Luan plywood, also known as Lauan plywood, comes from the Lauan tree, a type of shorea that also goes by the name of Philippine mahogany or Meranti. You will find these trees growing on the South pacific rim.
Luan plywood enjoys wide popularity in the United States. It is one of the softer varieties of plywood that could even be considered hardwood plywood if it wasn’t because it is a class of its own. In this post, we discuss the various aspects of this interesting class of plywood.
The History of Luan Plywood
Luan plywood originally came from the Southeast Asian countries of Japan, Taiwan, and Korea in the 1960s and 1970s. Later, this plywood’s manufacturing activity moved to Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines by the 1990s. Unfortunately, poor management of these industries resulted in their decline. These industries deteriorated further due to shorea trees’ overharvesting to the extent that some species became extinct.
Despite all the negative publicity, Luan plywood remains a popular form of wood in the United States.
Benefits of Luan Plywood
Luan plywood is beneficial to both the consumers and the manufacturers. Shorea trees are tall and straight, which means minimal waste generation during harvesting and peeling. The wood has a consistent density and color, hence offers more appeal to customers.
Luan plywood is rigid and flexible, making it easy to peel into thin sheets to use in underlayment. However, the wood remains sufficiently soft to be hand-cut by a blade. It is a stiff but dense wood with a high bending strength but low on the hardness scale. As it is softer than many other plywood varieties, you will find it easy to work with whether you are a professional woodworker or a DIYer.
Another beneficial aspect of Luan plywood is that you can stain it easily, and it looks good once stained. Because of its high tensile strength, you can bend it easily into various shapes as well.
Uses of Luan Plywood
You mostly get Luan plywood in 1/4” thick sheets, although you get it as thin as 1/8” as well. The extreme thinness makes it a bit limited for use for furniture and construction purposes. But you will find it practical to use for side panels and applications where mechanical strength isn’t a priority.
Woodworkers use Luan plywood for making dollhouses, toys, and crafts projects. The plywood’s delicate surface gives the wooden parts a nice appearance, provides mechanical strength and offers a cost-effective solution. You will also see Luan plywood used in remodeling projects, especially at locations where extensive bending is required, like in archways or curved desks.
Another use of Luan plywood is as underlayment materials beneath vinyl flooring. It is easy to remove large plywood sheets without the risk of them snapping or breaking, and they are lightweight enough to carry about. Cutting the thin Luan plywood sheets to size presents an easy task. You will also see Luan plywood being used for ceilings and walls, drawer bottoms, and furniture backing.
Luan plywood occupies a revered position as a decent wood for cabinet making – woodworkers use it for cabinet backing and sides where they need a smooth finish. Luan plywood is so thin and soft that woodworkers can attach it using staples and glue. The drawback of using this type of plywood is that screws can go right through it if you aren’t careful while driving them in.
Sustainability of Luan Plywood
As we mentioned earlier, the Luan plywood industry rose and fell quite rapidly. Deforestation in this area continues to be an issue. It takes several years for a shorea tree to grow. Hence, it is the responsibility of logging companies to ensure that they replace the harvested trees. Unfortunately, they are not doing this.
It results in a shortage of shorea wood. To make up for it, they mix trees of other types of wood with shorea to manufacture Luan plywood. The result is that there is a considerable variation in the quality of the plywood from one shipment to the next.
You need to ensure that you procure Luan plywood from a reliable source to get consistent quality. Alternatively, you can get substitutes like temperate hardwood plywood and agricultural residue panels manufactured in Europe and North America.
Working with Luan Plywood
Luan plywood is extremely thin and flexible, so you have to be careful in how you cut it. Additionally, it has a high tendency to splinter. You need to take special care while crosscutting Luan plywood.
The recommended equipment for cutting Luan plywood is a table saw with a fine-toothed blade. The type of blade most suitable is a normal rip blade. It will reduce splintering and saw marks. You must also provide support while cutting it, and table extensions, particularly on the left side of the blade and outfeed, can come in handy. It is always advisable to get someone to help you while cutting full sheets. You can gain better control of the process.
If you are making long cuts with a circular saw, you should support the plywood on both sides and block it with dimensional lumber. It results in providing support at four places. If you use a circular saw, set your blade for a shallow cut, reducing the friction of the blade.
How to Prevent Splintering
If you are crosscutting Luan plywood, mainly while using a jigsaw, the surface veneers are prone to splintering. You can circumvent this issue by running a sharp line over the cut line. Then, while cutting, if you keep your saw blade on the line, the plywood won’t splinter.
An alternative method for preventing the face veneer’s splintering is by cutting the plywood with the reverse side up. The splintering will occur in the direction coming back up the sheet so that any splintering remains on the side that will be hidden from view.
You can also use masking tape on the plywood’s surface to bind the surface, which reduces the chances of splintering. You will find this method most useful while making curved cuts.
Luan plywood is a versatile and useful form of plywood. However, it has become a scarce commodity nowadays due to the indiscriminate exploitation of shorea trees. It imparts an attractive finish to any woodworking items, whether cabinets, furniture, or children’s toys such as dollhouses.
If you can procure this plywood, you need to verify its authenticity. There is a lot of adulteration going on due to the shortage of shorea trees. You cannot use Luan plywood for everything, but you can be sure of creating some good-looking woodworking projects whenever you do.