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I've been building a murphy bed cabinet out of baltic birch plywood (I like the visible layers on the edges). I bought/cut sheets of 4'x8' for this purpose. One side is clear, and the other side has several irregular patches. All but one of the plywood pieces has only one side showing, so the patches are mostly irrelevant. One of the upright side pieces, however, will have both sides visible, so I want to hide the patches on that side.

This side piece that has the visible patches is 16" x 88.25" and the plywood is nominally 3/4" thick (it has 13 plys/layers).

I figured I would

  • put a birch veneer on the one side with the patches,
  • leave the other side as is, and
  • seal it with 3+ coats of water based polyurethane (no stain).

Note that ALL sides (front, back, and 4 edges) of each piece will get the water-based poly finish, including sides/edges that will not be visible once the murphy bed cabinet is assembled.

I have never applied veneer before, so I am researching to figure out which product(s) I should use. Only that created even more questions.

Can I put veneer on just one side of the baltic birch plywood? Or do I need to do both sides?

Does the answer to this depend on the type of veneer (paper-backed, vs wood-backed), or on the adhesive used to attach the veneer (3m peel&stick, wood glue, contact cement, ...)? In other words, is there a veneer product that does not require applying the veneer to both sides of the Baltic Birch ply?

I saw a question about laminate on 2 vs 1 side, but I'm not sure if that advice applies to veneer or to my use of baltic birch (thus no voids, unlike typical hardwood plywood): Do I need to laminate both sides of plywood or can I coat one side and laminate the other

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    One possibility: check with plywood suppliers. The cabinet shop I used to work at was able to get baltic birch plywood with good faces on both sides and no visible patches. Will probably cost more, though. Nov 19, 2023 at 2:29
  • Hi, welcome to Woodworking! And thanks for the evident prior research. One thing though, you're asking multiple things in the one Question. Ideally each Question should have only one ? in it. Anything worth asking (and not covered by a previous Q&A) deserves its own Q, both for ease of answering but also as an aid for future searchers who might be looking for something on that specific topic.
    – Graphus
    Nov 19, 2023 at 8:09
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    Re. VOCs, obviously the right type of respirator and its cartridges are purpose-made to keep the operator safe no matter the solvent(s) used and their amounts in the liquid finish. But if it can be arranged they can also be made basically a non-issue if airflow goes past the user, then over the work and is then vented outside. Additionally, with varnish thinned to make wiping varnish you can switch from regular to "odourless" spirits. Be assured, the lack of odour doesn't just trick the user into thinking it's safer, mineral spirits is made materially safer.... [contd]
    – Graphus
    Nov 20, 2023 at 9:12
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    Veneers made for aesthetics give no structural benefit so I don't see the problem of applying it to just one side, I've done it many times. I've used press-on veneer which has stood the test of time, but you can tear the stuff with the grain because it's so thin. I would be sure to finish both sides, however. One caveat is be sure to measure the thickness if you're milling dados since it will be different!
    – LarryBud
    Nov 22, 2023 at 15:45
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    It may be too late for this project, but for the future, plan ahead. Select your "both sides visible" pieces first and cut them from areas of the plywood that are good on both sides, leaving the patches to only be used where they can be hidden. No, this doesn't lead to max efficiency when cutting the pieces out of the sheet, but it may be cheaper to get one or two extra "standard" grade pieces than paying the premium for "good both sides" plywood. Then again, it may not...
    – FreeMan
    Dec 21, 2023 at 18:36

1 Answer 1

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Can I put veneer on just one side of the baltic birch plywood?

Yes you can, since there are no woodworking police to tell you want you can and can't do in your own workshop :-)

More seriously, one can sometimes get away with adding veneer on one side only.

Or do I need to do both sides?

As mentioned in the previous Q&A that you linked to, it's standard practice to laminate both sides, i.e. to veneer and counter-veneer, and for a sound reason. This is why plywood is 3-ply, 7-ply, 13-ply etc. and not 4-ply, 12-ply......

So the question is really whether you can get away with veneering just one side, and as I say above you might. But you might not, and since there's no way to accurately predict what will happen it's a try it and see proposition which you might not want to roll the dice on2.

If you want to use this piece and you absolutely don't want to veneer both sides (regardless of why) then there is a fairly obvious solution and that's to remove the existing face veneer + patches and then re-veneer. It won't be a like-for-like replacement exactly but it's at least a lot closer to adhering to established principles of veneering than adding a new layer on one face only.

Some other alternatives

  • Stain or otherwise colour the patches so they don't stand out as much.
  • Chip out the patches and replace them with epoxy fills the colour of your choosing.
  • Stain the entire project or parts of it dark enough that the patches become hard to see or unnoticeable.
  • Paint this piece of ply. The uniform all-plywood look does have its charm, but there are no rules about what you can choose to paint. And maybe a pop of colour will be the making of the completed piece!

1 Irrespective of substrate.

2 Remember this isn't just a concern for now/soon after completion, how will it fare after multiple cycles of seasonal moisture exchange?

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