Plywood is a highly versatile, inexpensive engineered wood that is used for many different projects. But while it does offer many advantages, there are few disadvantages especially when comes to machining plywood.
As you know, plywood is made of thin layers of wood glued together in opposite grain directions. Many believe that because plywood contains glue to hold it together it is not suitable for use with a wood router. But is that really true?
Let’s find out..
Can You Use a Router on Plywood?
The answer is yes, you can use a router on plywood. In most instances, a router will work well on the edges of plywood, particularly ApplePly® or Baltic birch. However, to get the best results you will need to secure the plywood to a benchtop or use a router table. Otherwise, the vibration may cause the router bits to dull due to the glue that is inside the plywood.
* ApplePly® is a high-quality plywood made from solid hardwood (Maple and Birch) veneers. It offers nearly void free layers with beautiful edges and has excellent machinability.
When routing plywood you will come across two main issues.
- The void (gap between the plies) in industrial grade plywood will cause splintering and tearout.
- The plywood glue will cause the router bit to dull slightly faster.
How to Use Router on Plywood?
Before you begin, be sure that you are wearing the proper safety equipment which includes safety goggles and hearing protection.
Secure the Work: The bar clamps will help secure the wood properly so that you can create a smooth, clean result.
Router Table: Using a router table or bench top router table will also help in guiding the plywood to get the desired cut.
In addition, there are a few steps you will need to take that ensures the results are what you desire. One of the biggest risks in using a router on plywood is the chance for tearout. This is when the plywood itself is torn apart at the surface because of the action of the router.
How Do You Prevent Tearout When Routing Plywood?
A sharp router bit is the key to routing plywood without splintering and Tearout. Dull router bits would amplify even the slightest chance of splintering.
With that in mind, here are 5 ways to eliminate Tearout when using router on plywood as solid wood.
1. Cut in increments
Instead of making one deep cut, do multiple shallow cuts. When you remove small amount of material it greatly reduces the chances of splintering. Even it happens, the amount of teartout will be way less and you should be able to sand it off easily.
Usually a push cut where the handheld router is fed from left to right is the safest way to do it. But push cuts will result in tearouts on plywood.
On the other hand, a climb cut produces very clean edges. However, you must secure the workpiece properly and should have a firm grip on the router in case you are not using the router table.
3. Zero Clearance Insert
You can start by setting the clearance to zero on your router table. This will provide support to the fibers at the line of the cut. Not only does this help prevent tearout, it will also improve the overall quality of the cut as well.
4. Bump Cut
This is an old woodworking technique, where you will make a series of plunge cuts to remove lot of stock. Then finish the edge with a long straight pass.
5. Painter’s Tape
With the router, you should be able to apply the guides to the surface which will minimize tearout. And, you can add blue painter’s tape to the area along the cut line where you expect a tearout to take place. The tape will help prevent the material from pulling away from the rest of the plywood. Simply apply the tape along the cut line. You can apply it to one or both sides if you are not sure which side will start to fall apart first.
You’ll want to do a test cut on some scrap wood first to get a proper feel of how to move the router. This will let you practice before you start on the bigger pieces.
Can You Use a Roundover Bit on Plywood?
Yes, but it will need to be the proper size in order to get the best results. For example, if the plywood is ¾″ thick, then you should use a ½″ roundover bit. This will allow the bit to ride atop the bottom ¼” of the plywood for a better result.
After all, if you are trying to cut the plywood into separate sections, there are better tools for the job compared to the router. By keeping at least ¼″ of the plywood untouched, you will have a surface for the router to ride upon which makes for a better result.
Before I finish this guide, I want to quickly touch on edge banding which is perhaps the best solution to get clean routed edges on plywood.
Essentially, edge banding is a method of covering the edges of plywood with a small piece of solid hardwood or softwood. You can use your router to cut a tongue and groove and use wood glue to secure the solid wood band in place.
Once the glue is dried and set, you can use the router on the edge band like you normally would do on solid wood.