I’ve noticed that many of the questions about how to do the projects available on this website have to do with the choice of board, so this time I’ll try to shed some light on this versatile product. I’ll describe the main features of each type of board, as well as its advantages and disadvantages, in order to help you choose the right material in all of your projects.
Sometimes one project can be made with different boards, but depending on the choice, the results may be better or worse from an aesthetic or structural point of view, as well as having a different cost.
Besides the price, another point to take into consideration is the availability of the materials. It may be impossible to obtain certain materials where you live. Some carpentry stores only sell whole boards and that can be an issue, due to the price and the difficult transportation.
There are boards and woods of various qualities. Even if they look the same, a plywood board may be of higher quality than another because its manufacturers chose the best defect-free wood to make it. They may have used better adhesives or simply dedicated more time to each of the processes needed to manufacture the board. This can be applied to all kinds of boards. But despite all that, I’ve seen interior decoration made from the cheapest particle boards -the kind people wouldn’t even want to have in their garages- used in a very successful way.
Depending on what you’re going to use the board for, you should ask yourself whether you need to buy the most expensive one, or go for a cheaper option, suited to your budget. But what you should always do is ask the seller what kind of board they’re selling and have the necessary information to check if what they’re saying is true. Some places will try to sell it as is, or may even be uninformed as to what they’re selling, which I’ve had happen on more than one occasion. Due to this and many other reasons, it’s always a good idea to be aware of all the options at your disposal. In this other article you’ll find more information on the cost and choice of materials.
By using manufactured boards in your projects, you won’t need as many tools as when you’re using solid timber, almost just a circular saw to cut the required pieces from the board. You’ll be able to do projects by gluing pieces together to reach the necessary thickness, instead of the usual method of cutting away at solid wood. A good example is the modular workbench in the pictures above.
Another advantage of using prefabricated boards is that they tend to warp less than solid wood. If they’re of good quality, they’re not as susceptible to shrinking or expanding due to changes in humidity. That said, just like solid timber, boards may warp if they’re not stored properly, on a completely flat surface. I suggest keeping this in mind and checking the condition of the board before buying it in a carpentry store. In some projects, it’s not a big deal if the board is a little warped, but building homemade tools that are decently accurate and of good quality requires straight boards which are in good condition.
Using boards in our projects has other advantages over solid wood, less material is wasted and more labor is saved.
Some of the boards mentioned here are hard to obtain, more so if we’re talking about small pieces, such is the case with HPL. Every once in a while I visit industrial estates and, after seeking permission, I check the waste skips of factories that do large carpentry projects. I almost always find pieces of board that I can use in my small projects.
Almost all of these boards are made with phenolic resins. Phenol formaldehyde is a synthetic thermostable resin, obtained through the reaction of several chemicals with methyl alcohol. If used correctly, it can produce boards of excellent quality, some of which are suitable for the outdoors. Other boards have an outer layer of melamine, which is another organic resin obtained in a similar way to phenolic resin.
I’ll also discuss other interesting materials to build our home tools out of, such as Methacrylate or teflon.
If, after finishing reading this article you have any questions or wish to provide more information, do not hesitate to do so in this forum thread:
1- Plywood Board:
As its name suggests, this board is made with plies of wood glued together in odd numbers through intense heat, pressure and phenolic resins until it reaches the desired thickness. Each layer is glued after rotating it so that the direction of the grain or the fibers is perpendicular to the ones in the layer above or below, giving it its unique stability and stiffness.
All kinds of wood tend to warp as they absorb or exhale moisture, as I explained in this article, but this method of building plywood by alternating the direction of the grain almost completely bypasses that problem.
To obtain the plies, manufacturers place a log on a kind of giant lathe, and a blade peels it into a sheet as the lathe rotates the log, similar to how a pencil sharpener works.
Plywood can be made from many kinds of timber, sometimes one panel may be made from two different kinds of wood, but the most common types are birch (hard plywood), poplar (soft plywood) and pine wood, of average hardness.
In Europe, poplar plantations for making plywood are a common sight. The choice of birch or poplar plywood is sustainable as long as they comply with the regulations. These species are fast-growing and abundant, and the forests are repopulated as the trees are cut down. In the case of poplar, almost the entire tree is utilized.
