What is Plywood and Why is it a Beginner’s Best Friend in the Woodshop?

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Have you ever wondered what is plywood and why it’s such a staple in every woodshop?

Well, let me tell ya, it’s a real game-changer!

Now, if you’ve ever wandered through the aisles of your local lumber yard, you’ve likely seen stacks of this versatile material.

Plywood is a real workhorse in the woodworking world, beloved for its strength, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness.

Origin and History of Plywood

What is plywood?  This picture shows an example of plywood, having some sheets stacked together and you're able to see the layers of wood adhered together.
You can see this and more like it at Berta Store.

Well, let me take y’all on a little journey back in time. Plywood’s story starts way back in ancient Egypt.

Can you believe those crafty Egyptians were layering thin sheets of wood to make a stronger material? They sure knew a thing or two about getting the most out of their resources!

Fast forward a few thousand years, and plywood as we know it started taking shape in the early 20th century.

Folks figured out that by gluing thin layers of wood veneer together with their grains at right angles, they could create a super strong and stable material.

This method is called cross-graining, and it helps prevent warping and splitting.

These days, most of our plywood comes from countries with plenty of timber, like the USA, Canada, and Russia.

It’s made from a variety of woods, depending on what’s available and the intended use.

Plywood quickly became a favorite among builders and woodworkers alike for its versatility and durability.

From ancient pharaohs to modern-day DIYers, plywood has come a long way and found its place in workshops around the world.

Plywood’s Physical Characteristics

A very good close up picture of plywood, showing the smooth surface and layers of wood that make it.
You can see this and more like it at Total Wood Store.

Alrighty, let’s talk about the physical characteristics of plywood. Now, plywood can be a bit of a chameleon, changing its look based on the type of wood used for the outer layers.

You might find plywood with a light, creamy pine finish or something richer like a deep mahogany. It all depends on the veneer on top.

The beauty of plywood lies in its smooth surface and even texture.

Since it’s made from layers of wood veneer glued together, it doesn’t have the same grain patterns you find in solid wood.

This makes it a dream to work with, no worrying about tricky knots or unpredictable grain shifts.

Plywood is also known for being strong yet surprisingly lightweight.

Its strength comes from the way the layers are glued with their grains at right angles, giving it a sturdy structure that resists warping and splitting.

Plus, it’s got a smooth surface that’s perfect for painting, staining, or just leaving as-is for a natural look.

So, whether you’re building furniture or crafting decorative pieces, plywood’s got the looks and the strength to see your project through.

Working Properties

A very cool picture of a bench made from a series of cnc cute plywood boards put together in a row.
You can see this and more like it from iParametric.

Let’s dive into the working properties of plywood.

First off, you’ll be pleased to know that plywood is a joy to work with. It cuts like a dream, whether you’re using a hand saw or a power saw.

Those layers of veneer make it super stable, so you won’t have to worry about it splitting or warping on you.

When it comes to sanding, plywood’s smooth surface makes the job easy as pie. You can get a nice, even finish without too much elbow grease.

Just be careful not to sand through the top layer of veneer, as it’s usually pretty thin.

Now, let’s talk about finishing.

Plywood takes paint and stain beautifully. Its even texture means you won’t have any surprises when you apply your finish.

Recommended Reading: Types of Wood Finishes (A Guide for New Woodworkers)

Just make sure to seal the edges well if your project might be exposed to moisture. Those edges can be a bit thirsty!

One thing to keep in mind is that plywood can be tough on your tools. The glue between the layers can dull your blades faster than solid wood.

So, keep those saw blades and drill bits sharp, and you’ll be good to go.

Finally, the best part about working with plywood is that you don’t need any fancy tools. Your regular saws, drills, and sanders will do just fine.

It’s versatile, easy to handle, and perfect for new woodworkers looking to build their skills. So, grab a sheet and get started on your next project!

Structural Applications For Plywood

Here are some structural applications where plywood really shines:

  • Subflooring: Plywood is a top choice for subflooring because it’s strong and stable, providing a solid foundation for your floors.
  • Roof Sheathing: It’s commonly used in roofing to create a sturdy base for shingles and other roofing materials.
  • Wall Sheathing: Plywood adds strength and stability to walls, making it a popular choice for both exterior and interior sheathing.
  • Framing: It’s used in framing for everything from houses to sheds, providing reliable support and structure.
  • Concrete Forms: Plywood is great for creating forms to pour concrete, thanks to its durability and ease of use.

Plywood’s strength and versatility make it a go-to material for all sorts of structural projects.

Decorative Projects You Can Make With Plywood

Here are a few decorative projects that you can whip up with plywood:

  • Rustic Coffee Table: Create a charming coffee table with a farmhouse feel, perfect for your living room or porch.
  • Custom Shelving: Build some custom shelves to organize your craft room or display your favorite knick-knacks.
  • Headboard: Design a beautiful headboard to add a personal touch and a cozy vibe to your bedroom.
  • Wall Art: Cut and paint plywood pieces to make unique, handcrafted wall art that suits your style.
  • Picture Frames: Craft some lovely picture frames to showcase your favorite photos and memories.

Plywood’s versatility and smooth surface make it ideal for all sorts of decorative projects!

Durability and Maintenance of Plywood

A beautiful example of a shelf made from plywood.
You can see this and more like it from PoncikByTurkan.

When it comes to durability and maintenance plywood is one tough cookie! Its strength comes from those layers of wood veneer, all glued together with their grains running at right angles.

