Different Types of Plywood and Their Uses

Plywood sheets are a man-made material manufactured by bonding three or more (always an odd number) layers (plies) of wood together to form a panel. Each layer’s grain is at 90 degrees to its neighbor before being glued, which helps prevent warping, shrinking, or expanding, giving the sheet its strength, and stability.

Plywood, like other timber products, is graded according to the quality of the panel’s face layer. There are four plywood grades, A, B, C, and D.

  • Grade A is the best. The face layer is smooth and gives a quality painted finish.
  • Grade B is not as smooth as Grade A and can contain minor flaws.
  • Grade C can have knots in the panel.
  • Grade D is the least costly, with knots and flaws on the surfaces.

Depending on the intended application, the different types of plywood include:

Softwood Plywood

Softwood plywood is generally manufactured using Cedar, Douglas Fir, or Redwood, since these trees grow all year long, reaching maturity much faster. Used mostly in construction applications where strength and durability are needed, but a smooth surface finish is not.

Typical uses of softwood plywood are roof and wall sheathing, and sub-floor installations. The panels can range between 1/8 and 1-1/4-inch thick, although the most widely used are between 1/4-inch and 3/4-inch. The number of plies is governed by the grade and the thickness of the sheet.

For example, a 3/4-inch panel that can be bought at a home-improvement store is generally five-ply. Two face plies and three core plies. (Most DIY enthusiasts find this plywood the most economical to use). However, if the panel needs strength and increased bending resistance, seven, nine, or thirteen plies can be used and still have a thickness of 3/4-inch.

Common Uses of Softwood Plywood:

  • Roof and wall sheathing
  • Subfloors
  • Eaves and soffits
  • Workbenches
  • Sawhorses
  • General-purpose shelves
  • Attic flooring

Hardwood Plywood

Hardwood plywood is made from trees such as Oak, Mahogany, Maple, and Beech. It is the plywood of choice when an attractive, smooth finished surface is needed such as in the manufacture of furniture and cabinets.

This plywood is usually graded as AB, where the face is grade A, the best quality, and the opposite face or the inside of the cabinet is grade B. If the project in hand involves any load-bearing or has the possibility of being exposed to the elements, choose plywood that has multiple layers, which produces a stronger, thicker board.

Usually three-ply is the most widely used indoors, five-ply can be used outdoors and indoors, but is not suitable for structural framing. Seven or more plywood layers can be used for framing, roofing, and other outdoor scenarios where stability and strength are needed.

Common Uses of Hardwood Plywood:

  • Furniture manufacturing
  • Built-in closets
  • Kitchen cabinets
  • Doors
  • Interior paneling
  • Chests
  • Toys
  • Skateboards

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