going green #1: veneer-thin poplar scraps glue-up

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Blog entry by Gary Fixler posted 07-09-2010 12:23 PM 4510 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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A couple of years ago I built a standing floor cabinet foolishly out of all poplar (not true poplar, e.g. black poplar (Populus nigra) or white poplar (Populus alba), but tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), the stuff you (and I) get from Home Depot). It cost about $800+ in wood, and over $1k all together. I should have used plywood!

I jointed the big pile of boards and ripped their other sides to get them all identical in width. This left me with a whole pile of extremely thin edge-strips between 4 and 8 feet long that all tapered from anywhere between credit card thick and say 3/16” thick to their other ends which were for the most part all transparent and flaking away. They were very bendable, even coilable down to 1’ in diameter or less circles, so I couldn’t just toss ‘em, right? I put them in the long plywood section of my wood storage shed after they bugged me moving around the shop for the last time. I forgot about them for a couple of years :)

Then I got that new drum sander a few weeks ago, and all kinds of scrap lit up again as possible things to make other things with. I set up a tiny X-Acto miter box taped to my saw table, taped and marked a 17” length from the cut line, then cut all of them into 17” lengths as I was intending to make something 16” and wanted some wiggle room for straightening it up on the saw and sanding it smooth. Here’s the stack of them all laid on their sides – note the bands of color where each long piece yielded several similarly-colored pieces all stood next to one another here, plus the few strips from a single scrap of walnut from a similar edge rip from some other project:


I scrambled them about to mix up the colors, keeping the walnuts to one end, separated by some poplar strips to delineate them as separate, thin pieces. I used a measuring tape to check the width at each end, and kept flipping groups around to spread the tapers such that each side was exactly the same width. It didn’t take long. Here they are held together for the moment in a Bessey K-Body clamp:


I taped some plastic and wax paper to the table saw to try to keep it from rusting as I did the glue-ups (wish I had a proper workbench! it still got a little bit of rust), painstakingly glued up half the pile, spreading the glue on a piece with a finger and laying it up against the stack (had to stop halfway as I was running out of set-time), then clamped the whole thing up. I did the same for the other half later. Unfortunately, this created a bit of a bend in the middle, as I forgot to use my jointed Douglas fir clamping blocks to keep them straight. Too, the clamps bent the wood wherever they pressed in. This was amateur – I know better than this…

I decided to joint the mating ends of the two halves, as neither was straight, and I also didn’t want a board bent like a v at the middle. Jointing also removed the clamp dents and gave me a nice glue-up. Here’s both halves being glued together, this time in my clamping blocks:



Note the undersized lengths in front, near the X-Acto miter box and saw. Those were what was left over after cutting as many 17” sections out of all the long scraps as I could. These have all been cut to a shorter length for use elsewhere later. You can see the mark on the tape right near them. I forget what it was – 8” maybe:


The next step brought everything together. I ran the whole thing through my drum sander to flatten and parallel the two broad sides. It looked so pretty! Then I jointed both long edges using a flat face from the drum sander to make them 90°. Of course, this doesn’t ensure that both long edges are parallel, but the next step did!

I measured and marked the center of the 17” length of board I’d just created, then cut it in half. Then I turned one half around to join both at the middle. Because both edges were laser-straight from the jointer, flipping one around to glue one edge back to itself made it completely parallel. It measured the same width down to about 1/128th (i.e. the tiniest my measuring equipment could go) across the whole, new, shorter length! Here’s the gluing-up of the two new, shorter halves:


Here’s the squeeze-out after that:


After running it through the belt sander again and cleaning up the long ends on the table saw w/ miter sled and 90° fence, I had this:


Here’s a little bit of scale for you:


It’s kind of hard to tell from this distance, but when you get close, you start to realize that a lot of the strips are almost paper thin, like 1/64th of an inch. This in particular blew one friend away when I brought it to show her specifically at that 1920s-themed party I went to. She loves this stuff. She’s the one I made the log cake stand for. Don’t you love people who appreciate your efforts?