Boards are usually 250cm long and 125cm wide, although many different sizes can be found. To give you an idea of how much they weigh, a birch board around 18mm thick with the above measurements weighs approximately 35kg. The same board in poplar weighs around 20. There are many thicknesses, the most used ones being 3, 5, 7, 9, 12, 15, 18, 20 or 30mm.
These are the main types of plywood that you can find in a carpentry store:
1- Hard birch plywood, in this case 18mm thick and BB/BB quality. It’s the most common hard plywood, made entirely from birch. It’s reasonably priced.
2- Soft poplar plywood, with a eucalyptus veneer; this one is 9mm thick. Manufacturers veneer some soft plywood with harder wood to reinforce their outer faces and make painting and varnishing easier. It’s reasonably priced.
3- Soft poplar plywood with okoume veneer, 18mm thick. Reasonably priced.
4- Soft plywood made entirely out of okoume, 18mm thick. It’s increasingly rare to find due to the scarcity of okoume wood. I stopped using it years ago and now I use poplar instead.
5- Birch trailer floor plywood. One of its faces is anti-slip, and the other is smooth. It’s used as flooring in vans, boats and playgrounds. The smooth face is perfect for home-made worktables, where a smooth surface that’s also a little slippery and sturdy is appreciated. It’s quite expensive.
6- Hard birch plywood with melamine on both sides. It’s similar to trailer floor plywood, but it’s meant to be used in decoration and furniture. It’s an amazing kind of board, very stiff and stable. Because it has a melamine layer, it’s also perfect for home-made tool worktables. Melamine comes in many colors and textures, sometimes imitating the grain of some woods. The only disadvantage is that it can’t be glued to another board on its sides, at least not with wood glue. It’s a very expensive board.
Surely you’ve heard about marine plywood. In actuality, it’s not so much a type of board as a manufacturing method. Almost all of the boards described above can be marine or not. In order to make marine plywood, the proportion of wood and phenolic resin is changed, as well as other parameters, to obtain plywood that is resistant in almost all conditions. Be careful, because some places will try to sell normal plywood as if it were marine, as the name has spread to all kinds of plywood. It’s only necessary in very adverse conditions, otherwise normal plywood should be enough.
As you can see in the picture, veneered plywood is like any other plywood, but it has 0.5mm layer of another wood glued to it on both sides. I’ve already explained why this is done to soft or light plywood, but there’s also hard veneered plywood in fine woods such as oak, chestnut, beech, etc. The latter is, to me, the jewel in the crown! It allows you to do almost any kind of project, it’s very stable, long-lasting and decorative. Personally, I like the contrast between the veneer and the typical look of the edge of these boards. Since it’s veneered, the board goes from being 18 to 19mm thick. Something you should be mindful of when designing your furniture or machines.
Qualities of the outer layers of birch plywood:
A: Practically flawless.
B: Knots up to 3mm in diameter, light discoloration or patches are permitted.
S: Knots up to 20mm in diameter, shallow cracks up to 200mm are permitted. Discoloration and patches are permitted.
BB: Knots up to 25mm in diameter and repaired shallow cracks up to 2mm wide and 200mm long are permitted.
WG: Knots up to 65mm in diameter, open splits and shallow cracks up to 4mm wide are permitted.
These qualities can be combined on the outer surfaces of the same board, so we might find boards marked as A/B, B/WG, BB/BB etc.
Uses of Plywood Board:
As you can see on this website, I use plywood in all kinds of projects, from machines to furniture. By alternating between hard and soft plywood correctly, we can achieve projects or machines with good structural resistance, stability, resistance to moisture and less weight when needed.
I almost always use birch or poplar 9mm and 18mm plywood. These two thicknesses are suited to the size of my projects, and since they’re multiples, the design and construction is easier.
Normally, hard plywood is used for pieces that will bear the weight of the structure, such is the case of the frame of the multifunction workbench in the first image.
It’s also used for pieces that will house any metallic parts like screws or bearings, such as the lifting and tightening system of the upper wheel of my home-made bandsaw, which you can see in the second picture.
I used it in furniture and to make drawers that will bear a lot of weight, such as the kitchen in picture three or the tatami bed in picture four. Since this is home furniture, I used birch plywood with few defects on its surfaces, the A/B type.
