It’s rare for people to realize that there are different types of plywood available unless you have a specific reason that you need a lot for your wood burning business. This is usually the time that you find out that different types of plywood offer different grades and prices. For the past few decades, types of plywood have been most people’s go-to option when you want to use an alternative to solid wood for any project, including building a house or adding extensions on.
Unlike most other types of building materials, plywood is extremely affordable while being highly versatile. At the same time, types of plywood offer the beauty of exposed wood while increasing the structure’s stability. Since you can choose from several types of finishes, you can use it for wall sheathing, roofing, flooring, furniture, wardrobes, cabinets, and other DIY projects
Since plywood is relatively inexpensive, it’s a very popular working medium for a huge range of projects around the house. Wooden Parts by Windell Oskay / CC BY 2.0
At the core, plywood is a composite wood product. Companies produce types of plywood using wood veneers that they strip from wooden logs. The wood veneers usually get glued together, but higher-grade types of plywood get heated and pressed using much more elaborate processes. The companies should use the best angle before binding the wooden veneers together to keep the wood grain intact.
Most people prefer plywood over 2×4 logs because you get a much more stable surface. This is due to the fact that plywood won’t expand, even if you have problems with moisture across the board’s grain. Along with this, the process that different types of plywood goes through makes it very resistant to shrinking, cracking, warping, and breaking. There are dozens of types of plywood, and the thickness rating will depend on the number of piles it has. The most common one is 3-ply.
Three Popular Types of Plywood Thicknesses
Ply is a term that manufacturers who create plywood use to define how thick a sheet of plywood will be. Some projects won’t require you to have thicker boards, but other projects like building a deck will require more thickness. Ply serves to make the boards stronger while ensuring that you get the correct depth.
The plywood grade is the thickness of the plywood, and it refers to how many sheets are glued together. Each layer is a wood veneer, and this is a very thin sheet of wood that you stack and glue together to get a different pile number. Plywood is the finished product when the company finishes gluing the veneers together.
You do have to note that different veneers can come with different thicknesses. Depending on where you are, some places in your home have to meet rigid standards for the number of piles your type of plywood has to get the board to a certain depth. This is particularly important when you use it on your external walls or roofing.
The 3-ply model is one of the most common types of plywood available. You get a triple veneer layer, and it gets layered in a way to make it very durable and strong. It can also look slightly more decorative than a type of plywood with more piles, and this makes it a great pick for indoor use.
As the name suggests, this type of plywood has five veneer layers. This is another very common plywood type that you use for any projects that need less strength and durability than you’ll need for exterior use.
If you get multi-ply plywood, you’ll use it for roofing or exterior use. It can be made up of several veneers, and you typically have a minimum of seven layers. This works to help create an extremely strong and unyielding frame for your home, and it’s strong enough to stand up to damages and extreme winds.
The plywood thickness you pick out can directly impact how stable and sturdy your finished product is, so you want to consider any external factors that could add stress to the plywood when you decide on a thickness. Misc Plywood Panel Board by rome.dome / CC BY 2.0
13 Types of Plywood
Now that you know what plywood is and understand the thicknesses, we’re going to give you a brief overview of the most popular types of plywood available on the market. The goal is to give you a good idea on which type of plywood you need to complete your specific project.
The aircraft-grade type of plywood is one of the most durable you can find available on the current market. This type of plywood utilizes hardwood in the makeup, including birch and mahogany. This gives you a very strong finished piece that resists moisture damage and heat. The design of this plywood type usually features some very thin veneers to help keep it flexible and light without sacrificing strength for heavy-duty jobs. You’ll find people using this plywood for a range of projects that require industrial-strength woods, including boats, airplanes, and furniture that can support a lot of weight.
Softwood is another type of plywood that the companies make using softer woods. The name mistakenly implies that these wood types aren’t nearly as strong as others. However, it may surprise you to find out that it’s common to use this type of wood for subflooring, exterior frame sheathing, and roof sheathing. It also works when you’re going to build a shed, doghouse, temporary flooring, and shelving. Common types of softwood include cedar, pine, and redwood.
