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Discussion Starter #1
My office may order a custom-made secretary/receptionist area desk. There is a debate about the work surface.

One person says that if the surface is solid wood, rather than plywood, it will be more expensive and will require an expensive glass top to protect the "more expensive" surface.

Another person says that a solid wood top is more durable than a plywood top and a glass cover would not be necessary.

Opinions? (At this point we do not have price estimates on either option.)
 

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The exposed surface can be exactly the same ... a solid Cherry vs. Plywood with a top veneer of Cherry.

I am probably just stating the obvious, but you brought it up.
Plywood provides a better construction, since the grain of each layer is 90 degrees from the layer above and below, good plywood is extremely strong and stable.
With a surface of synthetic material, you get a strong table with an almost indestructible surface.
 

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The plywood top will be made of a thin veneer versus a solid wood top. Both tops will be coated with some type of final finish for protection and to highlight the piece. Both tops can be damaged with nicks, water rings, etc. Solid wood will cost more than a plywood veneer and both can still look great.
Many pieces are made of a combination of solid wood and veneers.
 

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The first thing you need to know is the price of each type of top. That will make a big difference in what you choose.

George
 

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plywood will have fewer issues

Plywood will not warp, or check or separate as may solid wood. OK, it may be very unlikely, but what can happen may happen. As far as durability of the "surface" it depends on what it's finished with. I have a beautiful Mission Style computer desk with a plywood top. I accidentally slid my computer tower across it and because it had no padded feet, it left a huge scratch. I experimented with some lacquer thinner and found that indeed it was a lacquer finish. I was able to spray on some stain and some Deft and rub it out completely hiding the scratch Whew!.

A lacquer finish can be refinished easier than a Poly finish in my experience. You have to re-do the entire surface with Poly, but you can partially or spot repair a lacquer finish. I don't like a glass top any any wood surface, unless it's barnwood with deep grain crevices which may collect food or other dirt.

The plywood will be cheaper I suspect, if that is a consideration.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I don't like a glass top any any wood surface,
Thanks for the answers, everyone.

As for glass, I agree. I recently got a "new" desk in my office that is an old piece that had been refinished and it is stunningly beautiful. They put a glass top on it to protect it.
One thing I learned--an optical mouse won't work on a glass top. It needs a mouse pad.

 

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Discussion Starter #7
The first thing you need to know is the price of each type of top. That will make a big difference in what you choose.

George
That's one thing we're trying to find out.

It would be some coincidence if the guy who's going to do the work happens to be a member here. . . .:surprise2: :smile3:
 

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Consider that any wood top, veneer or solid will show every pencil or ball point pen mark that is made through the paper as a dent. Plywood is a poor choice for a veneer sub-straight, MDF or particle board is preferred. A more durable surface is laminate.
 

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plywood vs real wood ?

Your question was between plywood and solid wood, so those were the type of answers you received. Maybe a better question would be given the application as a secretary or receptionist's desk, what would be the best surface? The use of pencils or ball points may be more frequent on this surface than on an executive's desk, but more than likely there will be telephones, mouse pads and monitors taking up most of the space. It will certainly get more abuse than an executive's desk, unless they put their feet up on it with muddy shoes on.... :surprise2:

A laminate surface will undure more abuse, but look like a laminate, a glass top would work but be very cold to the touch and could get chipped, a wood top will be more fragile, but much better looking and warm to the touch. There are desk top pads for use in high wear conditions that will leave enough wood showing to still have the look. My computer desk has slide out wood panels on either side with mouse pads recessed in. The top is finished in clear lacquer and does show the grain, so it's not good for writing. Many choices and many variables here .....
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Consider that any wood top, veneer or solid will show every pencil or ball point pen mark that is made through the paper as a dent. Plywood is a poor choice for a veneer sub-straight, MDF or particle board is preferred. A more durable surface is laminate.
We have a conference table that was covered with an old laminate, and when it was redone it was covered with a new laminate. Certainly it's a higher quality, being that it's about 40 years' newer laminate technology, but. . . .meh.

I'd prefer to avoid particle board and similar. We have some older pieces that are particle board underneath laminates. The core starts to show through when the corners get dinged or rub through.

I see your points about pen/pencil marks, dropped keys, coffee cup scratches, etc.

Believe it or not, there are some people in the office who see surface marks as being part of the provenance.
 

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:nerd2: Some of us haven't made the leap to iPads and laptops and notebooks and chromebooks yet.
I still use a mouse even with my 11.3" laptop. Even when traveling. It is just much, much easier to use than the builtin mouse pad.

George
 

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People still use mice? What year is this.
When they finally can build a tablet that's as power as a desktop then we can ask that question, but the question I would ask of you is what input device do you think would be better to use than the trusty mouse?

Engineers have been trying to crack that nut for 50+ years, and were still here using mice!
 

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Others may have covered it already, but the best surface from both cost and durability is plywood with a laminate top. Even my workbench on which I do a lot of pounding everyday is 3/4" ply with laminate.
 

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The laminate manufacturers recommend particle board (45# or greater) or MDF rather than using plywood. Particle board gets a bad rap because so much of the cheap furniture and stuff sold at the big box outlets is low quality board. The industrial board sold through distribution yards, to places like my shop, is denser with a higher pressing pressure and more glue, that's what leads to the higher density. It is still subject to water damage, though there are water resistant varieties available. I don't know where the home shop/very small shop can buy industrial board since most is sold in full unit lots, 33 to 40 sheets to the unit. The nice thing about it is the great variety of sizes and thicknesses available. We use 11/16 as a substrate for veneering to give a finished panel 3/4". I'm not sure if this is a sure fired way of telling you are buying industrial board at the big box stores or not, BUT a 5 X 12 sheet typically measures about 61 X 145" and has a very smooth face made up of fine particles. What is referred to as "Western Board" has better machining characteristics than southern board. Know your materials!
 
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