When you’re choosing your residence hall furniture and deciding on the specs, you’ll inevitably choose what materials you want.
Should it be totally solid wood, including the top? Or should you get solid wood or plywood substrates with laminate tops, or all laminate?
Whatever the selection, your furniture is probably going to include edge banding. Why?
Because it’s an important part of the construction. And depending on where we use it in the cabinet, it improves the longevity of your furniture.
In this short guide—part of our Nuts & Bolts Series for operational and facilities leaders—you’ll learn some of the basics of edge banding.
What is edge banding?
So let’s start at the beginning. What is edge banding?
It’s actually kind of simple, and the video below will help you understand it even better, but this is a simple overview to get you started.
Here’s the basic non-technical idea.
Plywood, particle board, and other manufactured wood cores like MDF have rough, unfinished, unprotected, and generally unsightly edges.
To account for that, some clever folks developed technologies that allow you to glue different bands of glossy finished material to those rough edges to match the tops and sides.
Those narrow bands or strips are called edging tape, and they range in thickness from 0.018-inch to 5mm thick and come in 250 ft rolls.
The thicker edging is used in high traffic and commercial environments because it provides greater resilience and impact resistance. For example, the military requires a thicker ⅜” solid wood edge banding for maximum impact resistance.
And edge banders are the industrial grade machines that apply the edging tape to the raw edges of the wood panels with a hot-melt adhesive or glue.
What’s the purpose of edge banding?
Edge banding serves both functional and aesthetic purposes.
Functionally, edge bands perform some key duties for your furniture. First, they keeps moisture out serving as de facto seals on the edge of the core material. Second, edge banding improves durability and resilience by providing impact resistance. If you’re using solid wood edging, it can also add to the overall strength of the furniture.
Aesthetically, edge banding covers up unsightly rough edges and creates a glossy finish to match your tops and sides. You can also create radial edges to soften sharp angles.
Where do we apply edge banding?
Where can you expect to find edge banding in your furniture? That depends on your overall material specification.
A solid wood product won’t include any edge banding, except where we can’t use solid wood. Wardrobe doors, for example, are made of veneer core plywood or MDF.
And even when we use solid wood for case sides and drawer fronts, many customers still use high pressure laminate tops. Those tops need edge banding.
If you’re using plywood or laminate as your material specification, that needs edge banding too.
DCI uses edge banding in places you might not expect, like plywood bed decks. Why? Because a fully sealed deck prevents bed bugs. You can read more about bed bug mitigation here.
Where won’t you find edge banding?
DCI doesn’t use edge banding on cabinet backs or drawer bottoms because they are already embedded (sealed) in dato grooves. Likewise we don’t edge band internal plywood drawer parts because it doesn’t add value.
You should note that some manufactures don’t use edge banding where they should—like on the bottom and back edges of plywood cabinets. That’s a problem because moisture, even small amounts, can destroy unsealed furniture.
What is edge banding made from?
What are the edging tapes made from? There are different materials, and we’ll just focus on a few here.
1. PVC is the most popular material for edge banding on case good tops. Pros: It’s inexpensive, durable, and boasts a long life. It doesn’t require any finishing process. It’s also easy, albeit tedious, to repair. Cons: You can’t recycle it. It doesn’t biodegrade. Once it’s blemished, you can’t refinish it. (NB: ABS—Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene—is an eco-friendly alternative to PVC because it’s both recyclable and safe to incinerate.)
When it comes to PVC, we recommend 3mm edging in general because it goes on cleaner, quicker, and with better adhesion. Another advantage is that you get a graceful radius and a nice soft-looking finish. In general, we avoid .5mm edging because the corners tend to be too sharp.
2. Solid Wood is still a favorite for case good tops in many woodworking camps. It’s durable, recyclable, easy to fix and refinish, strong, stiff, and economical.
Benefits: it’s more resistant to chipping than veneer edge tape. Solid wood glues are more reliable and less prone to peeling than veneer and PVC. It provides additional dimensional support to plywood and mdf. Climate neutral manufacturing. Cons: Difficult to use for curves.
We offer solid wood edge banding for tops in a range of thicknesses. And you can apply it internally or externally.
When it comes to solid wood we recommend 9.5mm on case good tops.
As we explain below, at DCI, we believe the best way to apply wood edge banding is “internally” with a HPL top. Why? Because in our experience, it’s incredibly durable and never requires additional service.
3. Wood Veneer is the most common edge banding material for plywood cabinet sides, drawer fronts, and MDF wardrobe doors. It’s made from thin slices of wood—typically oak, maple, ash, walnut, birch, and mahogany—that are joined together in a roll using finger jointing.
It usually features a heat-sensitive glue backing. And it comes in a range of thicknesses, so it’s important to use the right one depending on the application.
Pros: It’s attractive, durable, and strong. It provides a clean solid-wood look, and it’s pre-sanded to absorb stains and finishes and seamlessly match your wood. Cons: It’s not heat resistant. Avoid putting it near a heater. It doesn’t do well in high-use environments.
How is edge banding applied?
According to RA Learning Center, there are at least four methods of applying edge banding. There are a lot of things to say about each of these but for now, here’s a simple list of application methods and mediums.
- Hot-melt glue
- Hot air/laser
- Laser edging
There’s no doubt, edge banding is essential to most campus and dorm furniture. When applied improperly, or used incorrectly in critical components, it’s a huge maintenance issue.
One issue you might find in furniture that has edge banding is that it peels. Why?
Sometimes, for different reasons, the adhesive can fail. When that happens, the edge banding will start to peel away from the edge.
Peeling can also happen because of rough use. For example, .5mm edging doesn’t provide much resistance to impact. Therefore you don’t want to use it on the front end of a case side. If you do, your edging might start to peel.
If your furniture starts to peel, we can fix it. Just reach out to your local DCI account rep, and we’ll take care of it for you.
Generally speaking, we recommend PVC edge banding for projects where budget is the first and driving priority. That is not to say there is anything wrong with this material. There are just fewer steps in the manufacturing process and the raw material is less expensive.
Solid wood edge banding is more expensive because it’s labor intensive and the material is higher quality. And with more steps involved in the manufacturing process, we consider this a premium solution. As we alluded to above, internal solid wood edge banding with HPL tops are probably our strongest and most durable solution.
We choose to use a hot melt glue for our adhesive solution because it’s user friendly and provides a great seal. We apply the glue to the edge while it’s still hot and then apply the banding, pressing it to the side.
Ambient temperature plays an important role in the edge banding process. We need to regulate the temperature of both the building and our materials. In essence, we need a warm environment for the optimal adhesion process. It can’t be cold in the building.
And finally, you need a good clean glue edge for the process to work. At DCI, we have state of the art machinery that improves the glue edge and squares it up perfectly.
It’s our responsibility to edge band correctly. But you should know, there are still choices you’ll need to make when evaluating edge banding options.
Those choices can feel daunting if you don’t live and breathe this stuff like we do. Our experts will help you navigate your edge banding options to ensure you get the right product for your project.
Our goal is to help you understand the process and give you confidence that our products are designed based on years of manufacturing experience and time-tested performance in the field.
Videos: Edge Banding Basics
Here is a stripped down version of edge banding. Of course, when building furniture for Higher Education and Military customers, we do this on an industrial scale. But this video will help you visualize the process in its simplest form.
If you enjoyed this article, you can check out the full Nuts & Bolts Series here.