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Plywood veneer quality... am I the only one that can't get decent stuff?12/26
The past few years, but especially 2018, I've noticed that getting decent plywood (3/4" domestic, in your normal cabinet species) is getting really difficult.
I won't name any particular brands at the moment, I'm not here to assassinate any brands. But we do intentionally, specifically buy domestic plywood from major suppliers. Usually poplar core, sometimes fir core. Increasingly, MDF core. I do shop around. So far most of the companies I have easily available have gone down similar roads, or they have cores that split too easily. The main issues I'm dealing with are terrible quality substrate (voids beneath the surface) and surface veneers that are so thin that even 180 grit sandpaper makes me cringe in the hands of any but the most experienced finisher.
When you combine those two together, you find yourself with a product that is nearly impossible to use in a properly "high end" job. Even though it's "Domestic A1, or B2". When I began cabinetry 15 years ago, I was taught how to sand with a gentle touch. But even then I remember the veneers not being nearly as paper-thin as they are now. And the cores weren't as unpredictable.
It's getting really expensive to make stuff only to discover a golfball diameter void just under the veneer that wasnt' easily seen until it hit the downdraft table.
We have reverted to using MDF core on basically anything except casework. Even then we have to be more careful than I ever remember needing to be with veneer thickness, but at least the substrate level is excellent.
I've seen similar results with wood-backed veneers. I just made a countertop using wood-backed walnut veneer (again, from a major domestic supplier) that seemed thinner than anything I've ever used.
These companies are getting better at splitting atoms than Duke Energy.
I hear ya. I really don't know how they can get is so thin and still keep it in one pc. I've been measuring .017 for average thickness for most of the veneers I get on veneer core.
At about .012 they become transparent when you put a clear on them so you have about .005 worth of sanding before trouble.
When I started they put a 1/16" veneer on and it got sanded to about 3/64" which is what you got it at. The plywood was much more stable. It wouldn't bend and deform all by itself just because the heat blew on it for a few minutes.
I've learned to deal with the thin veneers. Make sure the wood is proud and use a flush cut bit to even it off then minimal sanding.
I usually opt for particleboard core over MDF as it's much stiffer and won't sag as much. But if you need a nice flat surface for paint, veneer core isn't going to cut it.
I have found Chinese plywood to have really thin veneers, also, they seem to warp a lot. We have gone back to North American veneers, specifically, Columbia for our plywood. I do not think there are a lot of American manufactures of plywood left in the country. I like Columbia, they have plants in the US and Canada. I have ordered special layups with sequentially matched sheets. They do a good job.
We use a "Combi Core" Plywood core with MDF cross bands or outer layers. You get more consistent thickness of core and it is easier to sand because the surface is so smooth.
But I agree plywood/sheet goods are a never ending struggle no matter the price.
Bill is right about the combi-core items. Personally I consider it basically the same as "MDF" core, I cannot really see any advantage that combi-core items have over solid MDF except for the glamour of being able to technically call it "plywood".
It's still as susceptible to water damage as MDF since that's what's on the outer layer. However, we have used it several times to great success...... just not more success than straight MDF core would give. And at higher cost.
Paul Miller, you're right about the chinese import stuff. We refuse to cut it on the router, it often won't even pull down with the vacuum pump. And I've hit razor blades on the tablesaw that were layered in the middle of the plywood. Scary sh1t when you send a HUGE shower of hot sparks into a dust collector.
I had bought the chinese stuff to build a friend some cheap bookshelves. After that event, I swore I'd never cut it again on a tablesaw or CNC.... and I haven't.
Makes decent hurricane window protection though, that's about the only use I've had for it. Cut it with a borrowed skil saw lol.
I've been buying domestic hardwood plywood for over 30 years. The quality has definitely took a nose dive over the past 10 years. Like you said, a lot of problems with poor quality core. You do not need to disclose the manufacturer, I already know who you are talking about.
You can buy higher quality cores, but suppliers generally do not spec the higher quality cores because it makes their plywood cost more than their competitors.
There are some good quality imports coming from Europe that are cost competitive. Many shops in my area have ditched the domestic and went that route.
It's a sad day when you switch to an import to improve quality.
Combi core has much better screw holding properties and does not split along the plies when edge screwed or pocket screwed compared to mdf. It is also lighter weight.
Back when I started I the early 90’s we had multi core plywood. Best I’ve ever seen. I think it was a Columbia product. Decent face veneers, poplar veneer core with a weird center poplar osb layer. Those sheets were perfectly flat and stable. I think they were also true 3/4” sheets.
I’ve always been amazed by the cherry ply. We’ve got all the trees. They buy them cut the veneers half as thick as US/Canada and sell them back to us as plywood. You can measure those in microns.
This was in a batch of Columbia I ran yesterday. They've been our default for quality domestic. Everyone has s bad day but there were more core voids than I've ever seen and the sheet in the image was the entire center of the sheet.
Who today (domestic or quality import) is selling good thickness surface veneers?
My two main suppliers for domestic both have cut the surface layer down so low that it's almost unusable for things like miter cuts, etc.
Our sanding "margin of error" has been reduced to "margin of lucky", in terms of burn-thru. And that's in the hands of my EXPERIENCED finishers, myself included.
We use Roseburg and are able to hand sand and widebelt with little to no problems as far as thickness. There are other issues.
We do use combi core which limits high spots you might easily sand through.
I was not aware that Roseburg sold ply, but I know their melamine. Thanks for that info.
I dont think you are ever going to find material that has a surface veneer think enough that anyone would find suitable. You may opt for laying up your own for critical work and adjusting your construction for commodity work in a way that suits whats avaialble.
If you really want thicker veneers they are available. We do quite a bit of architectural matched panel work. Never on ply core! If you are buying in quantity, there are plenty of options available. But the price is going to be double or triple the commodity stuff.
Damn, we just got a unit of material supplied by the customer. 3/4" +- maple ply. Very light weight.?? core?? Rotary faces, OK. Sort of flat, most sheets pulled down OK. Now for the entertaining part. The center of several sheets had little or no glue. So when the parts were being machined, the operator quickly learned to stand behind something to keep from being hit by the top half of the parts that came sailing off the machine. No Manufacturer ID on the sheets. Got looking at the completed parts, lots of gaps. New customer, we need to have a talk.
Holy smokes Larry, that's frightening.
That day I sent a shower of sparks up the dust collector because of a razor blade laid up in the core of chinese plywood meant I'd never buy another sheet.
But I haven't had anything like sheets crumbling on the CNC like that.
We have used Columbia pretty exclusively for 25+ years.
Another job where the customer supplied the plywood.They said it was specially selected for them. We cut one product out of the 7 ordered and decided we needed to have a talk with the customer. The stuff set a new low for quality. Showed the casework to the customer, they decided to let us supply and return their big box stuff.