This crisscross pattern makes plywood resistant to cracking, shrinking, and warping. That’s why it’s a go-to for so many projects, from furniture to flooring.

Now, while plywood is strong, it’s not invincible.

If you’re using it outdoors or in damp areas, you need to give it a little extra love.

Moisture can sneak in through the edges and cause trouble, so make sure to seal those edges well with paint or a good quality sealant.

This will help keep out the moisture and prevent any swelling or delamination.

Plywood is also pretty resistant to pests, but like any wood, it’s not completely immune. Keeping your projects dry and well-maintained will help deter those pesky critters.

And if you’re using plywood for something that’s going to get a lot of wear and tear, consider using a tougher grade or adding a protective finish.

Maintenance is pretty straightforward. Keep it clean and dry, and give it a fresh coat of paint or sealant every so often to keep it looking good and performing well.

If you spot any damage, like chips or splits, fix it up sooner rather than later to prevent it from getting worse.

So, with just a little bit of care, your plywood projects will stand the test of time, looking great and staying strong for years to come.

Availability and Cost

Plywood is one of those materials you can find just about anywhere, making it super convenient for us woodworkers.

You can stroll into almost any big-box store, like Home Depot or Lowe’s, and find stacks of plywood in different sizes and grades.

And if you’re lucky enough to have a local lumber yard, they’ll have even more options for you to choose from.

Now, when it comes to cost, plywood is pretty budget-friendly, especially compared to solid wood. Prices can vary based on the type of wood, the thickness of the sheets, and the grade.

For instance, a basic sheet of construction-grade plywood will cost a lot less than a high-quality, furniture-grade sheet with a fancy veneer.

Generally speaking, you can expect to spend anywhere from $15 to $50 per sheet, depending on what you’re looking for.

Thicker, higher-grade plywood will be on the pricier side, while thinner, lower-grade options will be more affordable.

The great thing is, you can usually find something that fits your budget and your project needs.

So, whether you’re working on a big project or just need a little bit for a craft, plywood’s got you covered without breaking the bank.

It’s widely available and comes in a range of prices, making it a fantastic choice for new woodworkers looking to get started.

And if you wanna know even more about the different types of engineered wood, I’ve written up a whole post for ya’ll about it!

Standard Sizes of Plywood

Here’s a handy list of the common sizes plywood comes in:

Sheet Thicknesses:

  • 1/4 inch
  • 1/2 inch
  • 3/4 inch
  • 5/8 inch
  • 1 inch

Sheet Dimensions:

  • 4 feet by 8 feet (most common)
  • 2 feet by 4 feet (handy for smaller projects)
  • 4 feet by 4 feet
  • 5 feet by 5 feet (less common, but available)

These sizes should cover just about any project you’ve got in mind, from big to small!

Environmental Impact & Sustainability of Plywood

A beautiful picture of the forest in fall.

Now, plywood is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to being green.

On the plus side, it’s made from fast-growing trees like pine, fir, and birch, which means we’re not chopping down slow-growing, old-growth forests to make it.

These trees grow back quickly, making plywood a more sustainable option compared to some other types of wood.

But, there are some things to watch out for.

The process of making plywood involves gluing those thin layers of veneer together, and sometimes the glues used can contain chemicals that aren’t the best for the environment.

That’s why it’s important to look for plywood that’s been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or a similar organization.

These certifications mean the wood is harvested responsibly and the production process is a bit more eco-friendly.

Another thing to consider is the carbon footprint of transporting plywood.

If you can, try to buy locally-sourced plywood to reduce the environmental impact of shipping.

Local lumber yards often carry regionally-produced plywood, so it’s worth checking them out.

On the whole, while plywood has some environmental downsides, choosing certified products and buying locally can help make your woodworking projects a bit greener.

Plus, using plywood efficiently and minimizing waste is always a good practice. Every little bit helps, and together we can make a difference!

Plywood Pros & Cons

I figured ya’ll could use a handy little list to help get a good over view of the pros and cons to do with plywood, as well as a good overview of what IS plywood.

VersatileCan dull tools quickly due to glue layers
Widely availableEdges need sealing to prevent moisture damage
Cost-effectiveCan contain chemicals in the glue
Strong and stableThin veneer layers can be damaged during sanding
LightweightNot as visually appealing as solid wood for some projects
Easy to cut and shapeMay require frequent blade sharpening
Smooth surface for painting and stainingLower grades can have voids or defects
Resistant to warping and splittingCan be less durable in high-wear applications without proper finish

This list should give you a clear picture of why plywood is a great choice for new woodworkers, along with some things to keep in mind!

Recommended Reading: Types of Wood for Woodworking

Well folks, there you have it!

We’ve covered just about everything you need to know about what is plywood and why it’s such a staple in every woodshop.

From its ancient beginnings in Egypt to its modern-day versatility and strength, plywood has proven itself to be a real game-changer in woodworking.

Whether you’re looking at its smooth surface and even texture, appreciating its durability and strength, or getting excited about the endless project possibilities, plywood is truly a woodworker’s best friend.

It’s budget-friendly, widely available, and perfect for both structural and decorative projects. Plus, with a little care and the right choices, it can even be an environmentally responsible option.

So, next time you wander down the lumber aisle, don’t overlook those stacks of plywood. Grab a sheet or two and get started on your next project.

And remember, if you have any questions or want to share your plywood creations, just drop a comment below or tag me on social media.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with plywood! Have you made something you’re proud of? Share your projects in the comments below or tag me on social media. Let’s inspire each other!

Happy woodworking, y’all!