of veneer is perfectly flush.
Guys that wraps up my veneer edge banding process. Very easy to do, and you can expect great results every time as long as you follow all 7 steps.
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