If you’re looking for stability and lightness, light poplar plywood, or wood of a similar weight and density, is ideal. For example, I used it to make a portable spray booth, which I wanted to be stable yet able to be moved around. Specifically, it’s poplar plywood with an okoume veneer.
I also used it to build the cabinets joining the frames of my multifunction workbench for the same reason. It’s a considerably large workbench which can bear heavy loads, and it feels stable when working on it. As you can see in the second picture, the cabinets are quite big, so I decided to make them with light plywood to reduce the total weight of the bench. Again, this is poplar plywood with an okoume veneer.
Both the multifunction and the modular workbenches have a lot of drawers to store tools, but at the same time they have wheels to move them around the workshop when necessary. Again, as before, I was trying to reduce the total weight by making all of these drawers with light plywood; as you can see in the third picture. On this occasion, it’s poplar plywood with a eucalyptus veneer.
For that same reason, I used light plywood to make the wall-mounted bathroom vanity drawers in the fourth picture. These drawers are not going to bear a lot of weight, and since it’s wall mounted, I tried to make it lighter.
Processing Plywood Board:
Plywood is easy to cut in a similar way to solid timber. I use my ultra fine disc mounted on an inverted circular saw and it works perfectly. If it’s hard plywood, it better to use a disc with few teeth, the kind used to cut solid wood. If the tool allows it, it’s advisable to reduce the speed a little. Just like wood, it doesn’t produce too much dust when cut.
It’s a bit harder to machine than solid wood because the layers are alternated. This makes it so that, as you cut into it, you’ll find grain in both directions. When using a router, it’s important to choose a moderate speed, without cutting too deep, to avoid burning the router bit or the board. In the second picture, you can see me doing a straight mill with my 3D Router.
It’s easy to glue to other pieces of plywood or to other materials using wood glue, with good results. In the third picture I had just glued two pieces of birch plywood (9 and 18mm) to achieve a thicker piece.
It’s also easy to put screws in, whether they go into the face or in its edge, as you can see in the fourth picture. When doing this, prior to placing the screw, it’s advisable to drill a pilot hole with a bit 0.5mm less wide than the screw on hard plywood, and 1mm in soft plywood.
When making the necessary cuts, you may bend the plywood for special jobs, such as the top of my home-made lathe (first picture).
Both hard and soft plywood can be turned, although it’s not as easy a task as with other materials. The alternation of the grain makes this kind of board sturdier, although some well-sharpened chisels can work. In the second picture I’m making a pulley for a band saw.
It’s also very easy to sand and varnish, by hand or with a spray gun, as if it was solid wood. Birch wood is not very porous, so it’s easy to achieve a smooth, even finish. Poplar is a little more porous, so it will need one or two more coats. You can dye it or lacquer it with an opaque color. The most complicated thing about both boards is sanding the edges, again due to the cross-graining. I usually cut pieces a few tenths of a millimeter bigger so that I can sand the edges down enough to achieve a smooth finish.
Due to the alternation of grain between plies, it’s the ideal board for reliefs and it boasts interesting patterns, just look at the handle of the coping saw in the fourth picture.
2- MDF and Hardboard:
MDF or medium density fiberboards are made almost entirely out of pine wood. First, the bark is removed from the logs, and then later they’re shredded in a chipper that looks like it’s straight from hell, turning the log into chips in just a few minutes.
These wood chips are then washed to remove lignin and all kinds of impurities, and then they undergo a process of thermo mechanical defibering. The resulting fibers are mixed with urea-formaldehyde and paraffin and subjected to pressure and heat on metal plates that form them into a board. That fibers are sorted into different sizes, the finest ones going into the outer faces of the board.
The result is a fairly stable and sturdy board, with a fine, even texture, perfect for all sorts of woodworking and furniture projects. There’s normal and waterproof MDF, the latter being designed for use in humid environments.
It comes in many thicknesses, the most common of which are 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 16, 18, 19, 22, 25 and 30mm.
They’re usually 244cm long by 122cm wide, although you may find bigger ones. The weight of an 18mm thick MDF board is around 40kg, it’s a pretty heavy material.
Just like with plywood, there are many qualities depending on how it is manufactured, and it takes some experience to tell them apart. Try not to buy them in large DIY stores.
