I recently discovered the beauty of patterned plywood. I had some plywood leftovers in my shop and I used them to make a patterned wooden handle for a coping saw I was building. I was honestly surprised how the handle turned out – it came out amazing. Here is how I did it.
I was interested in what are the possibilities of plywood and how it could be used for design purposes after I built my plywood vise. For the vise project, I glued several plywood pieces together in order to make the jaws and I really liked the outcome pattern.
I investigated a little bit and I came across several plywood patterned projects, especially from Michael Alm, and I loved it. So I decided to give it a go and try a patterned plywood project using some of the birch plywood I had in my shop. Since I was building a coping saw at that time I thought it would be a great opportunity to try it and I decided to go with a patterned handle.
Table of Contents
*Make sure you know what you’re doing and take all necessary safety precautions while working with power tools. Safety comes first!
What I used:
Baltic Birch Plywood 1,2mm
Laquer – wood finish
Drill & Bits
Sander & Sandpaper
What is plywood used for?
Plywood is a great material. It’s flexible, durable, lightweight, eco-friendly, and cheaper in comparison to other more appealing types of wood. Unfortunately, plywood is considered as the “make-do” material which is usually used for construction and industrial purposes. Its main use can be found in roofing and flooring, wall sheathing, furniture, cabinets, and other general projects.
Though many wouldn’t think of this material as the material of choice for wood design projects. You can create some awesome and stunning plywood patterned projects using the end grain of a plywood sheet. The better the quality of plywood the better the result. High-quality birch plywood would be the best choice.
How to make patterned plywood?
For patterned plywood projects, it’s recommended to use higher-grade plywood. The better quality of plywood the better the result. If possible, go for high-quality plywood, like baltic birch. It is also better to use plywood without voids and knots between the plies – this will affect the quality of the finished project.
There are multiple patterns you can create with plywood end-grain. Some are easier, some more complicated. You can go from a more simple “tree” pattern to a more advanced one like a chevron or hexagon. The process of creating patterned plywood is dependent on the selected pattern but these are the steps you will usually find in all the designs:
- Select the right plywood type for your project. Go with Baltic Birch if possible.
- Rip the plywood sheets into multiple stripes. The width of the stripe will turn into the height of the panel.
- Glue all the pieces together and cut according to the desired pattern. You might need to repeat this step several times depending on the pattern.
- Plane and sand the final sheet.
- Apply wood finish on the finalized patterned board.
Making a Plywood Patterned Wooden Handle
I am making a wood handle for a coping saw and I decided to go with a tree pattern. I used some of the plywood leftovers I had in my shop.
Step 1 – Cut the plywood strips
I started by cutting a plywood piece into short stripes on a table saw. The width of the stripe will become the thickness of the patterned panel. I cut the stripes a bit wider counting with material loss from trimming and sanding.
Step 2 – Glue the strips together
I glued all the stripes together in a tree pattern leaving the end grain facing upwards. I put down a painter’s tape underneath to protect my workbench from glue drips and also to easily remove the panel once the glue-up is completely dry. Take into account that these patterned panels will take a lot of glue.
I made a simple fence for the panel. Fixed 2 sides with clamps and once ready I clamped the opposite sides together. I will probably make an adjustable clamping jig for variable sizes of panels though. That would make the glue up much easier in the future.
Clamp the panel tight to get rid of holes in the pattern. I did this twice to end up with 2 identical panels for both sides of the handle.
Step 3 – Plane and sand the panel
Once the panel was completely dry I used a trim router to get the panel even and to trim it to size. I used my dado router jig as a sled which served very well for these purposes. You can also use a planer or a sander.
Step 4 – Cut the panels into rectangles
Next, I brought the panels to my table saw and cut them into rectangles. You should end up with two mirror-inverted strips. One for each side of the handle. This way the pattern on the plywood strips will follow each other beautifully.
Step 5 – Glue the patterned strips to the tool
Once finished with the cuts glue the plywood patterned strips to the tool. Make sure the pattern is lined up and follows from one strip to another.
Step 6 – Design the handle
Now the fun part. Let the glue dry and refine the handle to the desired shape. I used a wheel grinder, a sander, and sandpaper of different grit sizes. There are multiple ways how to do it.
It is always a surprise to see how the patterned plywood reacts to shaping and what the edges will look like once finished.
Step 7 – Apply finish
Apply the desired finish of your choice. I used spray lacquer which is not only going to protect the handle for a long time but also will bring out the pattern and the colors of the plywood.
DONE! This is what the finished handle looks like!
I am so excited about how this patterned plywood handle turned out. It really exceeded my expectations taking into account it was made out of plywood scraps. There is proof plywood does not have to be used only in construction but can be used for design purposes as well. If you are planning on making a wooden handle, then try this method.
This was quite a simple plywood pattern and the result looks just awesome. I wonder how a more complicated pattern would look.
The pattern on this handle follows up perfectly and I can’t wait to start another project. A knife handle perhaps a bowl or a furniture build. What do you think? I definitely encourage you to give it a go and build something with this technique.