20+ Different Types of Plywood (For Siding & Flooring)
Whether you’re building cabinetry in your kitchen, installing flooring, or making shelves, plywood is an absolute necessity for many construction and DIY projects.
If you’re relatively unfamiliar with plywood, you may not be aware that not every type of plywood will work for every project. The numerous plywood options can also be very overwhelming, as they differ in the number of layers, grade, rating, and materials.
However, that’s where we come in! We’ve put together an ultimate plywood guide to help explain all the different types of plywood and which projects they work best for. That way, you’ll be able to easily determine which plywood is best for your next project.
Before we jump into the uses and types of plywood, we recently wrote about Lauan Plywood, a special type used in furniture and other projects. It’s one that’s not on our list, so make sure to read about it as well.
What is Plywood?
A part of the manufactured boards family, plywood is considered an engineered wood. It falls under the same category as oriented strand board (OSB) and particleboard. Plywood is made from thin sheets of veneer that are peeled off of debarked wood. These layers, also referred to as “plies,” are adhered together at alternating right angles which creates a cross-grain pattern.
The purpose of this pattern is to add stability and strength to the plywood. It also resists any possible shrinkage or expansion as a result of moisture. Due to its low cost and durability, plywood is a very popular choice for construction projects. However, it is most often used in places that are hidden from sight in a post-construction capability.
Uses for Plywood
Plywood is widely available, popular, and used for a variety of projects both around the home and commercially. As previously mentioned, plywood is most often used in a post-construction capacity. The most common uses for plywood in residential construction include the support for roofing, walls, floors, and garages.
When plywood is used on roofs, the panels are protected and shielded by a variety of building materials to help keep out the elements. In this orientation, plywood is placed underneath the roof felt, underlayment, flashing, and the shingles. Whereas, when it’s used for flooring, plywood serves as the subfloor, supporting tile, carpet, and hardwood floors.
In addition to roofing and floors throughout the home, plywood makes up much of the walls and floors in the attic and can often be found in laundry rooms, closets, or other finished parts of the home. Whereas, paintable and stainable plywood are typically seen being used for cabinets, furniture, and shelving. Plywood can even be used in the construction of fencing, scaffolding, packaging, shipping containers, and sheds.
Types of Ply
If you’ve ever shopped for plywood you’ve likely heard it describe as being a certain level of “ply.” Plywood thickness, or how many sheets are glued together, is referred to as plywood “grade.” The higher the number of plies, the thicker and more durable the plywood is. For example, a 3-ply piece of plywood just means that three layers of wood veneer were used to create its’ thickness.
Finished plywood is the result of many pieces of veneer glued together. However, it’s worth noting that the thickness of the actual veneer can vary. Also, depending on your local building code, certain areas of your home may meet very specific standards in regards to the number of plies for a board of a particular depth.
While some projects won’t require a very thick board, others will. Because of this, to make an informed decision about what type of plywood is right for your project, it’s important that you understand all the various types of ply:
- 3-Ply: 3-ply is considered one of the most common types of plywood. It consists of only three layers of wood veneer, is roughly between two and three millimeters thick, and is often used for indoor projects, as it tends to appear more decorative than thicker alternatives.
- 5-Ply: Made up of five layers of wood veneer, 5-ply is about four millimeters thick. It is another common type of plywood that can be used both indoors and outdoors. However, you should avoid using 5-ply on framing for permanent structures such as your home or a shed.
- Multi-Ply: Multi-ply is a term used to describe many different types of plywood that consist of seven plies or more. Unlike other types of plywood, multi-ply is exceptionally strong and durable and can be used for framing roofing, and any other outdoor, structural projects.
Overall, the fewer the number of plies, the weaker the plywood is going to be. Even if two boards with a differing number of plies have the same thickness, the plywood with more plies will be stronger.
A plywood’s grade refers to the appearance and quality of the board’s back and face veneers. There are four main grades of plywood veneer, or layers: A, B, C, and D. In some cases, you’ll find plywood with two-letter grade classifications. These are mixed-grade plywood, meaning each veneer is given two grades, being labeled ‘AB’ or ‘BC’ for example. The first letter in the compound corresponds to the face veneer, while the second letter is for the back layer.
If a plywood’s compound name has an X at the end, this indicates that it has a particular level of exposure to moisture. In regards to A, B, C, and D grades, A is the most expensive and highest quality, with D being on the opposite end of the spectrum – the least expensive and lowest quality.
