Why plywood?

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I know, a basic question. I'm not much of a woodworker, but was curious about when plywood started to be accepted in high end furniture making (assuming it is). Now I guess guys like Duncan Pfyfe and Lannuier used veneers (I think) but I don't think they used plywood. Did they just select the best boards they could find? As a layman I always thought plywood was cheap crap made to look like the real thing, but now I see it appears that plywood is preferred to solid board, or is that just due to cost and stability of the wood?
If money and supply were no option, as it shouldn't be on high end stuff, would you still prefer a plywood veneer?
thanks, dwhite
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Plywood is more practical in that it does not have the problems associated with wood movement that solid wood does.
If today's plywood was available a couple of centuries ago, I have to wonder if the old masters would have used it. I also have to wonder about the quality of wood from the old growth trees from many years ago compared to what is available today. Of course, there was a lot of cheaper furniture made that did not survive the centuries either because of inferior material or inferior workmanship.
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I guess I didn't voice the opinion, but I have the feeling that furniture made from plywood, no matter how beautiful it may be, still isn't the "real thing" if you are looking for really high end furniture. Again, just a layman's view.
dwhite
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made from plywood, no matter how beautiful it may be, still isn't the "real thing" if you are looking for really high end furniture.
You know, I feel the same way about veneer. I know that a lot of fine furniture builders have used veneers, but I still think it looks cheap.
Dick Durbin
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Whoa, there, Dick. Better be prepared to be called either stupid or untalented by Mr. Watson for a remark like that. He might even bust out his book of quotes on you.
todd
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:>I guess I didn't voice the opinion, but I have the feeling that: furniture : made from plywood, no matter how beautiful it may be, still isn't the : "real : thing" if you are looking for really high end furniture.
: You know, I feel the same way about veneer. I know that a lot of fine : furniture builders have used veneers, but I still think it looks cheap.
Have a look at Ruhlmann's furniture from the 20s-30s. Cheap it ain't (on any construal of the word).
    - Andy barss
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While I am a big fan of Ruhlmann's designs (you do realize that he built nothing himself) his use of veneer is as tacky as Pamela Anderson's store-bought bosom.
Dick Durbin
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A woman with breast implants, a little makeup, and a nice outfit isn't the real thing either but it sure is nice.
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Dan White wrote:

Read up on Eames chairs. You will find that they are generally considered by people who are into that sort of thing and whose style they suit to be highly desirable pieces of furniture. Mine's over 40 years old and still looks new. Now, look at the design and tell me how you would implement that in anything _but_ plywood and have the same result.
From an engineering viewpoint, plywood is a material with certain properties. When designing a piece of furniture sometimes those properties suit it better than anything else for a particular component. In those cases it should be used.
Now, with regard to your question about "high end stuff", veneer is often used on expensive furniture because it is very difficult to achieve some effects any other way--try to get a diamond match on a tabletop for example without having weak corners. As a substrate for veneer plywood is excellent--better than solid wood because it does not move nearly as much in service and so does not stress the veneer or the bond.
Now, with regard to Phyfe and Lannuier, Phyfe died in 1854 and Lannuier in 1819, but commercial plywood as we know it first went into production in 1905, so they certainly did not use the kind of plywood we buy from lumberyards. Whether they made their own I have no idea.

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IMHO, I don't think ply has a place in "high end furniture". But then, my definition of high end furniture might differ from someone else's. For those who tend to disagree, I would ask them how many have made what they consider to be a fine quality table top from plywood, because that would be the perfect example of an application where something large, flat, and dimensionally stable is desirable. If you want to take it to an extreme, I took a couple of woodworking classes here in Chicago and the head of the operation told me that, unlike solid wood, plywood doesn't have a "soul". Now, I'm not ready to go quite that far, but I don't use it in anything I consider to be high end.
todd
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Todd Fatheree wrote:

The trouble with ply as a tabletop is twofold. First you have to edge it with something and that something is going to be visible and affect the design. Second, unless it's made from all hardwood plies it's going to ding easily even through the veneer. A panel in a door where the edges are concealed by the rail and stile would IMO be a more appropriate use.