It ended up being 52 veneers originally, so 104 strips when doubled over. The short ends are capped off with a few strips of walnut – the same strips, cut in half and mirrored when I flipped the one half around. It has a little bit of a loose feel that I like, because every piece is tapered, and the ends appear to wiggle, but it’s incredibly straight and square, actually. I kind of think of it like milling up a board with wiggly, parallel grain. Zebrawood, maybe :)


While I’m at it, here’s another one I made after that one with a pile of scraps I had hanging around from another project done in poplar, with my hand for scale:


And here it is all gorgeous after running it through the drum sander and table saw:



I have a coworker and painter who loves the look of these things and wants to do paintings on them, and is willing to pay about $30/ea. It’s so fast to make them now with my scraps and this new drum sander, I’ll probably keep in mind as I’m making more and more scrap out in the garage. I put a couple of these boards together in one night, sanding and milling them up in pretty short order the following day. He submitted a painting done on a thin wood ply sheet – maybe 1/8” or less – to an art exhibit at work, with a portrait of a woman in dark tones directly on the bare wood, leaving the wood itself as the background, and peeking through the light washes of her colors. It was beautiful, so I’m extra excited to see what he’d make on the ‘canvases’ I’d provide him. It could be a nice little partnership, and he’s only 2 cubicles away.

What!? One more!? Okay!

Here’s some more scraps I had in a bunch on my scrap cutoff shelves, which were pretty full when I started this, and are already starting to clear out again. I love that!



I didn’t get a final shot of that one, but here are the 3 all together, with the last one at the bottom right. I love its colors:


I started on a 4th one, but haven’t gotten to the glue-up yet. For this one, I grabbed 2 1×12 scraps that have been in my way for a few years now. I don’t know if I’d find a use for them, but they had cool colors due to strips of heartwood, so I cut them both into strips:



After reordering them, and turning them to essentially create one wide, quarter-sawn board (which unfortunately hid the darker, prettier colors somewhat, but will warp far less over time), this is how the glue-up will look:


Now to think of stuff to do with them! They’re no good for cutting boards. Poplar is way too soft. One thought was to build angled walls around them to create serving trays. A good lacquer should protect them. Several people so far have told me they just want to hang them on their walls as-is, but it feels like giving up to me!

Oh, and sadly, the veneer-thin glue-up shown first above sat in the car during the 1920s party and came out of the heat bent up like a smile. I’ve tried weighing it down overnight with a big pile of books, and that calmed it down a bit, but it’s definitely still pretty strongly curved. I’m thinking I’m going to have to do something drastic, like steaming it and pressing it flat. I could also figure out a way to incorporate the bend into something…

-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator

7 comments so far

View Eric_S's profile


1565 posts in 4532 days

#1 posted 07-09-2010 01:17 PM

Nice job Gary. Scrap wood as an art canvas? excellent idea :)

-- - Eric Noblesville, IN

View PurpLev's profile


8653 posts in 4985 days

#2 posted 07-09-2010 03:34 PM

what a shame on the thin trips piece. hopefully you can still make something of it. maybe the bend will give it some character that otherwise would be impossible to create for a certain purpose.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 4323 days

#3 posted 07-09-2010 04:41 PM

These are so beautiful! I really want to make some. They would be AWESOME canvases! Maybe glued to a small piece of plywood on the back to help with stablisation over time?

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4671 days

#4 posted 07-09-2010 06:38 PM

those glues up look great after sanding Gary. There was an article in FWW mag. some time ago where a guy named Adrian Ferrautti used boards somewhat similar to yours which can be purchased. He mitered them and reglued them to get a bookmatch type design. Here is the link in case you are interested. I thought your pieces would lend themselves to that kind of work.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Ger21's profile


1100 posts in 4468 days

#5 posted 07-10-2010 03:33 PM

View lew's profile


13488 posts in 5092 days

#6 posted 07-10-2010 03:44 PM

Nice Projects, Gary!

I have to agree with Gerry, too!!


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View SPalm's profile


5338 posts in 5219 days

#7 posted 07-11-2010 02:26 PM

That was a fun read. Not sure what you can do with them, but I agree, a drum sander is just so cool. You can play and take scraps and make stuff. Quiet and not dangerous and no tear out. Makes a guy look good.

Thanks for the post,

-- -- I'm no rocket surgeon

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