- A-Grade: A-grade plywood is the highest quality grade, and therefore the most expensive. The veneers in this type of plywood are nearly flawless, with a smooth, sanded surface free of knots. Any defects in the wood can be repaired easily using a synthetic filler, allowing the veneer to be painted. A-grade plywood is the ideal choice for cabinet doors and furniture.
- B-Grade: B-grade plywood, in comparison to A-grade, will be slightly less smooth but still have a solid foundation and a sanded surface. It typically has minor flaws and may be subject to more repairs with defects up to 1-inch across.
- C-Grade: This type of plywood is unsanded and may contain several minor defects to the surface that require repairing. C-grade plywood also generally has knots up to 1 ½ inches across, sanding defects, and discoloration. You should use this type of plywood when appearance isn’t a factor, such as for garages and subfloors.
- D-Grade: Like C-grade, D-grade plywood is also unsanded. It is the cheapest of all the plywood grades and these sheets most often require repairs. The surface almost always has larger defects that have not been repaired and knotholes up to 2 1/2 inches across, as well as discoloration and defects from sanding.
In addition to the grade and type of ply, plywood comes in varying levels of thickness, length, and width to meet the individual needs of your project. While some sheets are very thin and can be bend over structures to form unique shapes, others are thick, durable, and can withstand a considerable amount of weight. Plywood sheets are generally found very long, but you can also have them cut at the hardware store to your desired measurements.
When shopping for plywood, it’s important to remember that the size noted on the side of the panel may not be exact. For instance, a ¾-inch piece of plywood actually measures 23/32-inch. This slight difference is essential to consider when you’re planning out your project, as even a minor gap can be unsightly.
- The most common sizes for plywood are 4- by 8-foot sheets and 5- by 5-foot sheets.
- The most common thickness of plywood is ½-inch; however, plywood thickness can range from 1/8-inch to ¾-inches.
- Most hardware stores carry pre-cut project panels in different sizes, depending on the particular store. This helps to eliminate waste, keep costs low, and make the panels much easier to transport than the full-size alternative.
Keep in mind, that some lumber yards may mark their sizing in millimeters, as opposed to inches. This can complicate shopping if you live in the United States. Therefore, keep your phone handy so you can make a quick conversion and ensure that you are purchasing the correct size you need.
As previously mentioned, your choice in plywood should be based on the type of project you’re working on. In addition to type, grade and size, plywood can be categorized based on where and how it should be used. There are five important ratings used to describe plywood: Exterior, Exposure 1, Exposure 2, Interior, and Structural 1.
- Exterior is used to describe panels that have been made water-resistant and can stand up to inclement weather. You’ll want to opt for exterior rated plywood for permanent outdoor structures, or anything that may have long-term exposure to water.
- Exposure 1 refers to the panels that are waterproofed and can withstand exposure to the elements during construction. However, plywood with this rating is not suitable for long-term exposure after construction.
- Exposure 2 indicates that the panels were manufactured with an intermediate adhesive that is not entirely waterproof. These boards can stand up to occasional moisture but are otherwise meant to be used indoors.
- Interior means that the plywood boards are waterproof but are meant for interior use only. They should, therefore, never be exposed to moisture.
- Structural 1 is plywood that is rated for seismic retrofit purposes. This means that it is designed to be earthquake resistant. Unless plywood has a rating of Structural 1, other plywood panels, regardless of the width, are not suited for earthquake retrofitting.
Types of Plywood
The sheer amount of options you have to choose from at your local hardware store when it comes to plywood can make your decision incredibly difficult. However, understanding the most common types, how they differ, and what they’re used for can simplify your shopping trip and help you make a more informed decision.
Softwood is a form of plywood that is manufactured with a face and back veneer of softwood like cedar, fir, pine, redwood, and more. The panels also consist of a core made of softwood, which is then faced and backed using a veneer made of softwood. Although, based on the name, you might assume that this type of plywood isn’t as strong as other alternatives, this could not be further from the truth.
In fact, softwood plywood is often used for structural purposes such as roof sheathing, exterior frame sheathing, and sub-flooring. It can also be used in the construction of doghouses, sheds, shelving, temporary flooring, and more. Some examples of softwood plywood include:
- Redwood plywood
- Cedar plywood
- Pine plywood
- Fir plywood
Hardwood plywood is generally found between three and seven-ply and is constructed using hardwoods. The core hardwood plywood consists of either softwood or hardwood and it is then faced and backed using a veneer of stain or finish grade hardwood. As a result, hardwood plywood is often used in the construction of cabinets, furniture, millwork, and other decorative purposes.