It’s a sustainable material. Less wood is wasted compared to when you use solid wood, and it’s easy to recycle into other boards.
These are the main types of MDF you may find in a carpentry store:
1- Hardboard: It’s not exactly MDF, as it’s high density, rather than medium. As the name suggests, it’s made using higher pressure and temperature compared to regular MDF, yielding a harder board. It has a smooth face and a rough one. Not very thick, suitable for back parts of furniture or drawer bottoms. It’s also used to make flooring and boxes.
2- Waterproof MDF, 18mm thick in this case. Contrary to popular belief, the green dye is not what makes it waterproof; it’s just used to distinguish it from regular MDF. For use indoors in moist conditions.
3- Colored MDF. In recent years, this kind of colored boards have become more popular. They come in lots of colors. Great for furniture and interior decoration.
4- Normal MDF. The cheapest and most common MDF, this one is 10mm thick. Only suitable for use indoors in relatively moisture-free conditions.
5- MDF with melamine on both sides, this one is 5mm thick. Easy to find in many thicknesses and colors. The melamine may also imitate other woods. It can be normal or waterproof.
6- MDF with a beech veneer; this one is 16mm thick. Other thicknesses are easy to find, with veneers of all kinds of fine woods. It can be normal or waterproof. Ideal for making furniture. Just like with plywood, veneered MDF is thicker; for example, the 18mm one becomes 19mm thick.
7- Post-formed MDF. When MDF boards are made, the heat presses can have reliefs that create shapes on the sides of the board, like in this one. It’s a piece of plinth with melamine on both sides. Similarly, interior doors and furniture doors are made by covering the board with melamine, PVC or paper.
As you can see, almost all MDF boards come in normal, waterproof and fireproof versions. If possible, it’s best to buy waterproof MDF.
Uses of MDF Board:
This is not the type of board I use most in my project, but I have used it when I needed a smooth surface that had to be painted, such as the doors of the kitchen I built a few months ago, or the fronts of the drawers in the open wardrobe in the second image.
When I needed a veneered board and wanted to avoid spending money on a plywood veneered board, I also used MDF. It’s also what I did with the doors of the multifunction workbench, where I used 16mm thick MDF with a beech veneer, to match the bench top. In general, MDF is much cheaper than plywood.
In all of those instances, the pieces didn’t need to be particularly hard or stable, and weight wasn’t a huge concern.
I most often use thin MDF, 3 or 9mm, with melamine on both sides. It’s a highly versatile material to make router templates and things like that.
Processing MDF Board:
Since it’s a homogenous material without grain, MDF is easy to cut and mill. It produces a lot of dust when doing so, as you can see in the first and second photo, so wearing a mask when processing it is advisable.
Gluing MDF faces together with carpenter’s glue is easy, as shown in the third picture, where I’m making doors for a kitchen, it works even better when gluing miter joints.
In the fourth picture I’m gluing a 4mm thick MDF with a beech veneer to the front of the drawers of the modular workbench.
It’s also easy to drill, like in the first picture. Joining MDF panels with screws is not as effective as with plywood, though. If you’re going to screw two faces together, as seen in the second picture, it won’t be a problem. However, screwing into its edge is not so easy. First you must drill a pilot hole with a bit 0,5mm less wide than the screw, and then try not to overdo it when tightening the screw, otherwise the board will split on the edge, making the joint useless. It’s best to use biscuits or dowels in these cases.
There is another option to join MDF pieces called furniture cam locks. They make the process a lot easier. You can assemble furniture in your workshop, then disassemble it to varnish and transport it and finally reassemble it at home or in the place where you’re working. The usual way to use cam locks is to machine the pieces in a CNC, although with patience, the necessary holes can be made with a drill press.
Both the edges and the face of bare and veneered MDF are very easy to sand; you can see me doing it in picture three. It’s also easy to varnish, by hand or with a spray gun. Logically, bare edges soak up more varnish, but with a bit of practice you’ll get good results.
In picture four you can see some bare pieces of waterproof MDF on which I had just applied some matte white lacquer with a roller and by hand, for the fronts of the open wardrobe. MDF with melamine is excellent for these kinds of lacquering jobs, with melamine acting as a background, it doesn’t need as many coats. You must sand the melamine down a little before the first coat with fine grit.
