10 Common Plywood Uses

Now, you’re most likely familiar with types of plywood, but what are the main plywood uses? Today, we’re going to touch on just that. In case you’re not aware, plywood is a type of engineered wood you make by taking solid wood and transforming it into thin strips. These long and thin strips of wood then get glued together using a cross-grain fashion. A mixture of temperature, adhesives, and pressure is used to press those wooden strips into solid boards that you can use for various projects around your home.

1 Plywood Sheets
Plywood is a very popular and cost-effective building material that you’ll find used in DIY projects both large and small.

How to Make Plywood

The process of getting plywood involves leafing through a tree trunk with a special lathe that will cut very thin layers of wood that are between one and three millimeters and then gluing the sheets together across the veins.

Creating plywood involves debarking tree trunks and then steaming them to soften up the wood to unroll the trunk into a flat sheet. Several piles then get glued together and pressed, and you alternate the direction of the wood fibers with every layer. In turn, this gives your plywood a heavy resistance, whatever the direction of force or torsion.

The cohesion of the glued and alternating wood piles make plywood a product made from wood that offers some of the best resistance in relation to the thickness and weight. To glue the plywood sheets together, you need a press that is as large as your panel, similar to the one used to create chipboard panels. If you use water resistant phenolic glue, you’ll get a plywood that you can use for sea transport or outdoor use like creating deck boxes without damaging it.

The final part of the process is sanding it down, and this smooths the surface of the plywood sheet. In some instances, the sheet will get coated with a specialized compound like acrylic or melamine, and the edges of the sheet get sealed.

The wood that is most commonly used to create plywood are soft woods like conifers. Generally, this means Birch, Fir, or Poplar, but you can also find plywood made out of more precious wood types like Teak, Beech, and Okoume. Also, there are plywood types that have only the external sheets made out of precious woods like those we touched on or Oak, Walnut, or Rosewood. The internal layers that make the majority of the panel are less specialized wood species, or they can be melamine plywood.

Generalized Plywood Uses

Plywood uses for the interior projects are different from other types of plywood. Plywood that gets finished with an attractive exterior layer is very popular to use in more decorative projects, like ceiling or wall paneling. Other, this is a thinner type of plywood and it doesn’t offer the strength needed to build structures or to support any significant amount of weight without breaking.

However, there are exceptions, and there are many plywood uses you can come up with if you’re adding in new kitchen cabinets or tackling some other DIY project around the home. Below, we’ll outline the most common plywood uses around your home, and you can take this guide and use it to help shave down your material costs for your projects.

1. Cabinets and Furniture

When it comes to building a range of furniture pieces, including tables, chairs, cabinets, bookshelves, and anything in between, plywood shines here. These are some of the biggest plywood uses available. But, you do want to keep in mind, if you plan to make furniture out of plywood, that you’ll get very high-grade sheets that don’t have knots and feature minimal texture to make them stronger.

If you’re making furniture, you’ll most likely want to paint and sand the piece, and this is why you need high-grade plywood. Plywood is thin and normally easy to work with, and it holds together well if you screw or nail it. It’s also fairly durable, and it’s capable of bearing a lot of weight.

When it comes right down to it, plywood uses for cabinet building and furniture make it very cost-effective, particularly when you start comparing it to more expensive solid wood options. What’s even better, plywood is also much stronger than traditional MDF, and it’s lighter to make it easier to work with. So, plywood is often the preferred material over MDF and solid wood for furniture building or cabinetry projects.

2. Exterior Wall Sheathing

One prime example of popular plywood uses is as an exterior wall sheathing in the United States. Many homes in North America are built using 2×6 or 2×4 foot panel frames with skinned in exterior-grade plywood sheeting. It’s commonly used to fasten the studs together, and this can help add strength to the home’s frame to make it more durable and sturdy.

These plywood panels will help prevent horizontal or vertical shifting as time goes on, and this keeps the home’s structure both intact and square. Plywood-based exterior wall sheathing is often used in areas that see a lot of extreme weather conditions, particularly wind. This is due to the fact that plywood has a greater flexibility, and this is why it’s used in homes to get greater earthquake resistance. However, you will need to get a high-grade exterior plywood for this application, and pair it with storm windows if you’re in hurricane-prone areas.

2 Plywood Walls
Due to the strength and flexibility, popular plywood uses are for exterior wall sheathing by the studs to make the walls more study and durable.

