Plywood, Reimagined

GUEST BLOGGER:  Chris Long, Home Depot

Plywood, Reimagined

If the thought of plywood conjures up the image of a splotchy, cumbersome 4×8 ft. panel of lumber your dad’s always using for his backyard projects, it is definitely time to reconsider what is possible with plywood.

There are so many useful and creative ways to utilize this material – it’s time to stop thinking about it as only something that’s covered over by other building materials. Using plywood can be a unique and surprisingly affordable answer to your next woodworking project.

Know Your Wood

It is important to understand what you are working with when you consider using plywood. All plywood is composed of thin sheets of composite material wood glued together, with their adjacent layers’ wood grain rotated up to 90 degrees to increase strength, stability, consistency and to reduce warping.

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The number of layers, also called veneers or plies, is typically odd so that the sheet is balanced. More plies create a stronger, thicker and more balanced piece of plywood. Generally, the outermost veneers will be of higher quality than the core veneers. This allows for the best looking layers to face outward.

Find the Right Size and Be Selective

You can find plywood in the standard 4×8 ft. and 2×4 ft. sheets, as well as in smaller panels, and it is important to calculate what you will need to cut down on waste. Depending on the scope of your project, you will most likely be able to transport your material in your vehicle without having to rent a trailer, although the 4×8 footers can be heavy, difficult to maneuver, and should be brought home by truck.

  • Plywood thickness typically measures 1/8″, 1/4″, 1/2″, and 3/4″. Remember to use a 3/4″ thickness for all load-bearing structures.
  • Always bring your own tape measure and make your own measurements before you purchase a piece of lumber. The listed dimensions are very rarely exact.
  • Be sure you are using quality equipment when cutting plywood to avoid mishaps. If you aren’t sure, have a professional do it for you or order the wood pre-cut to your specifications.

Hardwoods

For high quality cabinet making and any projects with exposed plywood, hardwood plywood is the way to go. Hardwoods can be easily stained or painted to give your finished product a stylish look. Birch plywood is a very effective and affordable choice when considering hardwood plywood, which also include maple, cherry, walnut, red oak, and even bamboo.

The Advantages of Hardwoods

The cores of hardwood plywoods, like birch, have fewer impurities and work well for projects involving gluing and screw-holding.

  • They are strong and stable at a thickness over 1/2″.
  • Their edges can be routed, left bare, or covered with edge banding.
  • Thicker face veneers allow for greater margin of error when sanding.

Softwoods

Softwood plywood is the material commonly used for industrial purposes and in the construction of roofs, walls, and sub-flooring, where it is generally covered up. Softwood is usually produced from cedar, spruce, pine, and fir trees and appreciated more for its utility than its aesthetic. However, using semi-transparent stain or varnish to accentuate its prominent grain structure can lead to interesting effects.

We all know that plywood is a great choice for shelving and cabinetry but don’t stop considering it there. It can be the ultimate building block for just about anything. The possibilities are truly as unlimited as your imagination.

You can transform a room with exposed panels of stained or laminated plywoods on the wall, ceiling or floor. Check out some of the furniture, headboards, doors, light fixtures and pieces of art people have created with plywood to get your ideas flowing. Beautiful woods can be applied as the surface veneer to pieces of plywood to create inexpensive masterpieces.

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Thinking about building your own entertainment center, magazine stand or wine rack, plywood may save you time and money. Take the time to investigate this medium before you get started on your next woodworking adventure.

Chris Long is a store associate at a Chicago-area Home Depot. Chris is a frequent contributor on lumber and wood topics for the Home Depot website. His DIY advice for homeowners ranges from plywoods and hardwoods to trim and molding.

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