Can You Use the Router on Plywood?

Woodworker use router to trim and cut the edge of a plywood sheet.

Can you router on plywood? Well, the answer is an obvious “Yes.” It is a pity if you can never use the router on plywood, given that plywood is one of the most highly used engineered wood out there. It is versatile and inexpensive. Thus, it must be capable of handling the router without tearing out or chipping.

However, you should carefully choose the plywood you will route. There are plywood pieces, of course, that are not made of solid hardwood and come with many voids in between layers. With these types of plywood, the routing would be a challenge. Meanwhile, using an Apple Ply, you can rout and make beautiful edges on this plywood to create excellent furniture pieces.

Problems When Routing on Plywood

You might have routed different materials with enough success, and you might want to try routing plywood. Yet, there are two inherent problems when routing plywood. First, some plywood sheets exhibit voids or gaps between their plies. These voids might cause tear-out or splintering. Second, you might find your router bits dulling quickly when routing plywood because plywood has glue.

Router Bits Ideal for Plywood

Router bits come in a wide variety of sets and styles. So, you might think that if you have a router set, you can use all those router bits on plywood. However, it is not always the case. You can’t just use any router bit out of your routing bit set. You need to choose the router bits for plywood use carefully. 

The spiral up-cut router bit made of solid tungsten carbide is the best router bit for plywood. You can cut up to eight hundred linear feet of plywood using this router bit with about 3/4″ penetration. However, the use of this bit is not without disadvantages. Some users claimed that they experienced too much surface tear-out using this bit. 

If you don’t want to use the spiral up-cut bit, you can shift to the use of the straight bit made of solid tungsten carbide. You can make uniform cuts using this bit on plywood. Thus, it is an excellent option if you intend to use plywood pieces for furniture.

How Do You use the Router on Plywood?

If it is your first time routing a plywood piece, it will be best to follow the safety protocols when routing. Ensure that you wear your safety gear like hearing protection and goggles. Second, you should ensure that the area you will work in is secure and safe. 

Plus, it will be best to secure the workpiece using bar clamps to avoid movement of the plywood. This will make for a clean and smooth result. Ensure likewise that you use a benchtop or a router table when routing. In this way, you can conveniently set the plywood sheet on the table when routing. 

When the plywood sheet is secured, you need to equip your router with the appropriate router bit. Make sure that you install the bit snugly. Once installed, you can engage in routing.

Ways to Prevent Tear-outs on Plywood When Routing     

When routing plywood, the number one issue you will encounter is tear-out. Plywood tends to splinter if you’re not using the right bit or if the speed doesn’t match the routing bit speed. However, you can prevent tear-out if you are cognizant of the following five ways to avoid tear-out when routing plywood:

Use a Painter’s Tape

You can use painter’s tape on the cutline area to minimize tear-out. The tape will act as a stabilizing material that prevents plywood fibers from tearing out. The painter’s tape is easy to apply. You only need to line the cutline with tape on both sides of the plywood. 

You can engage in a test cut on scrap plywood before you start routing on your workpiece. In this way, you can get the hang of the use of your router and feel how the router would move efficiently along the plywood’s surface. Once you’ve got the hang of it, you can begin routing on your workpiece.

Engage in Climb Cut

You can either make a push cut or a climb cut when using the router. The push cut, of course, is the safest way to use the router. Tear-out, of course, happens due to two things: due to bits rotation and the direction you feed your router onto the wood

Push cuts will usually result in tear-outs on your plywood. However, climb cuts can produce clean edges, provided you secure the plywood well and get a firm grip on your router.

Ensure You Make Incremental Cuts

Beginners would, out of excitement, cut deep onto the plywood. Such an act might damage the plywood. Instead, experts would tell you to make incremental cuts. Make multiple shallow cuts instead. 

Removing a small amount of materials at a time will lessen the chance of tear-outs. Of course, tear-out might happen, but you will only get small tear-outs that you can quickly sand off if you make incremental cuts. 

Install Zero Clearance Insert

It will help if you have a zero clearance insert on your router table. This insert reduces the gap between the router blade and the table to zero. In this way, the absence of a gap will not allow fibers to tear out. Besides, using a zero clearance insert will improve the quality of your cuts when using the router. 

Use Bump Cut

You can also employ the bump cut technique. This bump cut technique uses a plunge cut series to do away with much stock. Afterward, you can finish with a long and straight pass along the edge.

Additional Tips to Enhance Your Routing of a Plywood Sheet

Aside from knowing the tips on how to prevent tear-outs, it will also help if you familiarize yourself with the following tips on how to enhance the quality of your routing experience with plywood:

Check the Plywood Grain

You will quickly see the plywood grain as you inspect the plywood sheet. The grain usually runs through the plywood sheet, which makes the plywood awesome to look at. You can damage the plywood if you skim across the bottom or top of these plywood grain surfaces. 

Thus, when you try to do an extended cut on the plywood’s edge, you should be very careful not to scratch the plywood’s surface when setting down the router on the wood.

Check for Voids Between the Plies

You will seldom find void in-between the plywood plies. Yet, such a gap or void is a deficiency in the quality of the plywood. If you use your router over this deficiency, the area might tear out. In fact, if you find a void in the plywood, it is better not to use the router on that area when trimming.

Remember that plywood sheets can be very fragile, and if there is a void, chances are, the plywood will break. To check for voids, inspect the plywood sheet and see if there are sizeable bubbles on its surface.

Edge Band Your Wood

To edge band wood means to add a durable wood piece at the plywood’s edge to lock the plywood fiber. Once edge-banded, the edges of the plywood will not likely crack. Yet, an edge band might not be that good to look at, unless you are a professional who can achieve excellent symmetry with your work.

Fill Putty on the Cracks or Edge

As you inspect the plywood before and after routing, you might notice some cracks. You can add putty on these cracks to provide your plywood with an excellent finish. You can smoothen out the edges if you add putty to the plywood. Afterward, you can paint the plywood surface once you’ve smoothed out the cracks.

Make Perfect Edges

The true mark of an excellent woodworker is often seen in how he does the edges. Hence, if you want to raise your level of routing a notch higher, you should take care of the edges. Make sure that you create aesthetically appealing edges on your wood projects.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Aside from knowing how to route plywood and the straightforward tips on how to prevent tear-outs when routing, it will be best to learn likewise about the FAQs about routing plywood:

Can You Utilize on Plywood a Round-over Bit?

Of course, you can use a round-over bit on your plywood when routing. Nevertheless, you need to choose the right size to achieve the best routing results. If you are working on a 3/4″ plywood, it will be best to use a 1/2″ round-over bit. 

To achieve an excellent result, you can let the bit ride on the remaining 1/4″ of your plywood. Of course, you can also use other tools that could do the job better than the router. But using a round-over bit in your router is a viable and allowable option.

Conclusion

As an aspiring woodworker, the router is one tool you should add to your tool arsenal. Equipped with the best routing bits, the router will do almost anything, even routing plywood. As long as you provide your router with the right bit, you can consistently achieve excellent results when routing plywood. 

However, you should always be on the lookout for tear-outs when routing plywood. As mentioned above, you got several ways to prevent tear-outs. You can employ any tips mentioned above to prevent tear-outs and achieve quality routing in your projects.

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