What is Plywood? Its Origin, Composition, and Characteristics

Plywood is a versatile and widely-used building material that consists of layers of wood veneer glued together. Manufacturers orient the wood grains of each layer perpendicular to the one beside it to increase its strength, stability, and resistance to warping and splitting. Builders use plywood in a range of construction and furniture projects because plywood is durable, affordable, and easy to use. Plywood is an ideal choice for a range of applications, including cabinetry, furniture, and structural projects. Its adaptability has made it one of the fundamental building materials in modern construction and design.

What is Plywood? Its Origin, Composition, and Characteristics

What is Plywood?

Plywood consists of wood veneer and a strong adhesive. Though plywood is a relatively modern invention, the idea of layering wood for strength has existed for centuries.

Origin of Plywood

Historians have noted that both the Egyptians and the Greeks had an early version of plywood. They would glue layers of wood together, varying the grain on each layer, in order to produce wood pieces, as wood sources were rare in these regions.

Experts credit the invention of plywood to Samuel Bentham, an 18th-century British naval engineer. He developed a method of gluing pieces of wood veneer together with a strong adhesive to create a stronger composite material. Bentham applied for a patent in 1797 to cover machines that manufactured plywood. This led to the widespread use of plywood for naval vessels. The importation and production of plywood in the United States began around 1865. Builders used plywood as a general construction material.

Innovations in the production of plywood continued to advance during the 19th and 20th centuries. The use of more layers of thin veneer and stronger adhesives created a stronger and more resilient plywood. Machinery was adapted for the mass production of plywood, making plywood more affordable and accessible.

Composition of Plywood

Plywood consists of multiple, thin layers or plies of wood veneer that are bonded together. Different types of woods are used to create veneer, including softwoods and hardwoods, both domestic and tropical. The type of wood that manufacturers use results in different types of plywood, each with different qualities such as cost, strength and workability.

Fabricators arrange the individual veneers so that the grain direction of each layer is perpendicular to the ones that are beside it. This cross-grain arrangement is what enhances the stability, strength, and durability of the plywood. The number of layers will vary according to plywood type and desired thickness and strength. The wood veneer types used in one piece of plywood vary. Manufacturers often use higher-grade veneers on the face veneers and lower grades on the core.

Manufacturers use strong adhesives to bond the veneers together. The adhesives are made from synthetic resins which respond well to high heat and pressure. Plywood manufacturers place adhesive glue between each layer and align the layers. The bonding process presses the layers together under high pressure and heat. Industry professionals call this process hot pressing, which ensures proper consolidation and bonding. The panel that emerges from hot pressing is a composite material that has the strength and stability of both the veneers and the adhesive.

Characteristics of Plywood

There are tangible reasons that plywood has become a building material of choice throughout a wide variety of applications.


The cross-grained design and powerful adhesives ensure that plywood is strong. Plywood has excellent compressive strength, which allows it to resist crushing forces. This makes it valuable for applications that support heavy loads like subfloors, shelves, or structural forms. Plywood also has excellent bending strength, tensile strength, and impact resistance.

Dimensional Stability

Another characteristic that the cross-grained arrangement gives plywood is its dimensional stability. This means that it is less likely than certain solid woods to warp, expand, and contract due to changes in temperature and humidity. This quality makes it ideal for applications where dimensional stability is a necessity, such as flooring and cabinetry.


Plywood is highly versatile. Not only are there many different types of plywood that manufacturers craft for specific applications, there are many sizes, grades, and thicknesses of plywood. Builders can easily cut, shape, and finish most types of plywood. This makes it suitable for structural and decorative designs.


Plywood represents good value for the money because it is relatively inexpensive, compared to solid wood, but it has a similar strength and durability. This means that it is a cost-effective option for construction, furniture, and structural forms.

Availability and Sustainability

Plywood is widely available in many regions, due to the widespread availability of wood sources. Most plywood is manufactured using fast-growing trees from responsibly managed forests. This helps reduce the environmental impact associated with its production.


Certain plywoods are manufactured specifically to display an attractive wood grain. These are primarily higher-grade plywood created from hardwood veneers. These plywoods are suitable for visible applications including furniture, musical instrument panels, and interior design elements.

Ease of Installation

Plywood is relatively lightweight and easy to handle. This makes it easy to use with standard woodworking tools, including the cutting, drilling, and fastening that happen during standard construction processes.