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Types of Plywood & Their Uses

Plywood is one of the most widely used and versatile materials in construction, furniture making, and DIY projects. Crafted using multiple layers of wood veneers bonded together to form a flat sheet, plywood is popular thanks to its strength and adaptability.

This engineered wood product comes in various types and grades, each suited for different uses and environments. Whether it's creating robust furniture or detailed architectural models, plywood offers a reliable solution that professionals and hobbyists alike depend on.

What is Plywood?

Plywood is an engineered wood product made from three or more thin layers of wood, also known as veneers, glued together. Each layer is laid with its grain running at right angles to the adjacent layer, a process that enhances the strength and minimises the expansion and shrinkage of the wood.

This cross-graining technique makes plywood a highly stable and strong material, ideal for a wide range of applications.

The layers are bonded under high heat and pressure, which fuses them together permanently. Plywood is available in various thicknesses and sizes, making it a highly adaptable material for both structural and aesthetic applications.

General Properties of Plywood

Plywood possesses several notable properties that make it a popular choice across different industries. Its dimensional stability means it resists warping and bending, which is crucial for construction and manufacturing projects. Plywood also offers excellent strength-to-weight ratio, making it ideal for furniture design and architectural applications where durability is essential but heavy materials are impractical.

Another significant characteristic of plywood is its versatility in terms of finish and treatment. It can be painted, stained, or varnished to suit various aesthetic requirements. The outer layers of the plywood can be made from high-quality wood to provide a decorative finish, or it can be made from more economical wood if it will be covered by paint or another finish.

These general properties highlight why plywood is so widely used in construction and furniture making. From the ability to withstand considerable loads to its ease of manipulation and customisation, plywood continues to be a key material in many projects.

Types of Plywood

Plywood is categorised into several types based on the wood source, treatment process, and intended use. Here are some of the most common types of plywood sheets:

Softwood Plywood

Typically made from cedar, Douglas fir, or spruce, softwood plywood is primarily used in construction for roofing, flooring, and wall sheathing due to its strength and durability.

Hardwood Plywood

Made from hardwoods like oak, maple, or birch, this type is favoured for its fine grain and aesthetic appeal, making it suitable for furniture and cabinetry.

Marine Plywood

Specially treated to resist moisture and fungal decay, marine plywood is ideal for use in environments exposed to water, such as boats and docks.

Structural Plywood

Engineered to meet specific strength ratings, structural plywood is used in permanent structures, offering enhanced stability and load-bearing capabilities.

Each type of plywood sheet has unique characteristics tailored to specific applications, ensuring optimal performance in various environments.

Plywood Characteristics

The performance and utility of plywood are influenced by several key features:

Grain Direction

The orientation of the wood fibres affects the strength and flexibility of the plywood. Cross-grained layers help the panel resist splitting and provide uniform strength across all directions.


Varying thicknesses cater to different load requirements, with thicker sheets used for more demanding applications that require greater strength.

Rating Systems

Plywood sheets are rated based on quality and performance standards, which guide users in choosing the right type for specific needs, such as exterior, interior, and structural usage.

Common Uses of Plywood

Plywood for Furniture

In the furniture industry, plywood is extensively utilised for its versatility and strength. Different types of plywood are selected based on their properties.

Hardwood plywood offers a visually appealing surface that is ideal for visible pieces like cabinet doors and tabletops. Both hardwood and marine plywood provide long-lasting durability, essential for furniture that will experience regular use or exposure to moisture.

The adaptability of plywood allows designers and manufacturers to use it in a wide range of furniture products, from high-end to functional pieces.

Plywood Uses in Construction

Plywood plays a crucial role in construction due to its structural properties. It is used in a variety of ways

Structural plywood serves as a critical component in framing, offering robustness and resilience for walls, floors, and roofs.

Beyond structural uses, plywood is also employed for its aesthetic versatility in interior applications such as panelling, ceilings, and decorative features.

By leveraging its strengths and diverse types, plywood meets a broad spectrum of needs, from structural integrity to aesthetic design elements in both furniture making and construction.

Plywood Properties and Uses

Technical Properties

Plywood's technical properties make it an indispensable material in various industries. These properties include tensile strength, which refers to the plywood's ability to resist tension and handle weight without snapping. This strength is crucial in construction and furniture applications where durability and load-bearing capabilities are paramount.

Flexibility is another vital attribute, particularly for decorative uses where the plywood may need to curve or bend. Despite its layered construction, certain types of thin plywood can be quite flexible, allowing for innovative architectural and furniture designs.

Resistance to moisture and chemicals is enhanced in specific types of plywood like marine plywood, which is designed to withstand harsh, wet conditions commonly found in outdoor and maritime environments. This makes it ideal for use in boat construction and exterior structures.

