Tips for Edging

Tips for Edging


As modern cabinetmakers, we’ve become so accustomed to using veneered sheet stock it’s hard to imagine building cabinets without it. Sheet stock saves time, money and valuable trees.

The veneer can be wood or a man-made material like melamine. The substrate or core for the sheet stock is most often made of MDF, plywood or particle board. The catch to building with sheet stock is covering up and protecting the unattractive and fragile edges. A hardwood strip glued onto the sheet stock edge is typically how this is done. The hardwood edge not only looks good, it protects the edges from damage.

The trick has always been to quickly and efficiently apply the edging and then trim it flush to the ultra thin veneer. What follows is a set of tried and true tips, used by pros, to get the job done.

Two-for-One Edging

Speed up edging shelves and cabinet parts by gluing them up in pairs. It takes fewer clamps and less setup time. Glue an extra wide strip of hardwood between two pieces of plywood. Don’t forget to add the thickness of a saw blade to the hardwood strip. The plywood should be about 1/2-in. oversize in length and width. Glue and clamp the sandwich together. The plywood acts like clamping cauls to apply even pressure along the full length of the joint. After the glue dries, rip it down the middle and trim the ends square and flush.

Easy Edge Clamps

Thin edging doesn’t require heavy clamp pressure to get a tight joint. A few pieces of electrician’s tape stretched over the edge provide the right amount of clamping pressure and helps center the edging on the sheet stock. It’s a quick and easy way to apply thin edging.

Skip the Sander

Plane the edging flush with the veneer. It’s quicker than sanding and there’s lot less chance of cutting through the thin veneer. Ride the heel of the plane on the veneer and set the blade for a thin shaving, especially when you get close to the veneer surface. Even if you hit the veneer, it rarely cuts through. All that’s left is a little finish sanding with some fine grit paper.

Hide the Edging

Here are three ways to disguise the glue line between the sheet stock and the edging. First, make the edging just thick enough to accommodate a chamfer or roundover router bit profile. Flush the edging to the veneer before routing the profile.

1. For the chamfer cut, set the bit to cut the full thickness of the edge back to the glue line.

2. For the roundover, make the edging slightly thicker than the radius. The curve should begin right next to the glue line.

3. The third method is to glue on the hardwood edging, trim it flush then rip it down to 1/16-in. thickness. A little sanding on all three edging styles is all it takes to blend the transition from veneer to solid wood and obscure the glue line.

Flush Ends Every Time

This well-known tip may seem obvious, but it’s worth remembering before you blindly follow any cutting list for edged plywood.

Cut your edging and plywood about 1/2-in. longer than the final length. Glue on the edging and trim both at the same time on the tablesaw. The plywood and edging will be perfectly flush every time.

For edging with an overhang, support the plywood from underneath to get a clean cut on the top surface. The support also minimizes tear-out on the bottom of the plywood.

Precision Flush-Trim Jig

Some pieces, like a tall bookcase side, are just too big to trim on a router table. This jig will flush cut edging on any size piece, large or small. You can use any size straight cutting bit, but I recommend a wide mortising bit. The jig is just a 10-in. x 24-in. piece of 3/4-in. plywood with a 1-in. dado cut about 8-in. from one end. Drill a 1/8-in. x 1-in. hole through the middle of the dado for the bit to protrude. Attach the router and add a fence so it just barely overlaps the bit’s cutting radius. The bit will ever so slightly cut into the fence.

To set up the jig, lower the router bit until it is flush with the bottom (Photo A). Turn the router on and run the fence along the edging to trim flush (Photo B). The long base on the jig counterbalances the router and the fence guides the cut.

2-Piece Edge Banding Bits

A well-disguised hardwood edge makes ▪ a sheet of plywood look like solid stock. • Router bits designed to create an almost invisible joint do just that. It’s a two part setup. The first bit cuts the deep V-groove in the plywood (Photo A). The second bit cuts the mating profile in the hardwood (Photo B). It’s best to work with a wide piece of hardwood. Cut all the V-grooves first.

Then set the bit for the hardwood edge. Cut the matching profile on both edges of the hardwood and glue the shelves and hardwood together (Photo C). After the glue dries, rip the shelves free. The visible part of the hardwood edge should only be about 1/16-in.thick.

Stiffer Shelves

Beef up plywood shelves with wide edging so they can bear more weight without noticeably sagging. I rip the edging from 3/4-in. stock and turn it on its side, giving the illusion that my shelves are made from expensive, thick wood. Nope, they’re just plywood!

Flush Cut on a Router Table

Flush up the edging on your sheet stock using a tall fence for support on your router table. The best fence material is melamine because it has a slick surface. Simply screw the melamine to your existing fence. Leave a gap at the bottom tall enough to accommodate the edging. Set the fence so it’s flush with the bearing on your flush trim bit. The fence stabilizes the sheet stock as it’s held on edge. You can zip through a stack of shelves in no time with this production shop technique.

Use a Flush Trim V-Groove Bit for Melamine

Edging melamine with hardwood is about as tricky as it gets. To sand, plane or finish the edge without messing up the melamine is next to impossible. Masking off the melamine is a time consuming pain. One way to overcome these problems is to use a flush trim V-groove bit. Simply set the bit so the V-groove is centered on the glue line (Photo A) and rout. Then color the groove with a black Sharpie (Photo B) to create a physical and visual border between the edge and the melamine. The point of a Sharpie fits perfectly in the groove. The slight gap between the melamine and the hardwood edge make sanding and applying finish a snap.

Fill Painted Edges

Make inexpensive plywood look like solid wood by filling voids and end grain with exterior spackling compound. Let the spackling compound dry for half an hour, round over the edges of the plywood with a router bit or sandpaper and sand the edge smooth. Brush on a primer and top coat and you’ve made economical materials look classy.

Versatile Edge Clamps

Spring clamps make applying thin edging a snap. Simply squeeze the clamp open, push the flexed piece of spring steel against the edging and let go. The non-marring jaws grip the plywood so the clamp doesn’t slide backward. The jaws can be adjusted to exert from 1 to 50 lbs. of pressure.

These handy clamps are perfect for curved edges,’ where pipe clamps are notoriously difficult to set up.

Nuts! There’s a noticeable gap between the miters!


Wouldn’t you know it, I cut the last miter for my framed tabletop too short! Rather than start over with a new piece, I used my jointer to “lengthen” the short piece and make a perfect fit. Sound impossible? Here’s one way to stretch a board.

I jointed the inner edge of the mis-cut piece, taking very little off. Because the ends of the board are mitered, the inner edge gets a bit longer with every pass.

Now it fits perfectly, but the points of the miters don’t quite line up because jointing the board made it narrower, too. A little fudging will fix that. I tapered the neighboring frame piece with a plane until the points met.

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