If the MDF board has a wood veneer, we will have to apply edgebanding of the same wood. It’s easy to find in carpentry stores. Some of these edgebanding strips are preglued, so you only need a hot iron and pressure to glue the edging to the board. In some of my projects I left the edges of a board uncovered, without edgebanding – it’s fine.
3- Particle Board or Chipboard:
Particle board is made from small wood shavings or chips, glued together with urea-formaldehyde. The manufacturing process is quite similar to that of MDF, but without shredding the shavings into fibers. It’s also necessary to remove the bark before reducing the log to chips. Nowadays, leftover pieces of wood from carpentry shops, pallets or sawdust are used to make particle board.
After drying the chips, they are sorted according to their size and mixed with urea-formaldehyde. Different proportions of glue are used for the different types of board, waterproof, fireproof or normal. Once they’re damp with glue, the chips are placed on metal plates. The first and last layer are fine chips, the middle one is thicker. This is done in order to achieve a better finish on the outer faces of the board. Finally, pressure and heat are applied to form the board.
It’s available in many thicknesses, the most common of which are 8, 10, 13, 16, 19, 22, and 30mm. Particleboard is usually 244cm long and 122cm wide. The weight of an 18mm thick board with the above measurements is around 32kg.
This is arguably the board where it’s easiest to see the difference in quality at first glance. The quality may vary depending on many factors, for example, the amount of glue used and how it was distributed, or the pressure applied on the board, making the shavings more or less compact.
The ones you can buy in large DIY stores are usually of really poor quality. You can test this yourself by trying to peel off the shavings with your fingernails. You’ll likely be able to scrape them off without much effort. You’ll also notice they’re lighter, especially if you work with them –they pretty much fall apart in your hands. Particleboard is a very cheap board, so unless you want to buy a huge amount, always try to buy a quality one waterproof particleboard.
It’s widely used in all kinds of interior carpentry in Europe, for example, to build kitchen cabinets and the inside of built-in wardrobes. It’s also used to make affordable mass-produced furniture, not used as much in other parts of the world, such as the United States.
These are the main kinds of particleboard you can find in a carpentry store:
1- Bare particleboard, the cheapest of the bunch. You can see the chips at a glance, even on the outside. They’re quite big and not too compressed. This one is 10mm thick. It’s normally used as protection, to make packaging and crates.
2- Particle board with melamine on both sides, 16mm thick and waterproof. Just like MDF, it’s painted green to distinguish it from the normal version.
3- Particle board with melamine on both sides, but in this one the melamine imitates oak wood. Just like the previous board, it’s 16mm thick and waterproof.
4- Particle board with a pine wood veneer, there is a wide variety of veneers. Just like plywood, veneered particleboard becomes thicker. For example, the 18mm board becomes 19mm thick. This one is not waterproof.
As you can see, almost all kinds of boards come in normal, waterproof and fireproof versions. If possible, it’s best to always buy waterproof boards.
Uses of Particle Board:
Just like MDF, I don’t use particleboard all that much. Only in the interior of some pieces of furniture like kitchen cabinets, where I’m not interested in painting the interior, so I use particleboard with melamine, either white or faux wood.
In the above pictures, I’m installing a kitchen made with waterproof particleboard, with white melamine. It’s a very practical material for these kinds of jobs.
That was also the case with the interior of the open wardrobe. This time I used particleboard with white melamine bought in a large DIY store, which was a big mistake. It wasn’t waterproof and it practically fell apart after barely touching it.
In the fourth picture I’m screwing in the back part; it’s an MDF board with melamine on one side, and on the other it’s faux oak wood.
Processing Particle Board:
Particle board isn’t the best material to work with, either; for several reasons. First off, it wears out discs and router bits much too quickly, because the inside is filled with traces of sand or even scraps of metal. The worse the board is, the more this will happen.
When cut or milled, it produces a lot of dust, and also shoots off pretty big chips. I’ve gotten hit in the face by some of these splinters or chips, and I can assure you it’s not very pleasant. To work with this material, you absolutely need safety glasses and a mask.
In the third picture I’m gluing white edging to the board. Unlike MDF, the edges of particleboard cannot be exposed, or painted or milled into a shape. Also, we must apply edgebanding when we’re using veneered particleboard with edgebanding of the same wood as the board.