Each of these properties has practical applications:

  1. Tensile Strength: Utilised in constructing platforms and supports that require high durability.
  2. Flexibility: Ideal for creating modern, curved furniture or interior design elements.
  3. Moisture and Chemical Resistance: Necessary for outdoor furniture, cabinetry in high humidity areas, and structures exposed to the elements.

Choosing the Right Plywood

Factors to Consider

Selecting the right type of plywood for a project requires consideration of several factors to ensure the material meets the specific needs of the application. Here are the key considerations:

  • Project Requirements: Understand the structural and aesthetic demands of the project. Does the plywood need to support significant weight, withstand outdoor conditions, or have a fine finish?
  • Environmental Conditions: Consider the environment where the plywood will be used. Areas with high humidity or direct exposure to water demand moisture-resistant plywood like marine grade.
  • Budget: Plywood varies in price depending on its type and quality. Balance your budget with the requirements of the project to choose a suitable type without overspending.

Plywood for Different Environments

Choosing the right plywood for different environmental conditions is crucial to ensure the longevity and effectiveness of the project. Here’s a guide to help select:

  • Moisture-Prone Areas: Marine plywood is the best choice for high moisture areas as it is specifically treated to resist rot and fungal decay.
  • Outdoor Use: Exterior-grade plywood, made with waterproof glue, holds up well against the elements and is suitable for outdoor furniture, signs, and external structures.
  • Indoor Use: For indoor furniture or cabinets, hardwood plywood provides a beautiful finish with sufficient durability for less harsh conditions.

Understanding these factors and the suitable types of plywood for various environments helps ensure that the selected plywood will perform as needed, providing both functionality and aesthetic appeal in any setting.

Maintaining and Treating Plywood

Proper maintenance and treatment are essential for extending the life of plywood and preserving its quality, especially when used in environments susceptible to wear and tear. Here are some best practices for caring for plywood:

Sealing Plywood

Sealing is crucial to protect plywood from moisture and prevent warping. Use a quality sealant appropriate for the type of plywood and its application. For example, marine plywood used outdoors should be sealed with a marine-grade sealant to enhance its water resistance.

Painting Plywood

Painting not only adds aesthetic value but also acts as an additional layer of protection against moisture and UV damage. Start by applying a primer that is compatible with both the paint and the plywood type. This will ensure better adhesion of the topcoat. Use a paint that is suitable for the plywood’s environment, such as exterior-grade paint for outdoor use.

Handling and Storage

Handle plywood with care to avoid dents and scratches that can compromise its structural integrity. Store plywood in a dry, flat area to prevent bending or warping over time. Do not lean heavy objects against plywood sheets, as this can cause them to deform.

Regular Inspections

Regularly check plywood for signs of damage such as cracking, mould growth, and delamination. Early detection can help you take timely measures to repair the plywood or replace it if necessary.

Plywood FAQs

What is plywood mainly used for?

Plywood is a highly versatile material used across a wide range of applications. Its primary uses include construction for structural framing, walls, and roofing; in furniture making for cabinets, tables, and wardrobes; and in interior design for panelling and decorative accents. Its strength and ease of use make it suitable for both indoor and outdoor projects.

Are there different types of plywood?

Yes, there are several different types of plywood, each suited for specific applications:

  • Softwood Plywood: Commonly used in construction for structural elements.
  • Hardwood Plywood: Preferred for furniture and cabinetry due to its fine finish.
  • Marine Plywood: Specially treated to resist moisture, ideal for use in environments exposed to water.
  • Birch Plywood: Known for its strength and smooth surface, excellent for high-end furniture and decorative items.
  • Flexible Plywood: Designed for creating curved surfaces without the need for bending wood.

What should I consider when choosing plywood for furniture?

When selecting plywood for furniture, consider the following:

  • Durability: Ensure the plywood is strong enough to handle the stress and wear it will encounter.
  • Finish: Look for plywood that has a smooth surface and attractive grain if it will be visible.
  • Thickness: Choose a thickness that supports the structure and function of the furniture piece.
  • Type: Hardwood plywood is typically recommended for furniture due to its durability and aesthetic appeal.

How do you properly maintain and treat plywood?

Proper maintenance and treatment of plywood can significantly extend its lifespan:

  • Sealing: Apply a sealant to protect against moisture, especially if the plywood is used outdoors.
  • Painting: Use appropriate primers and paints to protect and enhance the appearance of plywood.
  • Storage: Store plywood in a dry, flat area to prevent warping and bending.
  • Regular Checks: Inspect the plywood regularly for any signs of damage or deterioration, and address issues promptly to prevent further damage.

Does all plywood need to be primed before painting?

Yes, priming plywood before painting is essential to ensure the paint adheres properly and the finish is smooth and even. Priming seals the porous surface of the wood, preventing the paint from soaking in and helping achieve a better finish with fewer coats of paint.