OPEN: MON - FRI 8AM - 5PM
Current lead time for cut & edge orders is 8 - 9 working daysCOLLECTIONS: 8AM - 4PM
Current lead time for cut & edge orders is 8 - 9 working days

Cworkshop's How To

Ultimate plywood buying guide

An introduction to

Plywood

To the untrained eye, there may not seem to be many differences between different types of plywood, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Birch plywood can come in many forms and grades. However, as each has its unique properties and appearance, knowing which type of plywood is right for you can make the difference in ensuring that your project is successful. Choosing the best plywood for your project saves you time and cuts costs throughout the process. 

If you are on the hunt for plywood for your next project but you're not too sure where to start, our guide will provide you with all of the vital information you could need, including the benefits, construction, different types and grades of plywood available. We recommend doing your research to ensure that the materials you're buying are appropriate for your project. Chances are, if you're in the midst of a project, you won't have time to do this, so luckily for you, we've done it for you.

Why choose plywood?

Over the years, plywood has become the building material of choice for professional woodworkers, carpenters and amateur DIY-ers alike. From its sustainability to its extreme versatility, plywood is the perfect material for many projects. 

Plywood is made from timber cut into sheets and pressed together under pressure using adhesive. Impressively solid and versatile, the cross-lamination of panels in birch plywood allow it distributes the force over a wider surface area, causing it to be highly resistant to impact. Despite its strength, plywood maintains impressive levels of flexibility, making it perfect for use in furniture or anything that uses curved surfaces.

Due to the application of substances to wood veneers during the manufacture of the plies that make up plywood, it is moisture-resistant and chemical-resistant. This resistance makes plywood a better choice than MDF for use in general-purpose home furniture such as tables, chairs, decking and planters, as it is in industries in which exposure to chemicals is commonplace. 

As well as being an excellent thermal and noise insulator, plywood carries an aesthetic appeal. The warm and natural aesthetic of birch plywood is both timeless and contemporary, making it easy on the eye in most uses. 

Boasting all of these benefits and their affordability, it is hardly surprising that individuals and businesses of all sizes reap the benefits of birch plywood as a material.

What is plywood made of?

Plywood is not a naturally-occurring wood; it is the product of manufacturing engineering. Three or more boards (or veneers) made of timber to construct plywood are put together with an adhesive. At Cworkshop, we use exterior quality thermosetting in most of our birch plywood to ensure the utmost quality. Traditionally known as WBP (weather and boil proof) adhesive, the dark glue between ply sheets in most of our products is solid and creates a pleasant contemporary style. Plywood is far lighter than particle boards like MDF as it is made from wood sheets instead of compressed fibre particles.

The plies that make up your plywood panel are glued at a 90-degree angle to one another for the wood grains to work in different directions. This cross-graining is required for a variety of reasons - it reduces splitting, expansion, shrinkage, provides stability and ensures that the panel maintains a consistent strength in all directions. 

Types of ply

The ply of a board means the number of layers, sheets, or wood veneers that make up a plywood board. If you are looking to build something substantial, you will need a board with a larger millimetre thickness (mm), that is to say, more wood veneers. Simply, the number of the ply is the number of sheets in the material. 

One important thing to remember is that each separate veneer or sheet, which compromises a plywood board, can vary in mm. How strong you need your finished design will determine the mm thickness of the individual plywood sheet and the number of sheets in your plywood product. 

3-Ply
A 3-ply panel will have three birch plywood sheets and is commonly employed for indoor uses because of its decorative qualities. 3-ply will often have a thinner mm measurement due to fewer sheets.
5-Ply
A 5-ply panel will have five layers of veneers, ideal for projects that require less durability and strength than those needed for exterior use but still sturdy enough for regular use.
Multi-Ply
Multi-ply plywood is solid and durable, so it is mainly used for exterior use and to build sturdier structures. With the higher mm thickness and industrial strength, multi-ply will withstand external forces and hold greater weight.

