Today, I’d like to defend the trampled honor (in a lot of conversations that I had about quality wooden products) of a trusty old friend- the Plywood.
Too many times I’ve heard the following statements- “furniture built out of\containing plywood is not high quality”, “when I see that a product has parts made out of industrialized materials (plywood\MDF\ etc.)- I tend to think it’s a cheap product”, “wooden products should be made of real wood, and not from a factory made by-product” and so on…
So, I have a confession to make:
Hi, I’m Alex, I’m a woodworker and I use plywood. And I’m not ashamed to say that.
But before we talk more about plywood, maybe we should explain what it is, for those who might not know. To quote Wikipedia- “Plywood is a material manufactured from thin layers or "plies" of wood veneer that are glued together with adjacent layers having their wood grain rotated up to 90 degrees to one another.”
Unfortunately, many people got used to thinking about products\materials that are not naturally occurring, as bad or lower quality\fake or just mass manufactured and boring. But that’s not necessarily true. We could maybe compare it to walking vs. riding your bicycles. I know, not very related… but work with me here, I have a point. So, there are two ways to get around- walking and riding a bike. In order to walk somewhere, all you have to do is get up and go. Simple, natural and effective! Opposed to walking, we have biking. The bicycles have to be manufactured, bought and then you can ride them to your destination. But as we all know, everything has its pros and cons: it’s easier and simpler to walk wherever you want- Just do it, without worries and the need for a helmet. But when using the bike, you can reach farther destinations or get there faster.
As I said, not the most wood-relevant example, but I believe it got the point across- everything has advantages and disadvantages. And if we’d go back to wood; my friend, the plywood is a factory-made wood that isn’t growing in the wild. But in some woodworking aspects, it might even be better than wood!
So what are the advantages of plywood over wood? (It’s important to note that I’m mostly talk about birch and pine woods and plywood).
* Plywood is much stronger and more durable when used in thin slabs (4-6 mm. thick).
* It doesn’t curve, when the humidity in the air changes.
* when used in bigger pieces it has a smoother more consistent look- that is, it’s not necessary to attach a few pieces of plywood together to create a larger surface (like in the surface of a table, for example). This way we can avoid uneven patterns in the wood due to gluing.
Naturally, plywood also has some disadvantages,
* It is less resistant to hits, especially on its sides.
* It is more water sensitive- gets damaged quicker and easier than raw wood.
* It isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing when looked at from the side (unless the pattern on its side is used intentionally as a design element).
Of course, I didn’t cover all the advantages or disadvantages, but only those which are more prevalent to my woodworking and methods.
So, as I said, everything has its pros and cons. Plywood isn’t an inferior material to its brother, the wood. Where wood has its disadvantages, the plywood has its advantages and completes it in a way. If one would use the two materials together, strengthening one’s flaws with the other, the outcome would be a sturdy and durable product that looks good and above all- it would be a high quality product.
In woodworking, we have the privilege to mix different types of woods and materials in order to get exactly the finished product that we want. It would be a shame to rob ourselves of that perfect outcome just because some preconceived notions about some raw material or other.
This is why I wanted to write this post, to try and change people’s mind about plywood. Don’t judge a book by its cover. If you see something that you like, that is well made and works just like it’s supposed to- don’t judge it automatically by some reason or another. You may be missing out on something that could’ve fit your needs perfectly!
Here’s another little example of one of our products, that’s made with a combination with Birch plywood and Pine wood:
This is a coat rack that we designed specifically to use and enhance the strengths of each of its raw materials to create a strong and aesthetic product. We used a slab of Birch plywood to give us that straight, flat base and nice smooth pattern for our rack. Then we created a Pine wood frame that covers the raw edges of the plywood and adds a pleasant finishing touch to the look and feel of the product. The hooks are, too, made out of Pine, mainly for the specific pattern the Pine gives.
I hoped I helped to restore at least some of the honor of plywood as a material in woodworking, and maybe change someone’s mind about it.
Let us know in the comments what do you think about plywood when used in products and in general!