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Making a Conference Room Table - Solid Wood vs. MDF/Plywood

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Forum topic by Mergs21 posted 04-02-2015 02:25 PM 1116 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Mergs21

4 posts in 616 days


04-02-2015 02:25 PM

Topic tags/keywords: tabletop conference table solid wood veneer large table size gluing construction wood movement question veneering joining modern

Hi everyone, I’ve got a question that I can’t seem to find an answer to on the web.

I’ve been asked to make a set of desks and tables for a new office, including a large conference room table. The desks and tables will be made with solid wood tops, however the conference room table I’m not sure about.

The dimensions are 120” x 48”. It will be attached to a welded metal frame – so I don’t have to worry about that part. My question is, at what size does a tabletop become too large to be made from solid wood. I’m obviously concerned with wood movement and warping over the life of the piece. Should this size top be made using MDF or plywood? I’ve been considering torsion box construction with MDF. On top of which I would glue birch ply to allow for veneering (I’ve read that birch ply is better to veneer to than bare MDF).

Thanks!


11 replies so far

View barada83's profile

barada83

76 posts in 651 days


#1 posted 04-02-2015 02:43 PM

I don’t think I would consider making a conference table out of solid wood with so many other less difficult to manage and cheaper options. Although I am not a professional, if I was doing this, I would use MDF for this project. I’m not sure where you received the info about veneering on MDF but I would most definitely question that. MDF, although I have no love affair with the material, is probably the best substrate for veneering due to its consistency and flatness. Just to demonstrate, the A1 cabinet wood veneers above 1/4 inch are almost entirely always on an MDF substrate. If you veneer over plywood, there is potential to hit a void that telegraphs to the top. I just don’t think it is worth it to take the risk on such a large project. To ensure flatness, make sure to veneer both sides.

-- Mike

View jmartel's profile

jmartel

6572 posts in 1614 days


#2 posted 04-02-2015 02:58 PM

Make a torsion box assembly, and use hardwood veneered plywood top and bottom. Then use solid wood edging. That size table is going to be a nightmare to transport/move around out of solid wood, solid ply, or solid MDF. I’d make the torsion box part out of ply as well rather than MDF.

-- The quality of one's woodworking is directly related to the amount of flannel worn.

View Yonak's profile

Yonak

979 posts in 985 days


#3 posted 04-02-2015 03:01 PM

I agree with Mike that making a solid wood table, especially of this size, is asking for problems. However, like jmartel, I would use hardwood plywood, not MDF. Unless you are well equipped and experienced, veneering such a large surface could be unwieldy.

I would even question the efficacy of using solid wood for the desks. Plywood is stable and won’t change dimensionally according to the seasons.

View OggieOglethorpe's profile

OggieOglethorpe

1213 posts in 1575 days


#4 posted 04-02-2015 03:10 PM

If I were using birch ply under the veneer, I’d simply stick with it for all the hidden parts. I also question the general “ply is better” statement. LOTS of conference tables and other office furniture are veneered MDF.

Either sheet material has worked well for me under veneer, I’d base my choice more on span distances, etc… over how the veneer will look or stick to it. Are you vacuum pressing the veneer?

To me, the veneer vs. solid wood question really comes down to the final look expected by the client. Lots of conference tables have a band or feature strip inlayed, or some sort of grain direction manipulation. There are some less common looks that would absolutely look better in solid wood.

View NoThanks's profile

NoThanks

798 posts in 993 days


#5 posted 04-02-2015 04:00 PM

What are you charging for?
Hardwood will be considerably higher in cost to do.

Iwud use 2 layers of 3/4” ( of any cabinet grade ply) and put the edging on and veneer over the top, and Iwud veneer the bottom with backing material.

-- Because I'm gone, that's why!

View Mergs21's profile

Mergs21

4 posts in 616 days


#6 posted 04-02-2015 04:19 PM

Thanks guys, this is a lot of help!

As for the final look of the piece, I still need to discuss with the client what they want that to be. I don’t remember where I read that plywood is better for veneering, but there was a recent FineWoodworking article that stated MDF is a better substrate for veneer – so there ya go.

While using veneered plywood seems to be the easiest solution, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get plywood with the desired veneer. I have some experience with veneering, but it was done with a clothes iron to attach the veneer – I’m not sure if that’s a viable option for something this size. Since I’m not handling the metal table frame, I’m not sure yet if there is a center support which would make this process a little easier – being able to divide it into two 5’ sections.

Thanks for all of your help!

View Lee A. Jesberger's profile

Lee A. Jesberger

6821 posts in 3444 days


#7 posted 04-02-2015 04:32 PM

I’m in the process of rebuilding my website, and happen to be working on this page, so I thought I would pass it along. We ‘ve used the same process for conference tables as well.

http://prowoodworkingtips.com/Build_A_Dining_Room_Table.html

Probably more involved than your interested in, but the is considerable info on veneering as well.

I wouldn’t recommend veneering over plywood.

Good luck.

Lee

Lee

-- by Lee A. Jesberger http://www.prowoodworkingtips.com http://www.ezee-feed.com

View NoThanks's profile

NoThanks

798 posts in 993 days


#8 posted 04-02-2015 05:24 PM


I wouldn t recommend veneering over plywood.

Good luck.

Lee

- Lee A. Jesberger

Why not over plywood? Telegraphing?
I did this table over ply and thought it worked very well. (Pretty sure it was maple ply but don’t remember)
Your way more knowledgeable than me so I respect your opinions.

-- Because I'm gone, that's why!

View AlaskaGuy's profile

AlaskaGuy

2406 posts in 1774 days


#9 posted 04-02-2015 06:49 PM

You can veneer over plywood. Just pick some like Birch that has a smooth tight grain surface.

http://www.joewoodworker.com/veneering/substrates.htm

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View JAAune's profile

JAAune

1643 posts in 1781 days


#10 posted 04-02-2015 10:23 PM

Plywood isn’t as flat as MDF and particle board. Getting that dead-flat, water-level surface requires a dead-flat surface underneath as the veneer isn’t thick enough to level out anything. Strength-wise, plywood is superior. I’d have to pick through several sheets of plywood before finding one that I’d consider acceptable for a conference table. Without a wide-belt sander, I can’t flatten sheet stock before veneering.

If using plywood, be sure to glue cross-grain to the plywood surface otherwise you’ll effectively end up with what amounts to a thick piece of veneer on the outside which may be more prone to expansion issues.

-- See my work at http://remmertstudios.com and http://altaredesign.com

View timbertailor's profile

timbertailor

1592 posts in 889 days


#11 posted 04-02-2015 10:29 PM



Make a torsion box assembly, and use hardwood veneered plywood top and bottom. Then use solid wood edging. That size table is going to be a nightmare to transport/move around out of solid wood, solid ply, or solid MDF. I d make the torsion box part out of ply as well rather than MDF.

- jmartel

+1

Will also hold up to moisture\humidity better than MDF, as well.

-- Brad, Texas, https://www.youtube.com/user/tonkatoytruck/feed

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