Edging Sheet Goods

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This article is from Issue 93 of Woodcraft Magazine.

How to hide that ugly core

By Craig Bentzley

When making casework, it’s easier and more economical to use plywood, MDF, and other sheet goods instead of solid lumber for primary parts. The problem is that you end up with sawn edges that expose the plies or composite material making up the core. Some modern furniture incorporates that look into the design, but for quality casework, it’s better to cover the edges with solid wood. I’ll discuss some of the myriad options here. Keep in mind that, as with everything, there are pros, cons, and trade-offs for each method. So before choosing an edge treatment, consider where the project will live, its level of use, your tool arsenal, and how much work you want to put into it.

Basic approaches

Iron-on. Veneer edge banding is easy to apply with a household iron and pressure roller. Although you can do the trimming with a chisel or knife, specialty trimmers are more efficient if you have a lot of work to do.

Veneer tape is the most convenient edging to apply. Available in a variety of wood species, these strips are coated on one side with heat-sensitive glue, and can be applied with a household iron and hard-rubber roller. Made for edging 3/4"-thick panels, the tape is typically 7⁄8" wide to allow for trimming. On the downside, it’s neither heat-resistant nor particularly durable, so don’t use it on work that might sit near a heat source or endure heavy use, such as tabletop edges.

Attaching solid wood edging requires more effort, but the results are much better looking and longer lasting. Even simple 1/4"-thick strips will take a beating and will last forever if properly glued on. Applying wider edging will add panel strength and will accept a routed profile if desired. You can attach wider edging with glue and pocket screws or biscuits as shown. Pocket screws make for fast work, but you’ll want to be able to orient the pockets to be out of sight. Gluing and clamping yields much cleaner results, although it’s a bit more work.







Glue ‘n’ tack. 

Much more durable than tape, 1⁄4"-thick solid wood edging can be glued and tacked in place, then sawn or routed flush.





Pocket-screw for speed. Thick edging can be quickly attached with pocket screws. Just make sure that any subsequent router-profiling won’t hit the screws.

Biscuit alignment. Installing biscuits ensures fast, accurate alignment when gluing and clamping solid-wood edging.

Edging with integral joinery

Edging needs to be made oversized, then trimmed flush to the panel after attachment. To minimize the trimming work, especially on wide edging, you don’t want it to be too thick. However, stock of minimal thickness must be carefully located on the panel edge to overhang on both faces. The best approach to this is to incorporate a joint that will self-position during assembly, such as a biscuit joint. Another option is the V-joint shown at far right in the lead photo on pg. 45. This joint is easily cut on the router table using a two-bit set.

Two other approaches include the T-joint and the spline joint, also shown in the lead photo. In both cases, cut the groove(s) first, and then size the tongue or spline for a snug fit. Whatever joint you choose, accurate set-up can be fussy, so use scrap to ensure that the edging ends up overhanging both faces of the panel. The payoff for the time spent cutting accurate joints is fast, painless, precise glue-ups. 




Groo-V. The router bit set for cutting a V-joint includes one bit to shape the edging, and one to cut the V-groove in the panel edge.

Foolproof flush-trimming fence. The upper section of this router table fence is aligned with the bearing on a flush-trim bit. The inset on the lower section allows room for the projecting edging, which is then trimmed flush to the panel.

Tips for Solid Edging

  1. Mask off. To reduce clean-up, mask off panel faces at their edges before glue-up.
  2. Clever clamping. When clamping edging to panels of similar length, use the panels as cauls by orienting the edging face-to-face, sandwiched between the panels.
  3. Two birds with one stone. Glue a length of double-wide edging between two panels, then rip through its center to separate the pieces.
  4. Save it for later. Let attached shelf edging run long, trimming it flush to the panel edges afterward using a table saw sled.
  5. Rout first. Whenever possible, rout proud edging with a flush-trim bit before finessing with a plane and/or scraper, followed by fine-sanding.

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