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My students are making plywood shields / Coat of Arms. I'm hoping to cut costs as much as possible. So my plan is to use strips of fabric or fake leather to make an arm band on the back. My question is: Could I staple-gun fabric to 1/8" plywood, or would there not be enough material for the staples to catch on? 1/4" plywood raises the cost by 50%.

If the staple gun wouldn't work, does anybody have suggestions on how to attach some form of handle solidly to the back of 1/8" plywood? Ideally, we wouldn't be drilling through to the front of the shields. Thanks in advance!

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    Have you considered using glue?
    – gnicko
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 1:49
  • @gniko I have! But I couldn't think of a glue that would work well to adhere fabric or leather to wood. Any suggestions? It needs to hold up to kids holding the shields and moving around with them.
    – user480029
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 2:19
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    Hi, what type of plywood? Post some images if you can.
    – Volfram K
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 6:27
  • @Volfram K We haven't ordered the plywood yet. I'm just going to buy it pre-cut online, so unfortunately, I won't have any control over the quality.
    – user480029
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 17:18

3 Answers 3

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Contact cement. I use Barge brand. It is used to glue soles on shoes. Should be plenty strong for your application if you let it cure to full strength before applying too much stress to the bonds.

If you are willing to drill through, then you can use hollow rivets to give some mechanical strength to the bond. Rivets are were one of the main ways of fastening metal for a long time.

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  • Thanks! I've used contact cement on EVA foam, but never thought to use it for this. I like the idea of using hollow rivets if I have to have something showing on the front since it'll look more historically authentic. Thanks for the suggestions!
    – user480029
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 3:01
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Staples could work well here, although I wouldn't use them in isolation — think belt and braces. Use glue as well as this will significantly strengthen things.

The staples
Stapling is now commonly used to hold together a variety of items including things like fruit boxes, which often have strips of thin solid wood or plywood stapled to corner blocks. Despite how thin the wood is this construction is fairly durable in service, although of course this sort of thing is not built to withstand a lot of continual wear and tear and the staples can sometimes pull through.

With 1/8" (3mm) plywood you're likely dealing with three-ply.

One detail I feel is important with three-ply is the orientation of the staples. You want to give the staples the best hold in the wood. Notice the grain of the two surface plies is oriented the same way (this will be at right angles to the core ply). Ensure your staples are either at 90° or 45° to the grain, not aligned with it — the staples could easily split or pull too deeply into the grain if in line with it.

The glue
I think it is highly advisable to use a little glue here as well. Just one dab per attachment point could double the strength, possibly more.

What you probably think of as 'wood glue' is a form of PVA, and PVA works extremely well with paper, cloth and leather as you might already know. It also bonds wood very strongly — creating joints literally stronger than the wood itself if done properly. So it will strongly bond any combination of these materials.

With wood it is advisable to lightly abrade the surface just prior to applying the glue, a few passes with a scrap of sandpaper or a clean nylon scrubbie is sufficient.

The quality of the ply
This might unfortunately be the weak link in the chain. Much modern plywood is not of great quality (a trend that has been continuing for decades); if you're buying plywood of unknown provenance all bets are off, but even if you use Baltic birch plywood it's not all created equal.

So what I'm saying is even if you do everything right you might not get the durability you'd hope for.

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  • This is super helpful! Thanks for all of the specifics on technique. I never would have thought to sand the surface before gluing, or consider the direction of the stapling. Thank you!
    – user480029
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 17:17
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I might try a combination of glue and staples using wooden blocks to add some thickness for the staples to bite into.

Take some thinner wood blocks (maybe 1/2" thick) and wrap the leather/cloth handle strip around a couple of blocks using glue. Then staple the block (along with the leather) and with some more glue to the plywood shield.

Wrap the strip all the way around the wood and overlap it on the back side using glue all around. Then send a staple (from the front side of the shield through the two thicknesses of leather and into the backer block.

I'd think that common wood glue would be sufficient for this task, but you could go with epoxy, contact cement, construction adhesive, or hide glue if that's what you have.

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  • I do have contact cement! It didn't occur to me that I could use it for this. I'd like to avoid stapling through to the front, but it may be unavoidable if I want the reinforcement and don't want to use a thicker board. And your description was very clear. No picture needed! Thank you!!! : )
    – user480029
    Commented Mar 25, 2022 at 3:00

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