You can get high or medium-density types of plywood from this category, and it’s the type that has the same structure that you’d find on regular sheets of plywood. The companies glue veneers to one another. However, you get a more finished appearance due to the overlaid face on these sheets. Along with decorative purposes, this overlaid veneer also works to give you a durable surface that is smooth enough to repel water or damaging particles.
The coating helps this type of plywood resist scuffs or scratches that are common during construction or transport. The exterior surface layer gets bonded to the rest of the veneers using pressure and heat. The high-density sheets offer more resin than the medium-density sheets, and this makes them the more expensive option of the two. Both can give you a more durable finished product than traditional types of plywood can.
This type of plywood usually has between three or seven veneers, and it uses hardwoods in the makeup, as the name suggests. The companies glue the layers of wood at right angles, and this allows you to get a very strong finish on each sheet. Common hardwoods used include birch, maple, oak, poplar, and walnut. Since it’s so durable, this is a nice choice if you’re going to create packing cases, furniture, musical instruments, sporting equipment, and other projects that need a strong frame to stay durable.
5. Lumber Core
Lumber core types of plywood usually feature three piles in the construction, and it also has two thin veneers attached to each side of a thick core. The outer veneers usually feature hardwood, and the inner core has strips of wood that get glued together into a solid slab. The thicker inner core allows the plywood to grip screws, and this makes it a nice choice for any project that requires strong screw holds. However, you want to ensure that you don’t get a poorly-made core because it can make it weaker.
This type of plywood features a water and weather-resistant glue that bonds each veneer layer. When you put an exterior together with plywood, one of the most important and biggest concerns is how the wood will stand up to rain, wind, and other weather conditions.
This plywood comes designed to combat the elements while giving you a sturdy and strong frame for years. You’ll typically have several veneers glued together, and this means that it’s usually multi-ply. You can pick different wood styles and types, depending on your location. Some climates that get very harsh winter weather may do better with oak because it can resist mold and mildew from exposure to continuous damp conditions.
Exterior plywood comes designed to survive exposure to elements because it’s sealed, and this can help it last much longer than unsealed or interior types of plywood.
Better known as sheathing plywood, this type of plywood is used for strength instead of looks when it comes to building or framing in structures that you’ll cover with wood. It has to have a very strong adhesive with it to hold the veneer layers together under this weight and pressure. You can use this plywood on the interior or exterior of the building, but it’s not as weather-resistant as other types. Generally speaking, structural types of plywood come with a C or D grade, but it doesn’t go higher. So, this means that you get an expensive option when you compare it to other woods, but these other choices won’t have the performance levels that you need to prevent rot or mold.
Many people mistakenly think that any type of plywood that has a marine rating is waterproof. However, this isn’t the case. Instead, companies market marine-grade plywood as being water-resistant due to the exterior glue. It uses the same layered build that you’ll get on other types of plywood.
The difference between these plywood types and this one is that it is required to have a B-grade or better, and it has to be made out of Douglas Fir or Western Larch wood types. This is one of the highest-grade, best-constructed options on the market. However, it’s not resistant to mildew, mold, or rot from water and weather. The companies that make it don’t treat it with chemicals, so decay and rot can be a huge issue if you don’t take the time to treat and pressure-wash it.
In order to get the marine-grade label, the wood can’t have any knotholes in any of the piles. It also has to use water-resistant, top-performing glue between the piles. This ensures that your glue will hold if the wood gets wet or damp. You’ll see this type of plywood used on decorative pieces and outdoor furniture, including benches, planter boxes, and gazebos.
Tropical types of plywood come from Asia, and they use mixed tropical timber species in the makeup. You can now find it made in African and South American countries. When you look at the density, quality, strength, and layer uniformity, this type of plywood usually does much better than softwood versions. You’ll find it widely used in the U.K. U.S., Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Dubai. High-quality tropical plywood fetches a premium price in different markets. It’s popular in construction projects in countries where it’s not in high demand because it has a lower price point.