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"Todd Fatheree" wrote in message

Does "high end" mean "high dollar"? If so, a perusal of http://www.wonderwood.nl/plywood/ should put some all plywood pieces in the running.
A master uses whatever material is appropriate. Being that there are damn few masters hereabouts, I suspect most responses against plywood in fine furniture are based on a preconceived prejudice.
Besides, tell that to DJM as he applies quilted veneer to a substrate of plwood for a piece of what is inarguably "high end" furniture.

Sounds like the music business... those that can, do; those that can't, teach others to do what they can't make a living at themselves.
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As a substrate, plywood is OK. Although MDF would do as well. But even hardwood plywood nowadays has such thin surface layers as to be easily damaged in use, if not sanded/scraped through while finishing.
I do agree that our ancestors had access to much better quality wood than we do today - and at little cost. Unfortunately, they used it all :-).
--
Homo sapiens is a goal, not a description

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wrote:

Made a dining room table once that had an elliptical top about eight feet in the longest dimension and 42" measured at a 90 to the long C/L.
Used 3/4" thk Appleply with bandsawn 5/16" thk flame figured Circassian Walnut, cut from a slab that was 4" thk, glued to the substrate.
The "veneer" met a rabbeted apron on the perimeter that included a 1/4" wide inlay of holly.
This "plywood job" was pretty high end, I'm thinking, as the folks paid $12,000.00 for the table.
Tom Watson - WoodDorker tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1/ (website)
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That would be the major and minor axes.

As I suspected, there's a difference in my mind between "high end" and "expensive". There are certainly projects where plywood makes things infinitely easier.
todd
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wrote:

"Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how its done, theyve seen it done every day, but theyre unable to do it." - Playwright Brendan Behan (1923-1964)
Tom Watson - WoodDorker tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1/ (website)
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"When you can't think of something intelligent to say, quoting a dead guy is always a fallback position." - Todd Fatheree
By the way, if you were to exercise some English comprehension, I didn't even criticize your work, nor say that I could duplicate it. So it doesn't fall into a particular category, according only to me. No reason to get your undies in a bunch. If the definition of "high end" in your book is for it to be reasonably hard to produce and expensive, you're entitled to that opinion. No reason to go on the attack just because not everyone agrees with you.
todd
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wrote:

Ah hell, I just like Brendan Behan.
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wrote:

And who would know better than you?

Do tell.

And yet, when I presented you with exactly that situation, you chose to nullify my experience, through some feat of mental gymnastics that I am not privy to.

sigh...
This is damned interesting to me. I have a MA in philosophy and I have never been able to be sure that I have a soul, let alone delving into the possibility that wood that is cut thick has a soul, while wood that is cut thin has none.

And your definition of "High End" is what?

This doesn't sound snotty to you?

No shit?

Dude:
Stay in Chicago.
You don't know dick and the Pizza in Philly is more than you can handle.
Tom Watson - WoodDorker tjwatson1ATcomcastDOTnet (email) http://home.comcast.net/~tjwatson1/ (website)
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Why, the all-knowing Tom Watson, of course.

I did. So did a lot of other people. But when you're all-knowing like you, you can just discount all that.

What about your experience did I nullify? I asked how many make fine quality table tops from plywood. So far as I can tell, you're the only one who said they have. Fine. That's one vote for "plywood is an excellent choice for high quality tables".

Ah. More arrogance. Obviously, if someone took a class, they don't know anything.

Well, as I said, that was the opinion of a very well-respected and very long-time woodworker who runs the apprenticeship program at Chicago Bauhaus, not mine. But in my mind, there's a little bit of difference between a solid piece of wood and a bunch of thin pieces of wood pressed together with formaldehyde glue in a factory. And if you've read any of the other posts, you'll find I'm not alone in this thinking.

Well, there's a certain je ne sais quoi when trying to fully define it, but it doesn't include sheet goods. Or are you the only person in the universe capable of making that determination?

No more than you sound like an ass.

Seriously. Kitchen cabinets come to mind.

Hey, when you run out of clever things to say, just call someone a dick. It really bolsters your argument. I'm not sure how pizza figures into this. Why don't you just stick to cheesesteak and leave the real pizza to the pros? Make sure to be safe in the shop too. Climbing down off that high horse can be dangerous.

todd
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