Many years ago, hardwood plywood replaced solid lumber as the material of choice for cabinets, built-ins, and many different kinds of furniture. This has to do with the fact that hardwood plywood is more stable than solid wood, relatively economical, and can be found in a wide array of grades and species. Some examples of hardwood plywood include the following:
- Alder plywood
- Oak plywood
- Birch plywood
- Maple plywood
- Beech plywood
- Cherry plywood
- Poplar plywood
Most hardwood plywood is constructed using Formaldehyde free glues which aren’t resistant to moisture, meaning they are best used for interior purposes. However, there are exterior grade hardwood plywood available by special order.
3. Marine Plywood
Marine plywood, also referred to as marine-grade plywood, is manufactured with a water-resistant exterior glue. It is still made with the same layered construction as other plywoods and, contrary to what you may think, is not entirely waterproof. Marine plywood is essentially a type of hardwood plywood that uses a different adhesive, which makes it more ideal for exterior use.
It isn’t resistant to mold, mildew, or rot caused by water and the elements. Manufacturers do not treat marine plywood with chemicals, so it can be susceptible to rot and decay if it isn’t properly treated with a preservative.
The major difference between marine plywood and other alternatives is the grade. Marine-grade wood typically consists of Douglass Fir, Larch, or other hardwoods and must have a B-grade or better. To be considered marine-grade, the wood also must not have any knotholes and it must be manufactured using a water-resistant glue. This ensures that the glue won’t fail when it comes into contact with moisture.
As a result, this type of plywood is often one of the highest-graded and best-constructed options available. You’ll often see marine-grade plywood in use on outdoor furniture and decorative elements, such as benches, gazebos, and planters.
4. Aircraft Plywood
Like marine grade plywood, aircraft plywood is one of the most durable and highest-grade plywood that you can buy. It is made using hardwoods, such as birch, mahogany, or oak, resulting in an exceptionally strong sheet that is resistant to both heat and moisture.
The design of aircraft plywood features very thin wood veneers, which keep the finished product light and flexible. However, it still has rigid strength and durability, making it the ideal choice for some of the heftiest applications. You’ll often find aircraft plywood is used on, you guessed it, airplanes. It’s also used for anything else that may need a certain level of industrial-strength such as boats and furniture that is intended to hold a significant amount of weight.
4. Exterior Plywood
Exterior plywood is similar to marine plywood in that it is made using a water and weather resistant adhesive. When manufacturing exterior-grade plywood, the most important consideration is how it will hold up against wind, rain, and various other weather conditions. This type of plywood is intended to withstand the elements, creating a durable, robust frame that will last many years.
Most exterior plywood sheets contain many layers and can be classified as multi-ply. Additionally, depending on the area you live in, you’ll have a variety of wood materials to choose from when it comes to exterior plywood. Some locations that are prone to harsher seasons may benefit more from a wood like oak, which is naturally resistant to mold and mildew that can result from very damp conditions.
5. Phenolic Plywood
Phenolic plywood is the name for common Eastern European or Scandinavian Birch plywood (EURO Birch or Baltic Birch) that has been bonded together using a waterproof phenol resin glue. It is then overlaid on both sides using a smooth phenol film (grade F/F), which is hot-pressed onto the surface. The resulting surface is hard, smooth, and glossy.
This type of plywood withstands abrasion and is resistant to moisture and commonly used chemicals. The edges of phenolic plywood may be matched with the face to prevent moisture absorption or can be left unsealed. It comes in a variety of colors ranging from bright yellow and red to a natural or dark brown wood color.
Phenolic plywood is very durable, environmentally friendly, robust, water-proof, easy to clean, and does not have any unpleasant odors. It is suitable for use in the construction of cabinets, furniture, millwork, restaurants, concrete forming, durable work surface, jigs, tooling, and the transportation industry.
6. Overlaid Plywood
Concrete forming, exterior siding, and other demanding applications require durable building materials. With both exterior-grade plywood and an overlaid surface, APA trademarked High Density and Medium Density Overlay plywood (HDO and MDO) offers a combination of toughness and superior wear. As a result, overlaid plywood is considered one of the most durable construction materials used today.
The faces of HDO and MDO are exceptionally durable, made of resin-impregnated fiber. The resin, which is bonded under pressure and heat, helps to form a very tough surface that resists moisture, abrasion, deterioration, and chemicals. Although HDO is made with more resin than MDO, both are considerably more durable than standard plywood. This makes them both the ideal choice for even the most grueling of applications.