Flexible plywood is excellent for making curved parts, and it is popular in furniture making. You can usually choose between ⅛-inch or ⅜-inch thicknesses instead of the standard ½-inch thicknesses. Baltic birch is a very common material with this plywood, and it uses three or more piles in the design with a three-ply mahogany wiggle or bendy board.
This feature has a very thin central ply of cross grain with two exterior piles to help you get the curve you want. You glue the wiggle board in dual layers once you reach your desired curve to get a stiff final shape that resists movement. It’s common to add decorative veneers to the finish layer.
As the name suggests, this type of plywood has sanded face, top, and bottom piles. This makes them both smooth and uniform, and it gives you a very nice finish quality. Also, people like it due to the strength-to-weight ratio. You’ll usually find people using sanded plywood in things that are meant to be seen, like paneling, cabinets, and shelving. It is also strong enough to work well in structural applications.
12. Boiling Water Resistant
You’ll find this type of plywood on exteriors and interiors. It resists water, and this makes it a decent choice for a broad range of weather conditions. You’ll typically find it used in the bathrooms or kitchens during a remodel because these areas have a high water exposure ratio. Since it has a waterproof nature to it, people like to use it as exterior wall cladding or in staircase builds.
13. Moisture Resistant
Better known as commercial ply or MR ply, this is one type of plywood that you’ll use extensively outdoors. It works well for furniture and cabinets, and it resists moisture damage due to damp or humid conditions. In turn, this makes it great for tropical areas. However, you should note that it’s not waterproof.
Ideally, you’ll go for plywood that has higher ratings on it, especially if you plan to use them for outdoor projects. Lower ratings are less durable, and they’re more prone to rotting. Plywood-office-birdhouses by Inhabitat / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Generally speaking, plywood grades and types of plywood vary, depending on their uses. You can get five main grades, including:
- Exterior Rating – You’ll get waterproof panels that work well in permanent outdoor construction projects. It stands up well in structures that can face bad weather on a routine basis.
- Exposure 1 Rating – This type of plywood is waterproof too, and it can handle elemental exposure without any damage. However, you don’t want it in a spot with long-term exposure.
- Exposure 2 Rating – These panels won’t do well for external use because they’re not 100% waterproof. They can survive light moisture exposure, and they do best in a building’s interior.
- Interior Rating – You should only use this type of plywood inside in dry conditions. You don’t want to expose these panels to moisture of any type for any length of time to avoid damage.
- Structural 1 Rating – The final type of plywood comes designed to resist earthquake movements and vibrations.
Types of Boards People Use as Plywood
There are different types of wood that aren’t actually plywood but people use them in place of traditional plywood. We’ve picked out seven types of boards that you can use instead of plywood below.
Blockboard has a very similar construction to traditional types of plywood, and it usually has three layers. It has a thicker inner core with square cuts of wood that gets glued together to create one strong core. The outer layers are enclosed in wood and very thin, and you end up with a thicker board. You can get finished outer layers for cabinetry use or furniture pieces. Plywood is a good pick for surfaces, but blockboard works better when you focus on the core over decorative finishes. You can typically get between ⅜-inches and 1 3/16-inches thick.
2. Composite Woods
You can find composite woods in sizes very close to traditional plywood, but the companies don’t use the same process to create them. They do have layers, but composite wood has regular wood layers on the interior with external layers made up of fiberboard with a hardwood covering. In turn, it gives you a very smooth layer that is easy to work with and a stronger core that gives you a unyielding and durable frame. It’s popular for furniture or cabinets.
The most common fiberboard type you’ll get is medium-density, better known as MDF. It has engineered wood fibers glued together to give you a very dense composite. You can get hardwood, softwood, or a combination of the two. The small fibers on this material give you a finished piece that doesn’t have any rings or knots. However, you won’t be able to see the wood grain, and this can reduce how authentic it looks.
It’s less expensive than most types of plywood, and it’s stronger than particle board. However, it can’t handle a high amount of stress, and this can lead to split wood or cracks forming. The finished product is easy to work with, including painting and cutting. The dense construction also ensures that you get no splinters.
