Plywood vs. hardwood for walnut bookcases

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The wife and I have moved into a new house and I've promised to turn one of the rooms into a library. The plan is to build 7 bookshelves each of which is 30" wide, 12" deep, and 8' tall out of walnut (the room has 10' ceilings). 4 shelves will be on one wall and 3 on another. Keep in mind that I have a decent table saw and router table but no planer or jointer...
The original plan was to build a case out of 3/4" walnut plywood with a 1/4" walnut plywood back. The shelves would be 3/4" walnut plywood with solid walnut trim piece on the front. The shelves are going to be attached to the walls and spaced about 3" apart from each other. I'm planning on covering the 3" gap and the face of the case with a solid walnut face frame and some decorative trim.
After hunting around, it looks like 3/4" sheets are going for almost $100 and 1/4" sheets for around $60. I started looking into pricing the hardwood portion and found Advantage Lumber (http://www.advantagelumber.com/main.htm ) which has 4/4 walnut for $3.60/bd ft and will also sell thinner pieces. That started me thinking about making the whole thing out of solid wood.
Plywood: Pro: fast, easy construction - no panel glue ups (I know I can do these but w/o a jointer it could take awhile) Pro: no movement - probably not a big deal for this project though ???: How will the shelves look with a 3/4" thick trim piece on the front of the plywood? Will it match well or will there be a noticable difference in the woods?
Hardwood: Pro: it's hardwood - just feels better, cooler, etc... Pro: allows me to do interesting things with the back panel like v-notching 4" wide pieces which I think looks fantastic. Con: long, potentially difficult road to glue up all those uprights and shelves. Con: probably more expensive - though w/ Advantage's wholesale prices for thin stock, this might be OK.
Another option I thought of was buying 1/16" thick walnut pieces from Advantage ($2.50/sq ft for orders > $500) and creating my own "plywood" by attaching them to a cheaper plywood core and then building the shelves out of solid wood. Since the bookcases cover a whole wall, I only need 1 good face for each of the vertical uprights. How much wood movement would I need to worry about with pieces this thin? If this is do-able, the cost is probably similar to using walnut plywood (2.50/sq ft * 32 sq ft == $80+core vs $100 for a 4x8 plywood sheet). Advantage has 1/4" quatersawn walnut for $3.25/sq ft which I can use for the backs. (30" x 8' x $3.25 = $65 which is about the same as a single 1/4" 4x8 sheet). This also has the advantage using less wood since I'm won't be wasting wood because of the fixed size of the plywood sheets.
Any thoughts? Part of me thinks I've been thinking about this too much and should have just picked a plan and started already. However, with the amount of wood (and $$$) this project will use, I want to make sure I've got a detailed plan that is going to work well.
Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks! Ted
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Ted Drain asks:

Sorry for the big quote. Almost certainly, the plywood will be cheaper and a good bit faster. How much cheaper is hard to guess, because a lot depends on cut planning, bookcase size, positioning of backer boards, planned width, similar things...you say 30" wide, which tends to waste 18" out of each 1/4" sheet (there are often other uses for the scrap). 8' tall works nicely with the plywood, of course. Plywood is also less likely to create wood movement problems after you finish the job.
The use of solid wood for edging is common and looks pretty good. If done right, it's hard to tell from solid wood. Or it can be made decorative and obvious.
Solid hardwood does look better, and IMO feels better as well. But at price of $3.12 per bf in plywood and $3.60 bf for solid wood you're going to see a real price differential. That solid wood bf has to be edge jointed, maybe have to be face jointed and planed to final size, has to be ripped to get the second edge. You say you have no planer and no jointer and you don't sound as if you have hand planes to use for clean-up otherwise.
You can do the solid wood back panel even with plywood shelves, of course. Personally, I love the V notch look on old bookcases, cabinets, etc.
I wouldn't bother creating my own plywood. You're going to pay 2-1/2 bucks per sf for the veneer, then probably close to a buck a square foot for the plywood base. Where's the savings over the $3.12 you'd pay for walnut ply?
Basically, I'd say put the three ideas (add my ply with solid back) on 3 sheets of paper, tape them to the wall, pick up a dart, stand back 6 feet or so, close your eyes and toss. Use the one you hit, or the one you come closest to.
Good luck and enjoy.
Charlie Self
"Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal." Alexander Hamilton
http://hometown.aol.com/charliediy/myhomepage/business.html
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.comnotforme (Charlie Self) wrote in message

Thanks for the reply (everyone). The reasons I thought about trying to roll my own plywood like material are: 1) Better match with the hardwood. If I buy the plywood out here on the west coast and get the hardwood on the east coast, I'm a little worried about how much work it will be to get the two to match. 2) Better material. I can put 1/16" hardwood veneer over a plywood core and get a thicker hardwood layer than I would on a normal sheet of walnut plywood (I think). This would give me more durability for sanding, scratches, etc.
I took Swingman's advice and downloaded CutList Plus (http://cutlistplus.com /) to help optimize the cuts and run some pricing what-if scenarios. All I can say is wow, how did I live w/o this type of program. It sounds like any of my scenarios are reasonable so I'll use this program to get concrete cost numbers for each of them.
Thanks everyone. (Now if my new General Int. contractors saw would ever get here...)
Ted
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What's the 'V notch look'?
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P-J asks:

I am not going to try to do a drawing here...at least I don't think I am.
Simply a tongue and groove joint, with a chamfer at each top edge, reaching almost to the tongue/groove, but not quite.
I was right. I'm not going to try to do a drawing here.
Charlie Self
"Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal." Alexander Hamilton
http://hometown.aol.com/charliediy/myhomepage/business.html
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Actually, it's only $1.80/bf. You should be able to get two 3/8" panels out of a 4/4 board. Remember, you don't have to get all the saw marks out of the non-show side.