It’s easy to put screws in, both into the face or into the edge, which is what I’m doing in the third picture. You must simply drill a pilot hole with a bit 1mm less wide than the screw.
Another disadvantage is that melamine splinters or chips easily when the disc cuts through it, which you can see in picture four. This applies to all kinds of boards with melamine, but it seems to be worse with particleboard. One trick that can mitigate this problem is to put some masking tape on the board before cutting on the areas that the disc will cut. Needless to say, you can minimize the problem by using a sharp disc with lots of teeth and advancing slowly. Depending on the project, you can leave these chipped faces on the inside or in areas that won’t be seen when the furniture is assembled.
Another option to minimize it is to simply buy pre-edgebanding board strips from a manufacturer, very common in carpentry stores, at least the ones that are 58 and 33cm wide and 16mm thick, used in kitchen cabinets and cupboards. This will also make the construction process of your projects easier.
Some professional table saws have a scoring blade that cuts a few tenths of a millimeter into this part of the board before the main disc, to avoid the splintering problem.
4- Oriented Strand Board (OSB):
OSB has gained popularity in recent years due to its low price compared to plywood and its high performance. It could be described as a combination of particle board, because it’s also made with wood flakes, and plywood, because those flakes are deposited into layers, which are perpendicular to one another. This way you obtain a stiffer, more stable board than particleboard.
The manufacturing process is very similar to that of particleboard. First, the bark is removed from the log, which is then reduced to flakes. The flakes are washed and dried and later impregnated with urea-formaldehyde. The next step is to place these flakes in a specific direction on metal plates, which are then subjected to heat and high pressure. Normally, poplar and pine wood are used.
It comes in many thicknesses, the most common of which are 9, 12, 15, 18, and 22mm.
Much like particleboard, the boards are 244cm long and 122 wide, although some stores have bigger ones. The weight of a 18mm thick board with the above measurements is around 35kg, very similar to particleboard.
There are many qualities depending on its purpose:
OSB1– Ideal for use indoors.
OSB2– Used in load-bearing structures or dry environments.
OSB3– Used in load-bearing structures in humid environments. Perfecto for covering walls or make furniture.
OSB4– It can bear even more weight than the previous types.
15mm thick OSB3 is by far the most used type, for example, for panelling walls. I’m sure you’ve seen a workshop or two with walls made from this material on the internet. It’s also widely used in interior decoration and civil construction. There is a tongue & groove version which is used for panelling walls. OSB is a sustainable material, less wood is wasted compared to solid timber and it’s easy to recycle in order to make other boards.
These are some of types of OSB you can find in a carpentry store:
1- 18mm thick OSB3.
2- 9mm thick OSB3.
Generally, all types OSB are waterproof, although they do tend to warp more than plywood due to humidity, especially if they’re not protected or varnished.
Uses of OSB Board:
I haven’t used OSB much so far, I made a partition wall which you can see in the first picture by screwing the board to a pine wood frame.
I also made a headboard that’s attached to the wall, which you can see in the second picture. The third and fourth picture show a very simple shelf I made to put on top of the washing machine and the dryer so that I could take advantage of that gap.
As you can see, I cut some pine wood strips to use as edgebanding for the front of the board. White goes nicely with OSB, both on walls and in furniture.
Processing OSB Board:
Just like particleboard, OSB is a material that wears out our discs and router bits too fast due to its high sand and impurity content, but it’s easy to work with in general using woodworking tools, similar to particleboard.
The faces are not completely smooth, as they are made with flakes that are not uniform, which makes cutting this board a little difficult when you slide your tools on it.
When cut and milled, it produces a large amount of dust, and also some pretty big pieces of flakes can fly off, just like particleboard. To work with this material, it’s indispensable to use safety glasses and a mask.
Be careful if you cut it with a jig saw. The flakes on the upper part can come off, as you can see in picture three. To prevent this, try using a saw blade with fine teeth.
It’s easy to screw pieces together, even if you’re screwing into the edge. You only need to drill a pilot hole with a bit 1mm less wide than the screw. For joints of this type, you can also use biscuits or dowels.
It’s easy to apply any kind of varnish, although it does absorb quite a lot. Satin or matte work best, the latter achieving a very elegant finish. Avoid bright finishes. Logically, this is not a board you want to lacquer with an opaque color, as its faces are uneven and textured.
