What is plywood?

Plywood is a popular material that is used favoured by construction workers.

Being cost-effective and sturdy, it has many benefits, but what is plywood? And what other facts about plywood that you should know? Read on to find out more.

Well, let’s start at the beginning.

Why is plywood so popular?

Plywood is popular for many reasons.

Particularly within construction, it is a great material when you need a board that is high strength, has great flexibility, has difficulty in bending, can withstand impact, fire and is resistant to chemicals.

Plywood is even an effective insulator, so it is commonly used in the home and for construction projects.

Plywood also has numerous uses, from creating light partitions and external walls, to be used for doors, flooring and in the creation of furniture like desks and shelves.

So, what is plywood?

Plywood is a board made up of layers of timber veneer.

These thin layers are placed on top of each other to make a board around 3mm thick, allowing it to be lightweight and relatively sturdy at the same time.

And something that you may not be aware of is that each layer of the plywood board is not made from the same type of wood.

In fact, the interior layers are made from inexpensive wood, and the top and bottom layers will typically be of a higher quality.

This is because the higher quality wood will have more of a ‘grain’, providing that ‘timber-looking’ appearance that is favoured stylistically.

How plywood is made

Once you understand that plywood is made from thin veneer layers, the process of its creation makes much more sense

The process of creating plywood starts with a log being softened with steam, which is then mounted on a ‘lathe’, a piece of machinery that rotates to reshape the wood.

From here, a long knife will be used to peel off a thin layer of the wood to create a sheet of plywood veneer.

Plywood boards are made by layering these wood veneers together with glue and compressing them with heat.

Each board is then cut to its necessary size for use across all areas of construction.

Plywood can be made from both soft and hardwoods and sometimes even a mixture of the two.

Softwood used for the construction of plywood can include pine and spruce, with the most common being the Douglas fir.

Hardwood used, on the other hand, includes oak, maple and mahogany.

Plywood created by mixing these two types of wood together is usually for construction projects where thicker, stronger sheets are needed to enhance the structure.

Plywood is typically cut for its intended use to ensure that it maintains significant strength for its purpose.

For example, if the intended purpose of a sheet of plywood was for use in construction, the timber could be curved to ensure it has the strength to maintain a heavy weight.

Most plywood is made from at least three plywood veneers, or ‘plies’, glued together to ensure it’s as sturdy and durable as possible.

Although it’s an affordable product, it is typically used for the building of furniture and even flooring due to its durability and attractive look.

On some occasions, you may notice defects in plywood boards, as these are unavoidable when cut into sheets.

Will plywood warp?

It is possible for plywood to warp when exposed to high levels of moisture and heat.

In a plywood board’s creation, when a new layer of veneer is added, the grain will be rotated at right angles. This method will keep each layer as strong as possible to help prevent warping and reduce the chance of shrinking.

But, when plywood is left exposed to direct sunlight or outdoors with a high level of moisture, this can cause warping.

If the moisture content of each outer veneer differs dramatically, the side with lower moisture content may bow, causing that warping effect.

This is a particular issue with flooring, as one side is open to the elements, whereas the other is covered, which means one said can be exposed more than the other.

If slightly warped, a plywood board can still be used.

But it’s essential to understand how and where your plywood will be installed beforehand. If it’s going to be used in an area where it is prone to bright daylight or moisture, it may be worth a re-think.

Which plywood is best?

There are also a number of different plywood types that are best suited for different uses.

The four different types of plywood include:

  • structural
  • external
  • interior
  • and marine

For construction, most will opt for structural plywood, as this is best suited for permanent structures.

This type of plywood can be used for flooring, beams and bracing panels as it’s strong, durable and long-lasting.

External plywood is optimised for use outdoors, so will have been created using water-resistant glue to be less likely to succumb to the elements.

Pine is one of the most popular, and basic, external plywood materials, but oak is a great external option as it is resistant to insects and infection, so has all the right components for use outdoors.

Interior plywood is often used for wall panelling and furniture creation due to its beautiful finish, but can’t be used outdoors as it doesn’t deal well with wet, damp conditions.

You might notice that interior plywood is available in a number of decorative finishes, making it a popular choice for use within the home.

Marine plywood is, as its name suggests, used for construction in a marine setting, such as for ships or at docks.

Being resistant to water damage, it works well in humid and wet conditions, being able to be last well in exposure to prolonged moisture.

It’s resistant to bending and warping in wet conditions, making it perfect to maintain its structural integrity surrounded by water.

So, now you have all the facts about plywood, we hope you understand ‘what is plywood’ and why we think it’s such an effective material for lots of different uses.

If you’re in need of help choosing plywood for your project, the team here at Timber Shiplap Cladding would be more than happy to help.

Why not browse our range of plywood options to understand what we have to offer, and get in touch with us by phone on 01377 254930 or email us at info@timber-shiplap-cladding.co.uk.