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What is Plywood Used For?

Collage photo of plywood.

I’m not a crafter or a DIY-er. I’m pretty sure the subfloor in my house is plywood and perhaps the cabinets. I know that plywood is the basis of a roof before shingles or tiles are put on. 

Yet you see trucks carrying huge loads of plywood past your house to some building site. What is plywood and what is its purpose? Let’s find out.

I’ve Never Paid Much Attention To Plywood. What Is It Exactly?

Details of the hardwood wardrobe's interior, including a slide-out coat-hanger rack.

Plywood is a man-made wood product. It’s produced by gluing together several layers of thin strips of wood. Your basic sheet of plywood is three layers, but the layers go up to five, seven, nine, and even 15 layers. 

Note: Some plywood has foam rubber at its core, making it valuable for its insulation properties against sound and rain.

What Can I Make From Plywood?

You can make:

    • A doghouse

    • A child’s playhouse or fort or treehouse

    • A child’s desk and/or toy box in his room

    • A rocking chair

    • A media center for the living room

What Else Should I Know About Plywood Before I Buy It?

Close-up of the background and plywood texture.

Americans are known for classifying every last little thing, and plywood is no different. Its quality is recognized by its grade. That ranges from A1, which would be most excellent, to D4, which would be pretty bad quality. 

The front of the plywood sheet is graded from A to D with “A” being a very nice looking sheet of plywood. A “D” sheet of plywood wouldn’t look as nice. The one through four rating is for the back of the sheet of plywood, again with one being pretty and four being pretty ugly.

What Can I Make From Bad Grade Plywood? I Hate To Waste It

You won’t because you can make a lot of pretty things from waste plywood, such as:

    • Window boxes for flowers

    • Wooden planters for the deck

    • Sculpt an interesting and unique character to hold the mailbox

    • Whimsical signs for the kitchen walls and kids’ bedroom doors

    • Make your own DVD and CD holding racks

Size Matters. What Sizes Do Plywood Sheets Come In?

A storage facility with a variety of wood for building and maintenance.

For the most part, plywood sizes are standard. One plywood sheet is generally eight feet long by four feet wide. This size is perfect for framing four studs 16 inches apart.

There are sheets that are ten and 12 feet long, which are great when you’re framing eight studs 16 inches apart. All these sizes of plywood fit neatly on warehouse shelves and trucks.

I’m Not Framing A House. For What Can I Use Huge Plywood Sheets?

The list is endless:

    • A table and chairs for the deck or outdoor room

    • A lounge chair for the deck or poolside

    • A plant stand with four shelves

    • A Mickey Mouse or Garfield table for the littles

    • A lattice frame for beneath porches or decks

When I’m Inspecting The Plywood Before Buying, For What Should I Look?

A realistic 3D render of plywood made of wood.

When you’re looking at plywood, a few things should jump out at you:

    • Go to the lumber yard. You’ll find a larger selection and better grade plywood, especially if you go to a lumberyard catering to cabinet and furniture makers.

    • Get picky. Don’t just take the top sheet of plywood; sift through the stacks to find the pieces that look the best to you. Have a friend handy to help you load the truck because the big box store workers won’t pick out the best pieces for you.

    • Check for warping. There are dozens of reasons something warps, and none of them are good. Sheets of plywood can warp in different directions, making the sheet look like the waves of an audience at a football game. If the plywood bows in the middle, pass it by. Check before you buy.

    • Check the edges. If you see overlapping and voids, don’t take it. These can form a wavy effect when the wood is painted, and you won’t see it until it’s cut. Pass it by.

    • Paint MDF or birch. If you’re going to paint your project, it’s best to use a wood grain that won’t soak up the paint like pine or oak. Medium-density fiberboard or MDF and “B” grade birch are perfect for painting.

What Can Be Made Of Plywood I Didn’t Inspect That Slipped By Me?

Some projects can hide the flaws in anything, including plywood:

    • Wooden board games (checkers, chess, pegs, Chinese checkers)

    • Concierge for hats, book bags, and coats by the front door

    • A shoe rack in the closet

    • Floating shelves in the kitchen and/or bathroom

    • A folding table in the laundry room

I’ve Been Hearing A Lot About Baltic Birch Plywood. What’s Up With That?