5- Finger Joint Board:
An finger joint board is a kind of board made by joining long strips of wood together. The pieces are between 2 and 5cm wideand the staves can be as long as the board itself called full stave board, or about 20/30 cm long and joined end-to-end with finger joints until they reach the desired length.
The greatest advantage of this kind of board is that we can make large solid wood panels, impossible to achieve with a single log. Besides, since they’re made with small planks of wood, they allow for greater dimensional stability. When making them, the grain is alternated to reduce torsion in the resulting panel. In this other article you’ll find more information on how it’s made. I came across the above video in Spanish. It’s old, but very insightful. I recommend watching the entire thing.
The other great advantage of any kind of board, which I mentioned at the beginning of the article, is that you’ll need far fewer tools than if you buy raw lumber.
It has a small disadvantage compared to plywood or MDF, it’s more prone to absorbing and exhaling moisture, changing its size. Keep in mind that it’s a large amount of wood and the boards are quite wide. This changes depending on the wood it’s made of.
There are many thicknesses and raw materials, the most common being beech, oak and pine and 18, 27, 32 and 40mm thick.
The boards are 250cm long and 120cm wide, although some stores have bigger panels, the weight of a finger joint board depends largely on the wood used, but to give you a rough idea, an oak board with the above measurements weighs around 40kg. The ones that are used as countertops can be up to 3m long and 65cm wide, with various thicknesses.
This is one of my modular workbenches. You can see the many strips that make up the board, as well as the finger joints.
Besides benchtops, they’re mostly used as countertops, desktops or stairs. They can be used for many other things, from making furniture to building houses.
These are some of the edge-glued boards you can find in a carpentry store:
1- 40mm thick finger joint beech board.
2- 30mm thick edge glued pine board. This one is a full stave board.
3- 30mm thick finger joint oak board.
Uses of Finger Joint Panels:
I’ve used finger joint panels in many of my projects, both in homemade tools and in furniture. I’ve used them as a worktop in many of the workbenches I’ve made, as you can see in the first image. It would be hard to make a solid piece of timber with those measurements, so it’s perfect for these sorts of projects where you need a hard wood surface to work on. This one is a 40mm thick beech board.
As I said, this board can expand or shrink due to humidity changes, especially in the first months; later it becomes stable. It changes in size especially widthwise, since wood expands and shrinks much less across the grain. A few months after making the bench, I had to cut down the top again, as it had grown 6mm on the shorter side of the board. It’s normal if you consider the size of the worktop.
We can glue two pieces of panel together to achieve more thickness. I used this to make wooden vises in several of my woodworking benches.
I also used it as a countertop, as seen in the second picture. This one is 30mm thick oak wood, obtained from several cuts of the log, that’s why it has many different tones. Oak wood is hard, which is perfect for the heavy use it will see in the kitchen. To protect it, I used three coats of pure linseed oil.
In the third picture you can see how I used it as a top for a metal shelf. I built it with leftover parts of the countertop. Oak wood goes nicely with metal.
I also used a 30mm thick finger joint board to make the top shelf of an open wardrobe. In that case, I used pine wood to make the shelf lighter; you can see it in picture 4.
Processing Finger Joint Panels:
Working with finger joint boards is not too dissimilar from using other kinds of boards, but there’s a small difference. As I explained a few lines above, this board is made with small strips of wood that are glued together, so you might find a strip with grain in one direction next to a strip with grain in a different direction. This makes them hard to plane sometimes, and if you’re not careful, you might tear out the grain in some of the strips.
Aside from that, it’s not too complicated. It can be cut easily with a disc, and milling it is also simple. If you need to use a router, don’t forget about the alternation of the grain. It produces a moderate amount of dust, just like timber boards.
It can be screwed easily, both into the face and into the edge, making a pilot hole with a bit 0.5mm less wide than the screw. Just like with the other boards, we can use biscuits and dowels –you can see me doing it in the second picture.
It’s as easy to varnish as other presentations of wood. If the board doesn’t have any defects, you can start by sanding it with P120 grit, and finish with P320, then apply varnish or oil, which you can see in picture four.
If you have any questions or wish to provide more information, do not hesitate to do so in this forum thread: