After researching plywood, I’m still confused by the different veneer options. Can you help?

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I've built a handful of shop projects from plywood and never paid much attention to the material's face veneers. But now my wife wants a sewing table, which I'll build primarily from hardwood-veneered plywood. After researching plywood, I'm still confused by the different veneer options. Can you help?
—Donald Oliver, Bluffton, Ind.


With plywood, you have two things to think about, Donald: how the veneer was cut from the log, and how it was applied to the substrate. Let's talk about the cuts first.

Rotary slicing, shown above, is the easiest and least costly way to produce veneer, and the only method that can provide veneers wide enough to cover a 4'-wide sheet of plywood with one continuous piece. But it can also produce wildly different grain within one sheet. With plain slicing, shown below, a half log moves up and down against a stationary knife, producing a more consistent cathedral grain. Mills use less-common quarter-sliced and rift-sliced veneers primarily for red and white oak, species with tight vertical grain and secondary ray flecks. These veneers cost more because they require more effort to produce.

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Because appearance matters when building furniture, skip the rotary-sliced veneer. Instead, seek out plywood with plain-, quarter-, or rift-sliced veneers. Shown below, are three ways manufacturers lay out these leaves of non-rotary-sliced veneers to cover the substrate:

* Book-match: Every other leaf from a sequentially cut stack is flipped over. Laid side by side, the leaves exhibit a mirror-image pattern at their seams.

* Slip-match: Leaves are laid in sequence without turning any over, producing a repeating pattern.

* Random-match: The veneer leaves may come from different logs or various parts of the same log, and these
create a different effect for each sheet. (As with rotary-sliced veneers, avoid random-match veneers for making furniture.)

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