Although overlaid plywood maintains the traditional advantages that come with most plywood, such as flexibility, high strength to weight ratio, rack resistance, and dimensional stability, panels can be purchased in large sizes and they don’t require any specialized tools.
7. Sheathing Plywood
Sheathing plywood, or structural plywood, is a type of plywood that is intended to be used for structural purposes such as framing, flooring, beams, and bracing panels. It is very strong, designed for permanent structures, and comes unfinished, meaning it is not made for applications where appearance is a concern. This type of plywood should always be covered by other materials by the completion of the project.
Depending on the particular sheathing plywood you purchase, it may not be as weather-resistant as other options. Though, marine-grade plywood is a type of sheathing plywood and offers superior protection against wet conditions. Sheathing plywood can be found made from either hardwood or softwood.
Structural plywood panels generally have a C or D grade, but nothing higher. As a result, they are often more affordable when compared to other options.
8. Lumber Core
Typically found with three plies, lumber core, or block-board, plywood consists of a thick core and two thin veneers, one on each side. In most cases, the outer wood veneers are made out of hardwood, while the inner core consists of strips of wood that are glued onto a solid slab.
The construction of the inner core of lumber core plywood is meant to help grasp screws, meaning this type of plywood is ideal for projects that require a strong screw hold. However, the main disadvantage to lumber core is that those that are poorly made may have voids in the core. This reduces its’ screw holding ability and decreases the overall strength of the board.
9. Project Panels
Project plywood panels are boards that are pre-cut and ready to use for quick and easy DIY projects. They can be found at your local hardwood store in varying types of wood, ply, and also plywood alternatives. Project panels are intended to be used for DIY projects where you already know the required measurements for the plywood you need.
This type of plywood is great for a beginner DIYer, offering convenience and a simple plywood shopping experience!
Markerboards are sheets of plywood that have been coated with a writing surface. As a result, markerboards can only be used with dry-erase markers. This type of plywood is used for creating craft tables, finished markerboards for chore lists, calendars, drawings, notes, and more.
Plywood markerboard panels can be purchased at most home improvement centers. Alternatively, you can also find chalkboard panels that are finished with a surface that is intended to be used with chalk.
Alternatives to Plywood
There are many other types of wood that can be used in place of traditional plywood. While these alternatives aren’t technically classified as plywood, they can be used for many of the same applications. One might choose to opt for another type of engineered board or panel to save money or achieve a different look and feel for the project.
The following are some of the options you have to choose from when it comes to plywood alternatives:
1. Particle Board/Low-Density Fiber Board (LDF)
Put simply, particleboard, or low-density fiberboard (LDF), is a waste-wood product that is made by heating and pressurizing wood chips, sawdust, shavings, and resin together. To achieve a finished product that is fireproof, insect-proof, and fire-resistant, chemicals are used in the manufacturing process.
Once the chemicals, wood scraps, and resin are all combined, the mixture is formed into a sheet. In some cases, particleboard is created using a mold. Though particleboard will hold up well against temperature changes, it will swell when it comes into contact with water and moisture. As a result, the edges of the particleboard must be sealed to prevent water damage.
Since it is made from essentially wood waste, it is much more affordable than conventional plywood. It is also very lightweight and ideal for ready-made furniture pieces. Low-density fiberboard is commonly used in the construction of furniture, and is even sometimes called “furniture board.” However, it cannot support heavy loads and is not as eco-friendly as other alternatives.
2. Medium Density Fiber Board (MDF)
Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is an engineered wood composite that is constructed using wood fibers. Since it is made using very small wood fibers, MDF does not have visible wood grain, knots, or rings on the surface. The lack of wood grain is often a drawback for some, especially those who desire an authentic wood appearance for their project.
Though there are other types of fiberboard, LDF included, medium-density fiberboard is the most common. You can find MDF made of hardwood, softwood, or possibly a combination of the two. MDF is also less expensive than traditional plywood and is stronger than cheaper options like particleboard.
Typically denser than plywood, MDF makes for a much more durable building material. Not to mention, it’s easy to cut, easy to paint, offers a smooth surface, and doesn’t put you at risk of splinters. The downsides to MDF are that it is considerably heavy, cannot be stained, and will dull blades due to the density.
3. Oriented Strand Board (OSB)
Oriented strand board (OSB) is another type of engineered wood that is relatively similar to the aforementioned particleboard. It is formed by adding adhesives and compressing various layers of wood strands (flakes) into particular orientations. OSB shares many performance and strength characteristics of traditional plywood, making it an excellent alternative.
The combination of wood and adhesives results in a strong and dimensionally stable panel that is able to resist warping, deflection, and delamination. They can also resist distortion and racking when they come into contact with strong wind or other inclement weather conditions. Comparative to their strength, OSB boards are also very lightweight, easy to handle, and simple to install.
Though lightweight, oriented strand board is generally heavier than plywood, but less expensive. One of the few downsides to this plywood alternative is that moisture may cause it to degrade faster than plywood. However, OSB remains the most-used material for sheathing and sub-flooring.
In recent years, foamboard has become increasingly popular as a rot-resistant alternative to traditional plywood panels. These sheets consist of polyurethane foam which is reinforced on either side with fiberglass. The construction of foamboard results in a panel that is, arguably, just as strong as plywood with the added benefit of resistance against mold, mildew, and wood rot.
With regard to rigidity, foamboard is dissimilar to plywood and will not hold epoxy laminations as well. Though, in addition to being rot-resistant, it is also UV resistant, non-toxic, stable, easy to work with, highly paintable, and waterproof. Not to mention, PVC foamboard is lighter and less expensive than plywood.
Hardboard is similar to MDF in that it is a type of fiberboard, however, it is made out of exploded wood fibers. It is essentially a thin piece of fiberboard that generally has one finished side and one rough side. The fibers in the hardboard are compressed to roughly 65 pounds per cubic foot, resulting in a construction that is often much stronger and denser than MDF. Its density also prevents bending or warping.
Despite its thin frame, hardboard is considerably durable and is often seen used on furniture frames, kitchen countertops, and even subflooring. However, two of the most common uses for hardboard are pegboards, used to hang hooks for tools and other objects, and as a surface for skateboard ramps.
Additional Plywood Features
When you’re shopping for plywood or a plywood alternative, there are some additional features you may want to consider, such as:
- Paintable plywood is a type of plywood that readily accepts paint and laminate, allowing you to achieve a fully customized and unique appearance.
- Stainable plywood will offer a surface that is already sanded and accepts stain well to obtain a natural-looking finish.
- Pressure-treated plywood is a form of plywood that resistant to damage caused by water, decay, insects, and weather.
- Plywood with tongue and groove edges are meant to be easily snapped together, creating a strong and secure joint between plywood panels.
To choose the best plywood for your project, base your decision on where and how the panels will be used. Depending on your particular project, you may save some money by opting for a plywood alternative or project panels.
If your project doesn’t require you to cover up your plywood and you’d prefer to stain or paint the panels, it’s important that you choose boards that offer the proper surface. Higher-grade panels, or those that are marked as A or B, are generally the best grade for finishing plywood. If you intend to finish both sides, make sure that both letters are either A or B.
When it comes to painting, you’ll need to prime nearly every type of plywood first. This will result in a much smoother surface and also help the paint to adhere much easier. To obtain the right finish, you’ll need no less than two coats of paint. Also, for best results, try painting with a brush as this will help you penetrate the wood better and require fewer layers.
As far as staining plywood goes, opt for a smooth plywood. Otherwise, you’ll have a very difficult time achieving an even finish with stain. Once applied, allow the stain to dry for at least 24 hours before you coat it with a clear varnish. This step is important, as the addition of the varnish will help to protect the stain and seal the plywood.
Whether you’re painting or staining, it’s highly advisable that you use a sealant to prevent rotting and mold, should the wood ever come into contact with moisture.
Can plywood be recycled?
The manner in which plywood is recycled depends on the type. Unpainted, unstained, and untreated plywoods are generally converted into wood waste, later becoming mulch or compost. Whereas, solid pieces of plywood can sometimes be repurposed to create a distressed appearance on furniture.
What kind of plywood is best for roofing?
Radiant barrier plywood is the most common type of plywood used for roofing. It is designed to be durable on the face, resisting rain damage and physical wear.
What kind of plywood is best for flooring?
Interior rated plywood is the best choice for indoor flooring. However, this type of plywood is only moderately sealed and it should only be applied to rooms that don’t experience too much moisture. For kitchens and bathrooms, opt for an exterior rated plywood.
Jessica considers herself a home improvement and design enthusiast. She grew up surrounded by constant home improvement projects and owes most of what she knows to helping her dad renovate her childhood home. Being a Los Angeles resident, Jessica spends a lot of her time looking for her next DIY project and sharing her love for home design.
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