Even though fiberboard seems like a lower-quality type of plywood to get, it’s actually very sturdy and stable to use in a whole range of projects. Indecline by Doran / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Foamboard has seen a huge popularity jump in recent years, and it’s a rot-resistant plywood alternative. They use a reinforced polyurethane foam construction that has fiberglass reinforcements, and this gives you boards that are as strong as certain types of plywood. However, it also features more protection against mold, mildew, and rotting. They’re lighter-weight too, and this makes them easy to move.
This is a very thin piece of fiberboard that has one finished side and one rough side. Companies use wood pieces to create this type of plywood alternative, and it gets very densely compressed to make a panel that won’t warp or bend. Despite the thin frame, it’s extremely durable. This is why you commonly see it used on furniture frames, countertops, and subflooring. A lot of people use it like a base for their laminate flooring because it survives wear and tear very well.
6. Moisture-resistant Particleboard
This product uses the same materials and construction as you’ll get with traditional particleboard, but the companies add a moisture-resistant resin to keep it from warping if you put it in a wet area. The color of the board is the biggest indicator of which type of board you have. This type typically comes with a green dye in the resin to make it easy to tell apart.
This is one of the least expensive plywood alternatives available, and it doesn’t have a layered construction. Instead, companies glue together small scraps of wood to create the board. You’ll find it on inexpensive furniture pieces. It’s also less durable than plywood, and you can crack or split it easily. It’s also not uncommon to hear people talk about how it broke during assembly.
This is a much heavier alternative to plywood too, and it can make putting the pieces together or moving them challenging. It’s also untreated, so it can swell and warp if you have a high amount of moisture in your area. You want to seal it before you use it to keep it in good shape.
Along with everything we’ve covered, there are a few other considerations you want to keep in mind when you pick out the different types of plywood.
You can get plywood in different widths, thicknesses, and lengths to match your project needs. Some sheets are so thin that you can flex them to bend them over structures to get a uniform shape, and some sheets are so thick that they can withstand wind and weight. You can get very long sheets, or you can ask the hardware store to cut them to your desired measurements.
It’s important to note that the indicated size may not be 100% accurate. If you get a ¾-inch piece of plywood, it actually measures 23/32-inches, and this will give you a 1/31-inch gap that can be very noticeable if you use it during a remodeling project and need a perfect fit. Some companies also tag their plywood using millimeters instead of inches. This can make it even more complicated to shop. You should have your phone available to do quick conversions to ensure you get the correct sheet size.
We’ve touched on grades very briefly earlier for your types of plywood. However, we want you to have a thorough understanding of the grading system to ensure you get the correct materials for your projects. Plywood usually comes graded using an A through D rating, and A is the best with D being the worst for quality. Most woods have two letters. One letter will designate the grade for the board’s front while the other grades the back. One side usually has a lower grade than the other, and this is the side that you want hidden in the back.
Exterior panels have grades between A to B or A to C at the lowest. Try to get the highest grade possible when you shop for any types of plywood that you’ll expose to the weather. A C or D grade is usually okay to use on internal structures, but only if they’re adequately covered. The back may have an additional grade, so it looks like A-CX. This means that the board is fit for external use. If you need a high-end finish, go for higher grades. You should get no or few knots to give you a smooth finish.
Softwood and hardwood boards use different materials, and scientists split the classification based on the trees’ seeds instead of the actual strength or density of the wood. However, you’ll be able to tell the difference in the performance ratings if you do woodworking. It’s easier to cut softwoods than it is to cut hardwoods, but hardwoods can usually last longer in flooring, furniture, or high-traffic areas.
Maybe you like the feel or look of one wood over another. You should look at all of your options and try to feel them before you make your final material choice. Hardwoods are usually more expensive than softwoods, and softwoods are usually more readily-available. So, if you’re on a budget, you want to take this into account too.
Different types of plywood will help you take on different projects. We’ve outlined 13 types of plywood, alternatives, and things to consider when you shop. You can use this guide to help you narrow down your choices to make a final pick and complete your projects in no time.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.