Luan or Lauan plywood is made from the wood of the Lauan tree from the South Pacific Rim. Lauan wood is usually referred to a medium-grade Philippine mahogany. This produces a very lightweight wood that is softer than most softwood plywood. The surface finish of Luan plywood is very smooth, mostly without defects. The small defects that are found are filled and sanded smooth with the surface. However, because of these defects, Luan is generally only used for projects that will be painted.
Luan is typically only manufactured in 1/4 inch thickness, although you can find it as thin as 1/8 inch at times. Being so thin, it’s 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 wood doll houses, crafts projects and toys that require thin wood panels.
Cutting Luan Plywood
Cutting Luan can be a bit of a challenge, due to it being so thin and the resulting flexibility. 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 jig saw, there is a great tendency for 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 plywood is normally hidden from view.
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.