A pile of stacked baltic birch logs in close-up.

Baltic Birch plywood is special. It’s stronger than most plywood, is free of gaps or voids, and is strong enough to keep screws inserted without cracking. The plies or layers are all Baltic birch and thicker than most plywood. The glue holding the plies together is waterproof.

What Can Be Made Out Of Baltic Birch Plywood?

Since Baltic birch is water-resistant, it fares well in a number of water-related products, such as:

    • Outdoor furniture

    • Building ships and yachts

    • Outdoor sports for children such as backboards and sandboxes

    • Construction

    • Subflooring and roof underlayment

    • Indoor furniture

Is There A Difference Between Regular Plywood And CDX Plywood?

Yes. CDX is poor-grade plywood full of voids and of rough appearance. However, its virtue lies in being water, bug, and rot-resistant. That makes it perfect for sheathing the framing of a building or house, as a roof underlayment, and for use in the flooring of damp rooms like bathrooms and laundry rooms.

Can Anything Be Made From CDX Plywood?

The “C” and “D” of the plywood name should alert you as to its grade and quality, but if you’re building shelves, cabinets, or built-ins in the basement, then go for it. Other applications tend to require better quality plywood.

Here Are Some Fun Facts About Plywood That Most People Wouldn’t Have Considered

Oriented strand board wall sheathing and plywood roof of a residential duplex house construction project.

1. Deforestation. Plywood is made of scrap wood. That saves a tree somewhere.

2. Types. Plywood is either hardwood or softwood. Hardwood is made from premium wood like oak, mahogany, or birch. Softwood is made from spruce and pine.

3. Historical. Plywood isn’t a 21st-century invention. It originated in ancient China and Egypt, where plywood furniture was found in rulers’ tombs.

4. Tea. In 1906, plywood was imported to India, where they made it into tea chests. During WWII, plywood was used more for the military than for tea chests, so India began manufacturing its own plywood. 

5. Modern plywood. A machine to manufacture plywood was patented in 1797 by Samuel Bentham. The patent described layers of wood glued together. This was the forefather of modern plywood.

What Is Plywood Used For FAQs

For What Is Plywood Not Suitable?

If a structure is being built, then plywood should not be used in load-bearing areas. In the furniture industry, plywood bows or bends in the middle, so bookshelves and tables aren’t a good idea.

For What Is Plywood Used In Home Construction?

Image of plywood sheets up close.

Plywood is used in roof underlayment, subflooring, walls, and sheathing. Specific types of plywood are used for moist rooms, like bathrooms and laundry rooms.

How Long Does Plywood Siding Last?

Up to 50 years, but the average is 35. The plywood must be waterproofed and painted every so often to maintain its structural integrity and prevent warping from rain and humidity.

Is Plywood Stronger Than Wood?

No, but plywood made from quality wood isn’t anything to sneeze at. For instance, plywood made from quality wood such as teak or cherry tends to hold up better than plywood made from softer woods like fir and juniper.

Can I Waterproof My Plywood?

Of course. Waterproofing with epoxy, paint, or polyurethane is as simple as sanding the plywood lightly and then applying the waterproofing medium.

Can I Paint The Plywood For My Project?

In a workshop, there are paintbrushes on the table.

Yes. Water-based acrylic paint is usually your best bet. Use good quality paint and brush because it lasts longer. Go with the grain as you’re painting for the best results.

Is Plywood Expensive? Why?

Yes. As of 2021, a shortage of labor affects the price of plywood, which means less plywood is being manufactured. So it’s more expensive.

Why Is Plywood Used In Place Of Wood?

In furniture making, plywood is lighter than solid wood. It doesn’t absorb moisture, so it doesn’t expand and shrink like solid wood. Plywood doesn’t move, either, so it’s ideal for furniture.

Which Type Of Plywood Is The Most Durable?

Aircraft plywood is the most durable. Hardwood layers or plies create strong sheets that resist moisture and heat. Aircraft plywood is made of thin veneers, making the sheets flexible and light while at the same time maintaining strength.

What Is Green Painted Plywood All About?

Pressure-treated plywood is treated with chemicals to prevent mold, mildew, and bugs. This kind of plywood can last for years outside without paint or any other protecting finish. You’ll know pressure-treated plywood by having its own aisle in big box stores and its green color.