3. Flooring

One big plywood use is in flooring applications. It’s commonly used as a subflooring, or in other words, it forms the layer of the floor below the main floor. This being said, plywood is not often used as the main flooring layer because it doesn’t look nice. Moreover, there are dozens more durable materials that you can use for the main floor, including ones that resist wear and tear much more.

When it comes to the subfloor, there is really no material that you can find that is better than common plywood. Plywood is very durable due to the cross-grain pattern it has, and it can bear a lot of weight while being flexible. Also, if you get the correct type of plywood, it can resist moisture. When you combine this with a moisture barrier, it can help keep your hard flooring dry and safe from water damage.

Plywood Underlayment

Most plywood underlayment is roughly ¼-inch thick, and it has square edges and a knot-free, smooth top face. It usually comes in four by eight foot sheets. For several years, the most common type was lauan plywood, and you may hear it referred to as luan plywood or Philippine mahogany, and this is made with inexpensive tropical hardwood. This is where the problem lies. Lauan products have been the driving force behind the deforestation of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia.

Today, there is a much better option in a plywood that is specially designed to function as underlayment and made from wood that has been sustainable forested. You can also get AC exterior-grade plywood, and this is one rough face and a smoother face. Always install your underlayment with a smoother face up.

4. Guitars or Bird Houses

The fact of the matter is that plywood uses stretch from huge projects right down to DIY friendly ones to make it one of the most versatile building materials you can get. Due to how flexible it is, you can use it for anything that you make out of wood and it needs to be flexible, like creating a guitar. In fact, almost all guitars are made out of plywood. Plywood also works well to build birdhouses, footstools, benches, and small tables.

5. Interior Construction

Plywood for interior projects is different from the exterior type of plywood. Plywood that gets finished with an attractive exterior layer is very commonly used in more decorative projects, like ceiling or wall paneling. Usually, this plywood type is thinner and doesn’t offer enough strength for building structures that are expected to support significant amounts of weight.

However, there is an exception. Some plywood types, including hardwood plywood, are actually excellent for building furniture, including cabinets. People also use interior plywood to build custom furniture pieces, like wardrobes, dressers, console tables, shelves, and even bookcases.

6. Interior Walls

Although it’s not exactly the most common plywood use out there, it can definitely be the main material you use to create the interior walls of your home. First of all, you can use plywood to build the interior walls in your home in terms of the inner layer, or in other words, it works nicely to use for structural purposes that helps to back your main walls. Low-grade plywood works for interior walls, and you can then cover it up with something like drywall or chip rock.

Also, there are higher grades of plywood out there that don’t contain any knots and they’re very smooth to the touch. These high-grade plywood options can potentially get used for the surfaces of your interior walls, and if the plywood is smooth and high-grade enough, you can easily paint over it.

7. Roofing

The roofing industry has many plywood uses. Since plywood by nature is very lightweight and thin, it makes a fantastic backing product for your shingles. Plywood is very durable, and it can withstand a lot of weight if you get the correct type. Also, plywood can also be resistant to moisture.  There is also the fact that plywood comes with a cross-grain pattern to it, and this allows it to hold nails and screws very securely, so this makes it a great building material to attach a roof to your home underneath or to attach shingles to the top. High-quality plywood makes a fantastic backing for metal shingles and normal shingles too.

3 Roofing with Plywood
Plywood is a very popular roofing material, and you can get various grades to ensure that it resists water and lasts for years after you put your roof on.

8. Shed Building

One of the most common plywood uses you’ll see is sheets of plywood attached to garden sheds. Plywood is durable, inexpensive, and it’s a very resistant material that makes a great shed wall. Solid wood can look better and be more durable, but it can also be harder to work with and much more expensive. If you need a simple, fast, and cheap shed that will keep your garden tools dry, plywood is something you want to consider.

9. Skateboard Ramps

This is a project you may not have thought of, but the one and only material that companies use to create those curved skateboard ramps is plywood. When it comes right down to it, plywood is very easy to bend due to how flexible it is, but due to the cross-grain pattern, it keeps its strength much better. This means that plywood can be bent a lot more without it breaking or cracking, and this makes it the perfect material to make skateboard ramps. On top of all of this, plywood can be extremely smooth, and this makes it ideal for those skateboard wheels to glide over.

