Plywood Practice

Winter is traditionally a busy month in north India; this is the time to party, cook large rich meals and go walking. Friends from all over constantly drop in and there seems so much to do and so little time. The last couple of weeks were also bitterly cold by our standards and I was busier rustling up our barbecue than spending time in the workshop. Nevertheless, I did find time to sneak in and give my tools company, sharpen a few planes and chisels and decide something needed to be done with the stacks of odd pieces of plywood left over from previous projects. 

Over the years a woodworker will invariably accumulate large quantities of scrap pieces and while they will all eventually come in use in some project or the other. I found that I had a large number of irregular pieces of plywood stacked all over the place and felt it would not be a bad idea to use up the pieces to build quick and easy shelves, racks and so on. Apart from using up the plywood, this would give me much needed practice with plywood.

A Quick Rack for my Workshop

I have long realised that the more you do something, the more challenges you surmount – this I suppose is what the learning process is all about. This time I looked at the process of plywood working a little more systematically and came to the conclusion that it consists of the following stages: marking, cutting and sizing the pieces, putting them together, fixing the dents and holes, optionally laminating the piece, most definitely covering the open edges and finally finishing the piece.

I find that the first step is to accurately mark the pieces prior to cutting; unfortunately, often marking tools are not accurate (especially squares) and this leads to problems of fit and so on. Once marked accurately, pieces can be cut easily by a variety of means. Putting pieces together is also no big deal as screws or nails and glue will suffice. 

Wood Filler

Palette Knife: Great for applying filler evenly
Dents, holes and other imperfections can be repaired in a number of ways. I found a wood filler from a local store which claims it is imported from Italy! I paid about Rs 250 for a container weighing a kilo. Imported or not it is cheap and good stuff. It is like putty but dries harder and stains better. I can sand it off after it dries and get a good even finish. However, it does not dry as hard as automotive putty and clearly should not be applied in areas that will be banged, rubbed hard or subject to any kind of stress. I suggest woodworkers having a problem getting a good finish on their plywood projects look for this or a similar product.

Covering Gaps with Wood Filler

The other ways to cover holes and so no have been covered in some of my previous blogs but to reiterate, they can be filled by a mixture of fine sawdust and glue, by sawdust and CA glue drops or by other proprietary fillers. Do not use wax or any soft substance to cover dents; they do not take a finish well and often pop off when dry. 

Attaching Laminate

Laminating plywood or using a product faced with veneer produces the best results. In my practice, I quickly put together a shelf and laminated it with some plastic laminate that had been lying around. I then stained the insides red, applied a couple of coats of shellac and glued on synthetic banding over the exposed edges. I then filled up the areas I wanted to cover, let it dry, stained it again and once again applied shellac. The simple, utilitarian rack was ready in no time and I learnt a few things about accurate marking and the wisdom of cutting dadoes for shelves. I also learnt that synthetic edging which is glued on by a hot iron is not as satisfactory as it is touted; it is better to stick thin strips of wood over the exposed plywood edges and stain them with the rest of the piece.

The Rack in use
The rack is not fine furniture by a long shot nor was meant to be. But consider the speed of putting it together apart from its obvious utility: an hour or so for cutting and putting together the pieces; ten minutes for each of the laminated sides, plus drying time in between; and five minutes each for staining and putting on three coats of shellac, plus two hours drying time in between. I did this in between my other work and before I knew it I had cleared some scrap and had a lot of rack space available.

I also made a couple of tool holders and am in the process of making a medicine cabinet about which I will post later. The tool holders are simple: just two long pieces of plywood joined together in the middle of one; the back piece attaches to the wall while the piece perpendicular to it has a series of ¾ inch holes drilled in them to take the tools.

Tool Holder
Another really simple tool holder
Finishing is another issue with plywood and I suspect a lot of woodworkers face would agree. The three ways to cover plywood projects are: cladding (veneer or laminate), painting and staining. The choice will depend on the use of the piece. I normally just stain and shellac pieces to be used in my workshop, garage and so on; I would veneer pieces used elsewhere. Painting is another option but it requires practice, proper surface preparation and layers of very thin coats to get a good finish. I would stick with veneer or stain, as both would be faster to apply than paint which requires drying time between each coat.

I realise that the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ applies most to woodworking. Familiarity with processes adds to confidence and hones skills for measuring, cutting, finishing and so on. It is best to take the plunge and keep making stuff; even small shelves one feet by one feet are extremely useful in the house. Keep at it and you will get better and end up having a more organised home.

Indranil Banerjie
21 January 2013


  1. I think it is all about interest and creative skills of any individual that how he uses old and useless items to make something productive. I guess that is what you all did: utilize your skills to create.

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  2. With regards to the wood filler, I have found a reasonable alternative. Its a woodfiller from Sheenlac. I tried to get Timber Mate, the one you mentioned in one of your posts, but the importer is really far away and it costs way too much. The woodfiler from Sheenlac is about Rs 59 for 1/4 kg of it. So pretty cost effective. I was happy withe results it gave, it might take a bit of time to set, but when it does it is hard enough.

  3. To Karl Moses: Interesting. Can one buy this Sheenlac filler online? Also, have you tried staining it after it dries? How does it work? I have found that TimberMate after it dries does not stain entirely satisfactorily - it does stain but requires a bit of tweaking to match the rest of the wood colour. And yes, TimberMate is expensive and I wonder if it is worth it after all. Again, I find that filling holes and dents with fine sawdust and a few drops of Cyano Acrylate (CA) glue works well but stains a little darker than the rest of the wood but it is very strong and hard.

  4. Hi Sir - I have been reading your blog for a while now and have slowly started trying my hand into hobby woodworking.
    Built an ugly shoerack a couple weeks back, but learnt a lot in the process.
    Can you please let know where you procured the bar clamps used in the 'attaching laminates' picture?
    - Siddhartha

  5. Siddhartha: Congratulations on building your first project no matter how ugly it might look to you. Like in most things, I find woodworking gets easier the more you do it. As for the clamps, those are Stanley clamps that I picked up at Pragati Engineers, a small store selling Stanley products in Delhi's Chawri Bazar opposite the Metro Station.

  6. Hi Indranil. Thanks for the information, it's pure gold. I have tried my hands in woodworking and successfully made a corner shelf for my kitchen using scrap plywood lying in my house.
    I now want to make a 4x3 box with lid. I understand that MDF is not a good option to go for. Could you suggest me from where I can get good quality plywood online? If you think as a novice I should not work on plywood, then please advice.


    1. Neelabh, working with plywood is fine only why look for it online? Wherever you are you'll find a local plywood dealer. Visit a couple of dealers and look at different makes, types and so on and then decide. Besides, I don't know of any online plywood supplier.

    2. Thanks for your reply, Indranil. I do not know the rate at which plywood are sold, so I was trying to make a wise decision while purchasing them. I visited a local shop who promised to give me plywood at wholesale rate. 6mm @ Rs30/sqft, 12mm@Rs42/sqft and 19mm@Rs50/sqft. (All commercial ply).
      I will post pics of the box once the project is completed. Thanks again for your wonderful blog.

    3. The rates gioven are good and must be for local plywood as branded makers charge much more.


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