Shop sawn veneer without a drum sander
Here’s how I make backs for wall cabinets: I take a piece of plywood, usually 1/4 in. thick, apply edge bandings, and then glue on some shop sawn veneers. I end up with a back that’s 3/8 in. thick. Why do I make them that way? Well, I tend to make wall cabinets that are no more than 6 in. deep. I just don’t like the way deeper cabinets poke out into the room. But when the cabinet is so shallow, most traditional methods for hanging the cabinet become a problem. A French cleat for a cabinet this size, for example, would need to be 1/4 in. – 3/8 in. thick. And you can’t have it proud of the back, because then you have some unsightly gaps with light sneaking through between the wall and cabinet. And if you inset the cleat, you lose an equal amount of interior space on an already shallow cabinet. Add it’s thickness to the thickness of the back and you’re talking about 5/8 in. – 3/4 in. of depth lost. No good.
What I needed was a strong back that didn’t take up too much space. Plywood is strong. So I started to explore how I could use it to make an attractive and strong back. I have done enough shopsawn veneer that I immediately thought of gluing some shopmade veneers to a plywood core. That took care of the attractiveness. I knew that a back made that way would be strong, but also about 3/16 in. thick. So, I decided to make the rabbet for the back just 1/4 in. thick and leave the back 1/8 in. proud of the cabinet. When put against the wall, you get a nice shadow line between the wall and cabinet.
Of course, making a back this way means making shopsawn veneer, which can be tough if you don’t have a drum sander. Veneers, which should be no more than 1/8 in. thick, are really too thin to go through a planer. So how do you clean up both sides without a drum sander? Handplaning can work on short pieces, but the pieces needed for a back are too long and tend to bow up as you plane them.
My solution? Make a back from slip-matched veneers. Here’s what I do.
1. Prepare the plywood core: cut it to size and glue on edge banding.
2. Joint one face and one edge of a thick board.
3. Cut the first piece of veneer.
4. Rejoint the face.
5. Cut the second piece of veneer.
6. Repeat until you as many pieces as you need.
7. Edge glue the individual pieces to create a wide sheet (How I do that.). Here’s where the slip matching comes into play: All of the jointed faces end up on the same side of the sheet.
8. Glue the sheet down to the plywood, rough side up.
9. After gluing both the front and back sheets to the plywood, you can clean up the surfaces with a handplane or planer (I’ve done both) as you might a thick piece of solid wood.
So, slip matching gets around the problem of surfacing thin stock, because you can glue it to the core and then surface the veneer.
As for attaching the cabinet to the wall, I use two anchors and hide them behind drawers. For a small cabinet, I even have the anchors at the bottom of the cabinet, where I usually put drawers. They’re so light and don’t get weighed down, so there’s no danger of the top pulling away from the wall.
Glue up in sections. In my experience, it's best to glue up 3 or fewer joints at a time when working with anything less than 1/8 in. thick. I put blue tape along the joint on the jointed faces, which allows me to open up the joint to glue into it.
Apply edge banding before the veneer. The veneer hides the glue joint between the banding and plywood, and after you've chamfered the veneers edge slightly, the glue line between the veneer and banding disappears, too.
Keep the stack in order. When you lay them out to create the veneer sheet, don't open them up like a book to create a book match. Instead, lay them out so that all of the bandsawn faces are on one side. That creates a slip match.
Veneers begin at the bandsaw. One face and one edge are jointed. Joint the bandsawn face after ever cut, so that every piece of veneer has one jointed face and one bandsawn face. Cut them very close to final thickness. I'm aiming for 1/16 in. thick veneers, so I'm cutting these a fat 3/32 in. thick.
Wedge power. After putting some weight on the veneer to keep it flat, push the wedges together to apply pressure to a long caul, which pushes all of the joint closed.
A proud back. I make my backs 1/8 in. thicker than the rabbet is deep, so when I hang it on the wall, there's a nice shadow line between the cabinet and wall.
Plane the rough surface. Do this after the veneer panel has been glued to the plywood panel, jointed sides down. At this point, it pretty much like working solid wood, and because the panel is more than 1/4 in. thick, you don't have to worry about how you'll clamp it, a really stop, or the like.