Making the Dresser Tops

This time I am using White Oak veneered MDF that is 3/4″ thick. I ran a cross a deal on some sheets that were edge damaged at Alpine Plywood when I was picking up the plywood for this project. The wood figure is beautiful.  Something to remember is going to a commercial plywood vendor will get you stock that is an order of magnitude better than at the home improvement store.  At Alpine they bring the skids of stock to your truck on a forklift and help load it in. The only seeming downside is not being able to sort and pick your sheets, but overall, again compared to the big box stuff they are beautiful with thicker surface veneers, thinner core veneers (more plies) and fewer voids and without the typical “potato chip” shape seen at Home Depot in the winter.

The MDF sheets are very heavy – about 95lbs. So this required help to maneuver them onto the table saw.  Since I needed glue ready edges, the first piece was ripped about 3/4″ wider than required. Then I flipped it around and  moved the fence and take a second pass at the final width and remove the edge dings. I use this technique a lot with sheet goods as it is very hard to get a perfectly straight cut on the first pass out of a full sheet, especially with something as heavy as this and the edges are always somewhat damaged in handling.

The MDF edges need to be banded. I am using 1/4″ thick oak on the long edges. The long edges are simply glued on and clamped with cauls to hold them flat.  At times folks will wonder about the pile of narrow sticks (1-2″ wide I have by the jointer. They are used for edge banding and later for supports while spraying the finish.  David and I got all 3 of the tops glued up with the long edge bands on in the morning. However, I nearly exhausted my clamp supply in the process.

The edge banding was quickly trimmed flush with a 1/2″ laminate trim bit in my trim router. The keys to doing this well are:

  • Light weight router – I favor my old Porter Cable.  Larger routers have a tendency to tip and gouge the edge banding
  • 1/2″ flush laminate trim bit  with the bearing set to run about 1/8″ inside of the edge of the edge banding. Laminate bits typically seem to have have a very slightly oversize bearing to leave a little of the edge for clean-up by hand vs a template bit which is more often exactly flush.
  • Moving in sections about 2 ‘ long. Don’t try to do the whole 5’ length in one pass  – you are asking for divots. As you restart the pass, alwasy keep the router moving forward to avoid burning
  • Make sure the cord is clear of any obstructions. A cord catch almost always causes a downward tip and divot the edge banding. I drop the cord  down from the ceiling when doing this.

Then finish up by scraping the edge flush with a card scraper. Take off any glue along the joint as well. Doing this 2-3 hours after initial glue up is usually best. The glue is firm, but not yet rock hard.

Adding a slight angle in the direction of travel over the veneer towards the edge banding seems to minimize tear out.  Plus angling the scraper helps you scrape off any bumps in the banding due to glue blobs deflecting the router bit. Anything from 15-60 degrees can work.

For the “breadboard ends”,  2 1/4″ oak  pieces are glued on on using 3 biscuits per end. The biscuits help with alignment as the ends are only .005-.010″ thicker than the panel as well as adding some strength in case someone attempts to pick up the dresser by the top when moving it.  Pipe clamps are needed due to the length and as you can see I even had to extend them. I keep a variety of pipes and couplings on hand in the range of 3, 4, and 5′ long. This provides a lot of flexibility on larger glue ups.

Yes, there are burn marks on the edge banding where I changed grip on the piece as I ripped it (and it liked to cup as tension was released), these will come out in the finishing passes. Plus the front black pipe is actually kinked – not a figment of your imagination.

The ends are cut only about 1/8″ longer than the top is wide. What is the left end / rear edge as viewed on the bench has the end set inwards just slightly. This will allow for the first of the clean up passes on the table saw without catching on the fence.

Note the anvil on the floor below the bench. It is a good surface to pound out the biscuits. Old biscuits will swell due to humidity and this will hinder assembly.  A few taps with a hammer thins them back out, making the assembly easy again.

The top of the ends is nearly flush and just needs some scraping. Note how the scraper is angled and I also angle the stroke of the cut towards the end.  I often switch as needed between a push stroke or pull stroke (as shown here) with the scraper.  The bottom side of the end board still needs some planing as the end boards were slightly thicker than the rest of the panel. The reason for difference top vs bottom is using the biscuits. They are referenced to the top surface  when cutting the slots.

After scraping. Can you see the joint on the banding or end???

The bottom needs to be planed to thickness and then scraped. I made the ends about 0.010-0.20″ thicker than the panel.  Be careful to keep the plane blade only on the end. You don’t want to cut into the veneer , even though I am taking very fine shavings at this point.

Final scraping on the ends. At this point, angling the scraper is mandatory. If you simply scrape across the ends, you will end up with ugly tear out which will show up when you stain. Angle the scraper and direction of your cut into the end piece. These are much less prone to tear out than the veneer of the plywood. However adjust based on the wood you have and how it is behaving.

A side note on the trim routers. Several years ago I was teaching a class on inlay work and a laminate trimmer was one of the tools needed. There was a wide variety. However as we ran them we saw the old Porter cables (metal body) & Bosch Colts ran coolest. The Dewalts got quite hot as did the newer Porter cables (plastic body) .