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How to Use Luan Plywood Instead of Cherry

Mark Morris

Many woodworking plans and projects call for cherry plywood. The veneer used to create cherry plywood and Medium Density Fibercore, or MDF sheet goods is expensive to produce and can be hard to find, especially if matching grain between sheets is important.

Luan has a similar grain and color to cherry wood.

Luan plywood is made from soft rainforest woods that have a highly consistent grain with a lot less detail than cherry, but similar in color.

  1. Choose light colored, or “white” luan, versus the darker “red” versions. The red initially appears closer in color to cherry, but takes stain darker, much like mahogany, which some red luan is made from. Look for sheets that have a smooth surface, with tight joints between the vertical bands of veneer that make up the face. Also watch out for football-shaped patches that can sometime appear. Make sure your sheets have good, clear grain in an area large enough to create the piece you need.

  2. Apply a solvent-based wood filler to any small voids, or rough spots in the face of each panel. Apply with a flexible putty knife and allow thirty minutes for the filler to harden before sanding. Sand your luan in two passes, the first, with 100-grit sandpaper to smooth the filler and any rough grain. Make the second pass with 200-grit sandpaper to align the grain for easy staining. Work in the direction of the grain when making the second pass.

  3. Cut your pieces carefully to prevent edge splintering. Use fine-tooth blades, rated for veneer plywood in your saws, and use sharp drill bits for any boring. This will help to prevent splintering, which is common in lightweight, dry woods, such as those used in luan plywood.

  4. Apply at least one base coat of a medium to dark cherry color stain with a wide, soft bristle brush, working in the direction of the grain. Spread this finish as evenly as possible to prevent drips and runs from forming in the finish. Wipe excess stain from the surface with a clean, dry, soft rag. Allow the stain to dry completely and add a second coat if needed to get the right tone. Compare with a piece of finished cherry for comparison. Use an art brush to apply grain lines in a darker, mahogany color stain on top of the cherry, using the cherry sample for a guide.

  5. Apply two coats of clear furniture finish over the top of the completely cured stain to seal the material. Use a semigloss to conceal and blend uneven grain or stain color. Luan typically does not take stain as evenly as cherry. The glossy sheen reflects light, blending slight imperfections. Apply the finish with a soft bristle brush, in long, straight, slow strokes. Avoid going back over areas, which can cause bubbles in the finish. Allow the label-recommended drying time before adding a second coat.