10. Structural Uses

When you choose to use plywood for structural uses during a construction project like adding an extension, the boards are usually thicker and made from softwood. Since the plywood will be unexposed when you finish your project, the boards won’t offer that attractive or polished finish. You can expect construction crews to use plywood on the subfloor, structural beams, or even wall sheathing to support and hold the studs together to keep them from shifting. In these instances, plywood will function to add more stability.

Plywood Uses by Type

At the core, plywood is a panel-shaped sheet of material that gets created using thin layers of wood veneer. These thin layers are called piles. The piles then get glued together with other piles while having the wood grains rotate up to 90° form one layer to the next. So, this is an engineered wood product.

Plywood factories will blend wood and resin fiber sheets to form a composite material. This is known as cross-graining, and it’s done to reduce plywood’s tendency to split when you nail it at the edges. As a direct result, this also reduces the swelling and shrinkage that happens when the temperatures change. There are many general plywood uses based on type, and the most popular are:

General Uses

  • Different plywood types are very resistant to splitting, bending, breaking, fire, and warping, So, it’s very popular in the furniture and construction industry.
  • Flexi Ply is what you use to create curved furniture as it beds very easily.
  • It’s a popular material to use in the aviation and space industries
  • Marine-grade plywood is popular in the shipping industry
  • Plywood is a great choice for outdoor use
  • Plywood is very commonly used when a strong material is indispensable because it’s a layered, high-quality wood material

Birch Plywood Uses

  • Advertising signs and fences
  • Die cutting boards
  • High-end loudspeakers
  • Musical instruments
  • Parapet support structures
  • Playground equipment
  • Sports equipment

4 Plywood Uses by type
Depending on the project you have coming up, you may need to source a specific type of plywood to ensure it has the qualities you need to build a sturdy finished product.

Hardwood Plywood Uses

  • Floors
  • Insulating boxes for liquefied natural gas
  • Parks
  • Phenolic resin-coated plywood is a popular ready installation component
  • Scaffolding materials
  • Vehicles
  • Wind turbine sheds

Softwood Plywood Uses

  • Concrete shutting panel
  • Fencing
  • Indoor bodywork for high-end luxury vehicles
  • Packing boxes
  • Ready to paint surfaces
  • Spruce plywood is common in walls, floors, and roofs in the home
  • Wind bracing panels

Tropical Plywood Uses

  • Common plywood creation
  • Concrete panel
  • Flooring
  • Laminated lumber creation
  • Lamination board creation
  • Structural panels

Since plywood is a very cost-effective material that is very lightweight, it’s very popular for making film and stage sets. It’s also great for building a skateboard ramp due to flexible nature and smooth finish, as we touched on earlier.

Popular Plywood Characteristics

Along with the general plywood uses, it also has several very useful characteristics that you don’t get with other wood types that helps make it a popular building material. The biggest characteristics include:

  • Chemical Resistance –  Plywood has a decently high resistance to alkaline and acid compounds. Alkalis substances can actually soften the material with prolonged contact. Solvents, alcohols, and water can cause strength loss and swelling after months or years of contact.
  • Fire Resistance – Plywood will actually resist fire much better than wood or other non-combustible materials. It will only light up when you expose it to an open flame and the surface gets heated to 752°F (400°C). Plywood also burns very slowly and at a constant rate, and this makes it possible to use it when you build fire-resistant structures.
  • Scale of Application – Ease of processing, low price, and the high custom properties of plywood make it a very practical option for large-scale projects. Maybe you need to sheath ceilings, walls, or floors with minimal joints or seams. If so, plywood comes to mind. It works for everything from thick cargo storage racks all of the way down to design interior linings.
  • Strength – Plywood’s strength factor is high. It’s lightweight, shock-resistant, machinable, and easy to cut. Due to all of these properties, you can use plywood as a sheet material for sheathing or forming large, flat volumetric structures like roofs, walls, containers, or floors.
  • Suitability – Plywood is very easy to handle, and it’s used to not only make rough formwork or simple slabs for floor or wall sheathing, but it’s also for wooden puzzles, complex models, or designer carved boxes.

Bottom Line

The bottom line is that plywood claims the title as one of the most versatile building materials you can get. There are so many plywood uses out there that you can easily use it to create exterior or interior walls, furniture, sheds, cabinets, birdhouses, guitars, subflooring, and more.

Plywood Uses 1 Plywood Uses 2