Different grades of ply we sell

Plywood grades refer to the finish of the veneers, ranging from A-D. The higher the grade, the fewer imperfections the material will bear. The higher grades hold a robust and warm finish, whereas lower grades have visible defects and knots on the surface. Lower grades are mainly used for structural works and packaging, where they won't be seen.

Cworkshop specialises in high-grade, B-grade birch plywood for optimum quality and value, although many varieties of high-quality plywood are available for your projects.

Plywood grade B/BB
B/BB plywood is the grade available for clear-finishing because of its natural appearance. B grade birch plywood offers a natural aesthetic and is suitable for most furniture making, and joinery as the finish of the wood works well on exteriors of products. B grade face plywood is attached to a slightly lower grade BB back to tell which face of the material will face the exterior. Cworkshop offer B/BB Plywood in 12mm, 18mm and 24mm thickness to suit your project needs.
Plywood grade BB/BB
BB/BB plywood features two BB grade faces and is used primarily in commercial or utility-grade projects. The slightly rugged sheet material in BB/BB grade plywood has knots and other imperfections that can add charm for clear-finishing furniture. BB/BB is suitable for all general construction and furniture work. Cworkshop stock an impressive range of BB/BB plywood in both BB/BB Length Oriented Grain and BB/BB Cross Grain varieties. BB/BB plywood panels can be ordered in a range of mm thicknesses.

At Cworkshop, we don't offer low-grade ply, but the lower grades can work for many construction projects.

If the appearance of your project is not important, for instance, if you are building a structure that will be covered or purely functional, lower grades can be useful. 

 

Plywood types

Different lumber from different tree types impacts the finished plywood product. Timber from various species shouldn't be mixed when layering plywood sheets as other woods, like softwood and hardwood, are used for different purposes.

Birch plywood example
Birch plywood
Birch plywood is made of a plain hardwood panel with a smooth finish often used as a home improvement material. Birch is popular in furniture design because it has an elegant, scandi-style finish with very few knots. Depending on the aesthetic you wish to achieve in your project, it can be left untreated or stained. 18mm plywood board is the most popular choice for construction and DIY as it is a great quality material at an affordable cost.
Softwood plywood kitchen cabinet
Softwood plywood
Softwood plywood can be made of wood veneers from redwood, pine or cedar, as well as other softwoods. Softwood is a little easier to work with for power tools, screw-holding, and painting. As such, softwood is perfect for sheathing, roofs and flooring. Be on the wary side of your project is outdoors as softwood is not recommended for wet conditions as it is not waterproof or weather-resistant.
Hardwood plywood kitchen
Hardwood plywood
Hardwood plywood has up to seven layers of hardwood sheet materials. Ranging from birch, maple, oak, and other types of hardwood, hardwood plywood means business when it comes to strength.
veneered plywood
Veneered plywood
Veneer overlay boards have identical plies as other boards, but they have an additional decorative layer. This veneer makes overlaid panels ideal for projects where the aesthetic of the final piece is valued, whether you want a sanded or polished finish.

Marine plywood

Marine plywood is one of the highest grade types available, coated with a water-resistant layer. Marine plywood has an admittedly misleading name as is not entirely waterproof, but it is designed to withstand moisture. Marine plywood is great for the outdoors, but be wary that you don't get misled as any plywood with knotholes cannot be marine plywood.

We also sell melamine-faced plywood, a panel used for its durable melamine surface but with the added benefit of aesthtic appeal around the edges which can further enhance a piece of furniture. 

Cworkshop has a range of marine and melamine plywood available to suit your project:

Bruynzeel Hechthout Gaboon Plywood
Gaboon Lightweight Marine plywood
Indonesian Marine Plywood
White Melamine Birch Plywood

Plywood is the perfect material for most of your construction and DIY projects.

A lightweight, quality alternative to MDF, plywood offers customisable construction capabilities. Please take a look at our range of high-grade plywood and start building your project!