Is Plywood What You Think It Is?

Have you been misinformed about plywood? Are you prejudiced against plywood? Well… that just might be holding you back.

It’s okay because you’re not alone. Even I used to think plywood was just crap only sold at hardware stores to be used then covered up. Boy was I wrong. Though I’d be correct when thinking of OSB board like that, but we are not here to talk about that shit.

Plywood is most commonly made of pine or birch, but it can be made from all kinds of woods from soft, like pine, to hardwoods, like walnut or ash. You will not usually see many different types of plys at your local hardware store, but you can find them at specialty woodworking stores or online. 

Plywood comes in 4'x8' sheets 1/4"-1" thick. Trees are cut into long strips like pulling toilet paper off a roll. Then the strips are cut into 4'x8' sheets, layered on top of each other with the grain usually turning 90 degrees from the one below it. This helps the boards stay straighter and stronger. Finally, they are glued together. When buying plywood or something made from plywood make sure it is formaldehyde free. 

When you think of plywood do you think of Charles & Ray Eames iconic plywood chairs, Alvar Aalto’s Paimio Lounge chair, armchair 400 and 406 or stool 60 (yeah he did a lot with plywood) or The Isokon Short Chair? Well maybe you should because these plywood designs are still produced today and radically changed furniture design!

Plywood is used in diverse ways. It is used to make open source CNC designs, bending forms, walls and floors. High-end kitchen cabinets use plywood to construct the frame and these hold up heavy countertops for dozens of years.

Engineered hardwood floors are made of plywood too. They are great because they experience less expansion and contraction than solid hardwoods. A negative aspect of engineered floors is that they cannot be refinished as many times but floors rarely need refinishing.

There are other drawbacks to plywood. Unfortunately, some plywood manufactures still use formaldehyde to glue the layers together although many companies are moving away from it. Some plywood sheets do not stay perfectly level although you can combat this by adding support or using thicker plywood. The edges can look aesthetically odd and out of place so many people cover it up or paint it. 

The biggest drawback is our perception of plywood. I hope this article helps you overcome your perception of plywood and allows you to embrace it. Don’t be afraid to build something with plywood or buy something made with plywood.

Below are videos and articles about plywood:

How plywood is made:

Plywood interiors:

Diverse Articles on uses of plywood: