There are many people who enjoy working with wood - sheet goods - like plywoods, medium, and high-density fiberboard, and more. If you select quality products, you get nice flat material, sometimes you can purchase it with already applied veneers such as Oak, Maple, Walnut and so on, and what's nice, you can cut it to whatever size you need, you don't have worry about grain matching during glue-ups, twisting and warping boards, running our of enough material to do the job, knots in the wrong places ... the list is endless.
Watch it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/3oOsHZMlcX8
Those are just a few of the reasons that some people like working with sheet goods ...
One the shortcoming of sheets goods is that you cannot get a live edge version of it, which is why you may often see a sheet goods made piece of furniture with a natural edge top, and a lovely way of combining different woods together to get the exact finished project you want. For some people, acquiring live edge wood is very easy, for others, depending on where you live, it can be a real challenge even finding live edge wood, then finding enough that you can use is another issue.
One of the solutions might be to make your own Live Edge Plywood.
It's pretty easy, and when you go looking for the live edge component, you might just find it is pretty easy to get .. here's why. There are small sawmill operations all over the world, and even if you live in a large city, you probably won't have to travel very far to find someone who has a small bandsaw mill. Most people who are purchasing wood from these mills are looking for square-edged wood to build fences, sheds, boats, porches, furniture .. you name it. That means that one of the waste products of these mills is the bark and a portion of the live edge of the tree. It either ground up for mulch, allowed to rot away naturally to add nutrients to the ground, or sold as firewood. That is only one source: there are many others related to small sawmills that you find and get live edge wood or live edge cut-offs.
Bark On - Bark Off
Some people like to leave the bark on, while others want to remove the bark from live edge wood, and sometimes you have no choice ... here's why.
Most trees cut down, have the bark still on them unless they have been dead for a long time. The time of year that a live tree is cut down will determine whether the bark will stay on the tree of eventually flake off as the cut wood dries.
Trees that are cut down in the winter will almost always retain their bark, which means if you want to remove the bark, it will be a chore.
Trees that are cut down in the spring and summer will almost always shed their bark as the tree or wood dries.
Here's why. Trees cut in the spring and summer at cut during their growing season, when the layer of wood just under the bark is filled with life-giving nutrients that at traveling up and down the trunk between the roots and the leaves as this is the part of the tree that is growing, so during this time, the bark is almost floating on the outside of the trunk. In the winter, when tree sap sinks into the roots and the tree stops growing, the bark is allowed to firm up and come back in contact and re-attach to the trunk to protect the treed during the winter cold. For us woodworkers, this is the easiest non-technical similarity to how the tree functions and how bark works on a tree.
When you Get Your Live Edge Wood
Next, you will often need to be jointed and or planed to thickness. This is always best done with the largest convenient wood you can get because larger wood is easier and safer to work with around machinery than thin, tiny pieces of wood. Or, you can use hand tools to prep it, whatever you feel safest using.
Once the live edge portion is prepared the way you need it, you will need to trim it to width. Again there are a variety of ways of doing this from hands sawing, bandsawing, or using a table saw as Colin did. If you hand cut of bandsaw cut you will most likely need to prepare the cut edge to make it clean, flat, and straight for attaching to the plywood. If you cut it on a table saw, given a good, sharp, ripping, or combo blade, you may be able to just to glue that wood directly to your plywood.
If you use a table saw you WILL need some sort of an appliance or jig to safely cut the live edge off.
There are a couple of options of for this you could use the Templating or L-Fence
Colin made in a video, or you could use the tapering sled, that will also thin slice irregular wood safely on the table saw
Attaching the Live Edge Strip
Up to now is probably the hardest part of this assembly because now all that is left is to glue the live edge strip to your plywood. There is also a process of cutting slots in the live edge wood and matching slots in the plywood for attaching, but I have found if you simply pre-apply the glue to the plywood, you will get a very strong, easy to work with the bond.
Apply a layer of glue to the plywood or MDF you are using and let that glue dry for around 15 minutes, to allow it to soak into the wood and to at least semi harden. The glue wants to be barely sticky or even dry before you apply a thin top layer of glue to the plywood, and now another thin layer of glue to your live edge wood.
You will often find that the strip of the live edge is quite flexible and can be manipulated easily on the plywood. If you have special 3-way clamps you can use those, but I have found that blue painters tapes work great as a clamp.
In most cases, you can attach almost any live edge strips to any plywood without too much fear of not matching colors, but there are exceptions. Depending on the woods you are using you may want, or need to color match the woods, and sometimes even within a species of wood there are huge ranges of coloration so even if you do find a matching wood, the live edge piece might be a very different color, darker or lighter than the plywood you are working with.
In this case, my suggestion is to work with dyes rather than trying to work with wood stains. You can much more easily modify the colors and intensities of dyes than you can with stains but always, always do some tests. There are a very popular article and video from Colin on Wood Stains Versus Wood Dyes that would be helpful to many people who might be interested in this kind of work. Here is the link Dying Wood Versus Staining Wood
Another consideration you may need to consider is what to do with your edges. All live edge wood comes with sawed-off flat ends, but there is no reason that you couldn't use 45-degree corners, especially if this was the top of a table or desk. If you want a flat edge to simulate a true live edge piece of lumber, I would consider putting the thin strip of natural one your end FIRST so that the live edge overlaps it when it comes time to attach it. Just something else to consider.
Live edge plywood is another way of having options with wood and how you can best use them to your advantage. For some, it will open new doors for making woodworking projects that were previously not a consideration, but making your own live edge or natural edge plywood or MDF is an easy, convenient way of making your own, unique building material ...
Copyright Colin Knecht
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