I just made a solid wood back for a cabinet yesterday and posted what I did here:
http://www.woodcentral.com/cgi-bin/handtools.pl?read "297
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Scott Post snipped-for-privacy@insightbb.com http://home.insightbb.com/~sepost /

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Very nice work, Scott ... and you're hair looks lovely.
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Scott Post responds:

I hadn't taken into account resawing for the back, but you're correct. Sides and shelves, top and bottom, though, are full thickness (we hope!).
I won't tell you about the comment one of my Parris Island drill instructors had about boots who didn't shine the backs of their shoes, either.

Looks great, if a bit fancier than what I was describing. Great plane, too. And as someone else says, your hair is really swingin'.
Charlie Self
"Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal." Alexander Hamilton
http://hometown.aol.com/charliediy/myhomepage/business.html
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.comnotforme says...

Might want to keep it away from open flames though. =:-0
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Mark & Juanita responds:

Something else I forgot. Christmas candles.
Charlie Self
"Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal." Alexander Hamilton
http://hometown.aol.com/charliediy/myhomepage/business.html
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You also need to worry about the span of the shelves. There was an article a few years ago (Woodsmith?) that did a test on various materials. I believe you will find that plywood with a solid front trim piece will provide better "sag" resistance than would solid wood. The plywood will look just fine and will be much cheaper. I really can't think of any disadvantage to plywood. That is what I would use (and have).
Bill

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WORSS responds:

Yabbut he is staring 30" as the shelf width, which is easily done with solid walnut, too.
Charlie Self
"Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal." Alexander Hamilton
http://hometown.aol.com/charliediy/myhomepage/business.html
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On Sun, 21 Dec 2003 13:05:20 GMT, "WORSS"

Woodsmith would be wrong, unless the solid wood trim was much wider than the plywood. Plywood sags more than solid wood. It stands to reason as half of the wood fibres are in the "wrong" direction.
Check it out at the sagulator. Just compare the Fir plywood with solid Douglas Fir, so the species are consistent.
http://www.woodbin.com/calcs/sagulator.htm
Luigi Replace "no" with "yk" for real email address
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build it out of MDF and put a walnut veneer over the surface dress it up with a hard wood front ? Wouldn't this be a cheaper way out without sacraficing looks and strength thoughts anyone?

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Might work, but I would question the span capability. MDF is VERY heavy which, IMHO, will work against you in this situation.
Bill

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On Sun, 21 Dec 2003 13:19:44 GMT, "WORSS"

I've seen entire home libraries, spec'd as paint grade, built from MDF. If the structure is right, it'll be plenty strong.
A plain MDF shelf will sag substantially, just as you say. The same shelf with two 1 1/2" MDF strips glued to the bottom will be substantially stronger. Change the strips to maple, birch, or poplar, and the shelf is stronger yet.
Barry
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You can use the MDF for verticle surfaces and ply for the shelves. I would use play. The main reason is the months less time required. That is where the savings really are.
You can also mix and match as needed. Like - Use ply for the sides. The front of teh colums are going be dressed up with trim anyway. Then use the V - grove for the back. Then if you want make some of the shelves - glue up a few. After all you are going to have 35 or 40 to do. If you get tired of glueing up 120 ft of shelves you can use the glued up ones at for the shelves that are from waste up to eye level and play for the rest.
Now you you are looking for an excuse to buy a jointer this would be it!
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On Sun, 21 Dec 2003 09:44:54 -0330, "Dan Parrell"

Hardwood plywood is often available with an MDF core.
Barry
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Dan Parrell states:

Depends on the price of the MDF and veneer, but at 30" width, MDF is eventually going to sag some, unless front and rear solid wood strips are added.
Charlie Self
"Man is a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal." Alexander Hamilton
http://hometown.aol.com/charliediy/myhomepage/business.html
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On 20 Dec 2003 22:59:47 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@sbcglobal.net (Ted Drain) wrote:

Design it first. If you think the solid wood back, etc... is required by the design, go with it.
For the shelves themselves, I'd definitely use plywood with solid edging for strength. Taking an extra minute when selecting the stock will help it match. If you use a front edge bigger than the ply, say 1/2 or 3/4" x 1 1/2", you will barely see the edge, and you could easily add routed profiles, if desired. A front edge larger than a simple cover strip will also add quite a bit of load capacity to the shelf. A bit of a high quality dye stain, like Behlens / Mohawk, can make woods match perfectly without clouding the figure, if that's what you're after, but practice on scrap.
I do this type of construction all the time with hardwood ply and solid wood, and it works wonderfully for built-ins. I'm currently doing a window seat / wall unit out of oak.
One more tip, make sure the plywood is plain sliced, not rotary cut, as it will look much more like solid wood. All of the walnut ply I've seen was plain sliced, but it never hurts to ask if you're having it shipped to you.
Barry
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