It Didn’t Work

Where have I been, you may wonder. Has your only project of late been creating a silly wooden handle for a dishwasher? In short, no. Many of you probably read about my attempt at making patterned plywood and the two prototype boxes I made. After carefully going through all of the steps and noting the areas I had to improve upon, I finally took the leap. I broke out 2 of my 12″ x 12″ pieces of baltic birch plywood and set about making “the real thing”. I was finally going to be a “real” woodworker and do something with baltic birch ply. Given the title of the post, you probably already figured out where this is headed.

Gluing up the bevels, with the blue tape peeking through at the joint, from the other side of the wood
Gluing up the baltic birch plywood to make a 90 degree angle, with a space to later add the walnut

One change I made was to create a larger “square” within the pattern. It simply meant leaving a bit more space on the plywood alongside the bevel, to hold a bigger piece of sweet, sweet walnut in the middle. That was easy enough, and gave me a bit more room to balance the plywood as I cut the 45 degree bevels on the wood. Like before, I glued them up using blue tape to hold the joint together, and rubber bands to keep things in place. A quick shopping trip to my Dad’s shop to get some more walnut (I got to use the jointer for the first time in ages as we milled the rough board into a usable bit for me to work with in my shop) and then I could set about cutting out those pieces. I glued them in to the plywood, set them up with clamps and waited for the glue to dry.

Adding the walnut to the baltic birch plywood

Once that was done, I was able to sand off any squeeze out that might get in the way and then I could break out the still nameless crosscut sled. I lined up the blanks against the back fence, set my JKMoses stop block ( to about 3/8 of an inch and starting making little squares. I had made about 8 blanks, and each cut up into about 20 squares, so a quick 160 cuts or so later and I had a bin of squares, ready to be made in to a pattern. I hand sanded each of the edges to get rid of the fuzzies and allow them to glue up nice and tight.

This is where I noticed things going awry.

This was going more quickly now as the steps were familiar to me. I broke out the jig from the prototype, saving more time, and started getting ready to glue up a small panel. This is where the wheels came off my project. As I tried assembling the pieces, they simply didn’t fit properly together. When they were close, there were gaps between them, and the lines weren’t straight. I tried and tired to find enough pieces to go together cleanly but it just didn’t work. I was consistent, which is usually good, but in this case, I was consistently out of square on my blanks. The angles were not exactly 45 degrees, and that left me squares, that were not square. I could not, and still have not thought of any way to fix them. If I were to sand them or cut them in any way to get them to be square – with proper 90 degree corners all around, then the pattern in the plywood doesn’t work. Since they are glued at a bad angle, any adjustment to the sides to “square” them up just means the pattern of the plywood enhances the inaccuracy in the cuts even more. This was not acceptable. All I could think of is when someone on the Great British Baking Show burns something and decides to “bin it”. I held my tray of 160 odd shaped bits of baltic birch plywood and walnut over the bin (that’s the trash bin for you non British speakers) but could not bring myself to toss them. They now sit forlorn and dusty in the corner of the shop. No longer a project in the works, but also not in the scrap bin. They hover in purgatory, betwixt and between.

Chalk this one up as a fail. This is simply not acceptable.

Lest you think I have given up, no, that would be too easy. I started all over again. Two more pieces of 12″ x 12″ baltic birch (only two more, better get some on sale at the Woodcraft before they run out) and some additional walnut. I changed how I cut the bevels on the table saw to see if I can get a more consistent cut, and without giving away the surprise of a future post, I have progressed beyond a new bin full of little squares. On a side note, when you are looking for a table saw, try and get one that allows you to remove the throat plate without tools or screws. You’re probably thinking, “that’s an odd tidbit to throw out there at this point” and you would be right. “Why do you bring this up now” you are wondering, well I can tell you. To try and improve the cut quality of my 90 degree cuts, I added a zero clearance insert to my saw, and in the process, I dropped one of the two screws inside the saw. Now I have a contractor style saw which is open on the bottom – except that I enclosed mine because the dust collection is so spectacularly awful. When I opened up the bottom to retrieve my lost screw, I found about 10 inches of sawdust piling up down there. Thankfully the screw was right on top, but while it was all open I cleaned it all out. Someday future me will get a saw that has no screws required to change a blade or a throat plate.

One final note, now that I might be making some headway on this particular approach to patterned plywood, Michael Alm has raised the bar by adding colored veneers to the plywood before making the pattern. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. Looks like something else I am going to need to try – assuming I can get the original patterns to work first.

Making progress, more details in a future post

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