Luan or Lauan plywood is made from the wood of the “Lauan” tree (i.e. the Shorea spp that is also known as Philippine mahogany or Meranti) found in the South Pacific Rim. It is a medium-grade, relatively light wood that produces a plywood that is much softer than most of the softwood plywood commonly used.
The first Luan plywood panels were manufactured in countries such as Taiwan, Japan, and Korea more than forty years ago and exported worldwide. The raw wood logs, at the time, were imported mainly from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The surface finish of Luan plywood is very smooth and is mostly without defects. The few, small defects that are found, are usually filled and sanded smooth with the surface. These small defects, however, mean that Luan plywood is, generally speaking, mainly used for projects where the end results will be painted or where the finish is easily concealed.
Luan Plywood History
Luan was favored for plywood because the tree was so prevalent throughout the Pacific Rim. Additionally, the logs tended to be straight, the wood tended to be consistent with regards to color and density, and the wood fibers were relatively stable. It is also easy to peel the wood in thin layers.
Besides this tree’s suitability as plywood, the demand for hardwood plywood grew globally. This resulted in huge plywood-manufacturing industries in certain parts of the Pacific, including Indonesia, where an estimated 10 million cubic meters of plywood was manufactured annually. Due to overharvesting and lack of sustainable management, however, the industry saw a decline, and today’s Luan plywood is made from a range of different tropical wood coming from, amongst other areas, South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific Rim.
In order to make Luan plywood, thin ‘slices’ of wood, called plies, are laid over each other at right angles until the desired thickness is reached and glued together. Once glued, the sheets are compressed and allowed to dry. The different plywood sheets are then gently sanded to ensure a smooth finish, while any imperfections are filled in and sanded down once again.
Luan plywood is typically only manufactured in thicknesses of a 1/4 inch, although you can find it as thin as 1/8 inch at times. Being so thin, its utility for furniture and construction is somewhat limited. The thickness table makes it easier to compare and the plywood prices chart makes Luan available for every budget. More than anything, Luan is used for the construction of wooden dollhouses, crafts projects, and toys that require thin wood panels, although it does have uses in remodeling as well.
Cutting Luan Plywood
Cutting Luan can be a bit of a challenge, due to it being so thin and flexible. For long cuts, especially ripping the plywood, you are best off supporting the Luan on either side, blocking it up with dimensional lumber. Make the cut with a circular saw set for shallow cutting. When crosscutting Luan plywood, especially with a jigsaw, there is a great tendency for the splintering of the surface veneers. You can solve this problem by cutting the surface veneer with a utility knife on the cut line. By keeping your saw blade next to this cut and not overlapping it, you avoid splintering the wood.
This precutting of the surface veneer is especially important when cutting Luan on a jigsaw for use in dollhouses and craft projects. In these cases, there is typically no edging provided, other than the edge of the wood panel. Splintering can ruin the piece one is trying to make. For complex cuts, such as scrolling, precutting the face veneer and ignoring the reverse side veneer is typical, as it is almost impossible to cut both exactly the same. However, in these cases, the reverse side of the plywood is normally hidden from view.
Bending Luan Plywood
There are a number of ways in which Luan plywood can be bent.
This method sees you mark the outside areas of your bend and cutting a number of notches into the plywood. The plywood is then bent around a mold (usually cut from a piece of wood) and clamped into place overnight. Your bent plywood should be good to use the next day.
This process requires the use of a steam box and a mold. The plywood is placed over the steam box and when sufficiently pliable, placed around the mold and clamped into place for a couple of hours.
This method has you soak the plywood in water for approximately two hours. Once sufficiently pliable, the plywood is placed on the mold and clamped into place until dry.
Luan can be used in cabinetmaking, specifically for cabinet sides, where little structural strength is required, but a smooth surface is desired. Attaching Luan plywood in such cases is best accomplished with staples and glue. Due to the material being thin and the soft nature of the wood, brads or finishing nails tend to pull out. If you choose to fasten Luan with screws, use caution as screw heads can go right through the Luan. When used for sides of furniture, such as dressers, the Luan is often set into a slot, without fastening, allowing for freedom of expansion due to moisture. This slot also hides the edges of the wood, along with any possible splintering of the surface veneer.
While Luan is not used in new construction, there are some excellent applications for it in remodeling. Often, when replacing a floor or countertop, the underlayment is found to be rough; with voids, cracks, glue residue and even unevenness caused by warping. This can be a serious problem for installing hardwood floors, linoleum (whether roll or tile) and laminate countertops. Installing a layer of Luan plywood over the existing underlayment provides a smooth surface for the installation of these finish materials. However, installing Luan plywood under ceramic tile is not recommended as it doesn’t provide a stiff enough surface to prevent cracking of the grout.
As far as flooring is concerned, Luan plywood makes a great underlayment when installed between the subfloor and completed flooring. It provides extra support and ensures a smooth, level finish on which to apply the top layer, whether it is carpet, hardwood floors, or even vinyl tiles.
Red or White Luan
Luan plywood is also often used in the construction of hollow core doors. As red Luan, when stained, resembles mahogany wood, while white Luan, when stained, may resemble Cherrywood, the end result makes a great feature to any home. Of course, hollow core doors are suitable for indoor use only.
This product, however, is not only suitable for home use. It is imminently suitable for different craft projects. Birdhouses, for example, are often constructed of Luan plywood that is 1/8 inch thick. What makes this plywood so popular is that it does not easily split or splinter during cutting, and it is easy to paint over. It is also used as picture frame backing, supplying the support needed to ensure your pictures do not sag after a while.
Luan plywood is perfect for different projects of various sizes. Whether you use it for remodeling purposes in your home, of for miniature woodworking projects, its smoothness ensures an end product that needs little extra care when finishing off the details.