Thanks to the widespread manufacture of plywood, there are a variety of distinct types and sizes of plywood available for various projects and designs. Plywood is a versatile composite building material that manufacturers create from wood veneer and adhesive.
Different types of plywood exist from softwood and hardwood varieties to specialized versions for very specific applications. Plywood also comes in a range of sizes, from standard sizes to dimensions tailored for unique projects.
Understanding the diverse plywood options available allows you to choose the right type and size plywood piece for your project.
Types of Plywood
Plywood is an amazingly versatile building material. This is due to the wide variety of types and sizes of plywood.
The type of plywood often depends on the kind of wood veneer that manufacturers use to create the plywood, but the type can also vary according to the number and flexibility of the layers and chemical additives that give the plywood unique properties.
Manufacturers create softwood plywood from softwood varieties such as cedar, Douglas fir, spruce, pine, and redwood. Builders use softwood plywood widely throughout the construction industry because it is lightweight, so it is easy to handle and it is cost-effective. They use softwood plywood in applications such as sheathing, subfloors, decking material, and structural projects.
Hardwood plywood veneers come from domestic hardwood trees, such as oak, birch, maple, and beech. Builders and craftsmen prize hardwood plywood for its superior strength, stiffness, dimensional stability, durability, and aesthetic qualities. It is excellent material for many applications including heavy-duty floor and wall structures and also furniture, cabinetry, and decorative panels.
Tropical Hardwood Plywood
Manufacturers create tropical hardwood plywood from tropical hardwood varieties like mahogany, teak, and ebony. This plywood exhibits many of the same qualities as hardwood plywood such as strength and durability, and it also has other qualities like natural resistance to rot, moisture, and wood pests. Craftsmen around the world use tropical hardwood plywood for its interesting aesthetics like specific grain patterns and the color of the plywood.
It is vital to remember to source tropical plywood from sustainably managed forests as many forest sources in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia have been over-harvested because of the high demand for this type of plywood.
Fabricators create marine plywood for use in building boats, docks, and other water-exposed structures. They make this plywood using moisture-resistant tropical hardwood veneer and water-proof adhesive to resist warp and rot. The bonding is tight for this plywood as any gap in the veneer leaves room for water to enter and degrade the structural integrity of the plywood.
Structural plywood has a higher stiffness and strength than standard plywood. Manufacturers do this by choosing veneer types with greater strength and stiffness, using thicker core veneers, higher quality adhesives, increasing the number of plies or layers of veneer, and subjecting the plywood to greater pressure and heat during the hot pressing process.
Decorative plywood has a thin layer of decorative veneer on the face of the plywood. Hardwood veneers like ash, oak, maple, birch, rosewood, and teak are popular options for the facing veneer. Hardwood veneer gives plywood a more attractive and aesthetic quality. This makes it suitable for visible, decorative applications like interior stained surfaces and furniture.
Exterior plywood has qualities that ensure its structural integrity when it is exposed to exterior conditions including variations in light, moisture, and temperature. Hardwood and tropical hardwood veneers are the most suitable for exterior plywood because of their natural weather and rot resistance and strength. High-quality glues with excellent bonding strength and moisture resistance are also a necessity for exterior plywood.
Aircraft plywood is a high-strength plywood variety crafted from mahogany, spruce, and birch. This plywood is lightweight and strong. Manufacturers use strong adhesives that can stand up to high heat and humidity. They produce aircraft plywood in concordance with specific guidelines and specifications because it is commonly used in the construction of aircraft and other aerospace applications.
Manufacturers create flexible plywood for curved applications, including furniture, decorative objects, and architectural designs. They create the facing veneers from flexible wood types like birch, mahogany, and eucalyptus. Softwood varieties like poplar and pine are common for the core veneers because they are often more pliable.
Sizes of Plywood
Plywood is available in standard sizes, but it also can be custom cut according to specific project requirements. Standard sizes in the United States are set by the American Plywood Association (APA).
- 4×8 ft – 4 feet by 8 feet (1220mm x 2440mm) is the most common standard size for plywood. Builders refer to this as a “full sheet” or “standard sheet”.
- 4×4 ft – 4 feet by 4 feet (1220mm x 1220mm) plywood sheets are known as“half sheets” of plywood.
- 2×4 ft – 2 feet by 4 feet (610mm x 1220mm) pieces are “quarter sheets” of plywood.
- 4×10 ft – 10 feet by 4 feet (1220mm x 3050mm) sheets are large sheets of plywood. They are available but are less common than the standard sheet size. These are useful for large applications where the minimization of joints is necessary.
- 5×5 ft – 5 feet by 5 feet (1525mm x 1525mm) sheets are common in European markets and for aircraft plywood.