Types of Plywood
Plywood is a necessity in many DIY and construction projects, but not every type of plywood works for every project. The many types of plywood can differ in materials, number of layers, rating and grade. This guide will explain the different uses of plywood, as well as popular plywood sheet sizes and its rating and grade system, so that you can choose the best plywood for your project.
Plywood is an engineered wood from the manufactured boards family, which also includes particle board and oriented strand board (OSB). It is made from thin sheets of veneer peeled from debarked wood. These thin layers, also called plies, are glued together in alternating right angles to create a cross-grain pattern. This pattern adds strength and stability that resists shrinkage and expansion caused by moisture.
Plywood is a popular choice in construction because of its strength and low cost. It is usually used in areas that are hidden from view in a post-construction capacity. The most common plywood uses include support for floors, walls, roofs and garages in residential construction.
When used for roofing, plywood panels are covered and protected by a variety of building materials that keep the elements at bay, including roof felt, underlayment, flashing and shingles. When used in flooring, plywood functions as the subfloor that supports hardwoods, tile and carpet floors.
Plywood makes up most of the walls and floors in attics and are sometimes found in laundry rooms, closets and other unfinished areas in the home. Stainable and paintable plywood are often used to make shelving, cabinets and furniture. Plywood can also be made into fencing materials, packaging materials, scaffolding, sheds and shipping containers.
|sanded plywood||Sanded Plywood||The face and back (top and bottom) plies are sanded in the manufacturing process to be smooth and even. Little to no additional sanding is needed. Have a finish-quality appearance and a high strength-to-weight ratio.||Typically used where it will be seen, such as for cabinets, shelves and paneling. Strong enough to also be used in structural applications.|
|hardwood plywood||Hardwood Plywood||Made from hardwoods like birch, maple and oak. Plies are glued at right angles to one another, making the plywood very strong and stable. Can be heavier than other types of plywood.||Best used for furniture and anything that requires a strong load-bearing frame.|
|sheathing plywood||Plywood Sheathing or Structural Plywood||Designed for permanent structures. Strong and inexpensive, but unfinished and not made for appearances. Should be covered by other materials by the end of the project. May not be as weather-resistant as other types of plywood. Marine-grade plywood offers superior protection in wet environments. Can be made from hardwood or softwood.||Used for framing, beams, flooring and bracing panels.|
|project panels||Project Plywood Panels||Ready-to-use, pre-cut plywood boards designed for quick and easy DIY projects. Various types of wood, ply and plywood alternatives available.||Used for planned DIY projects when you know the measurements needed for plywood. Great for beginner DIYers.|
|Markerboard - Plywood||Markerboard||Plywood panels with a coated writing surface. For use with dry erase markers only.||Used to create craft tables or finished markerboards for chore lists, notes, calendars, drawings and more.|
A ply refers to a layer of veneer used to create plywood’s various thicknesses. More ply creates a thicker and stronger board. Plywood has an odd number of plies and needs at least three plies. Although specialty plywood can have any number of plies above three, most plywood is categorized as 3-ply, 5-ply or multi-ply.
- 3-ply is one of the most common types of plywood. It is about 2- to 3-millimeters thick and is generally used indoors, since it looks more decorative than thicker plywood boards.
- 5-ply is a versatile type of plywood that is about 4-millimeters thick. Use it indoors or outdoors, but avoid using for framing permanent structures, such as a shed or a home.
- Multi-ply is a catchall term for plywood with seven or more plies. This plywood is strong and durable enough for use in roofing, framing and other exterior, structural projects.
Tip: Plywood with fewer plies is weaker than a plywood with more plies, even if they have the same thickness.
Plywood is sold in various ratings, grades and sizes. Make your selection based on the type of project you’re working on.
There are five important ratings that convey where and how to use plywood: Exterior, Exposure 1, Exposure 2, Interior and Structural 1.
- Exterior means the panels have been waterproofed and can withstand inclement weather. Use exterior rated plywood for permanent outdoor structures that will be exposed to water long-term.
- Exposure 1 means the panels have been waterproofed and can withstand exposure to the elements during construction. However, they are not suitable for long-term exposure post-construction.
- Exposure 2 means the panels are made with an intermediate glue that is not fully waterproof. These panels can withstand occasional moisture but are otherwise intended for interior use.
- Interior means the panels are not waterproof and are designed for interior use only. They should not be exposed to moisture.
- Structural 1 is rated for seismic retrofit work, meaning it is designed to be earthquake resistant. Unless they have a Structural 1 rating, other plywood panels of any width are not suited for seismic retrofitting.
We carry four grades of plywood: A, B, C and D. The grade refers to the quality and appearance of the plywood’s face and back veneers. A has the highest quality and is the most expensive, and D is the least expensive.
- A-grade plywood features a smooth, sanded surface without knots. Any wood defects have been repaired with synthetic filler, so the veneer can be painted. A-grade plywood is ideal for furniture or cabinet doors.
- B-grade plywood also features a smooth, sanded surface, but may have more repaired defects up to 1-inch across.
- C-grade is unsanded and may have several minor defects that will need to be repaired with knots up to 1 1/2-inches across, discoloration and sanding defects. C-grade plywood should be used when appearance is not important, such as for subfloors or garages.
- D-grade is also unsanded with defects that have not been repaired and knot holes up to 2 1/2-inches across, discoloration and sanding defects.
- You may also find ratings with two-letter classifications, such as BC. BC-grade is a mix grade plywood with one side graded a B, while the other side is graded a C.
- The most common plywood sizes are 4- x 8-feet sheets and 5- x 5-feet sheets.
- We also carry pre-cut project panels that are available in different sizes that may vary by store. These project panels help eliminate waste, cut costs, and are easier to transport than full-size panels.
- The most common thickness of plywood is 1/2-inch, but plywood thickness can range from 1/8-inch to 3/4-inches.
You can use other types of boards in place of true plywood. They may even be commonly referred to as plywood, despite being manufactured differently. Although not technically plywood, other engineered wood boards and panels can be great options for construction projects when you want to save money or have a different look and feel.
Follow our chart below to find the best plywood alternative for your project.
oriented strand board - osb
|Description||Oriented Strand Board (OSB)||Particle Board (Low Density Fiberboard - LDF)||Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)|
|Feature/Benefits||Made from compressed layers of wood chips and adhesives. Has an unfinished appearance. Has a strong, consistent density. Usually heavier and less expensive than plywood. May degrade faster than plywood due to moisture.||Made from compressed wood fibers and adhesives, sometimes using a mold. Often made from wood scraps and waste, making it less expensive than plywood. Holds up well against temperature changes but will swell when exposed to water and moisture. Edges should be sealed to avoid water damage.||Made from heat-pressed wood fibers and adhesives. Stronger than particle board, but weaker than plywood. Has a uniform and smooth appearance that is easily painted or stained. Like particle board, it holds up well against temperature changes but not to water.|
|Recommended For||The most-used sheathing and subfloor material.||Frequently used in furniture construction, which is why it is sometimes also called furniture board.||Most often used for mouldings, cabinets and shelving.|
When choosing plywood or a plywood alternative, consider these features as well:
- Stainable plywood provides an already sanded surface that accepts stain well to create a natural-looking finish.
- Paintable plywood readily accepts paint and laminate for a unique and customized appearance.
- Pressure treated plywood resists damage from water, weather, decay and insects.
- Plywood with tongue and groove edges are designed to snap together easily while creating a strong and tight joint between panels.
Choose the types of plywood you need for your projects based on where and how you’ll be using the panels. Depending on the type of project you’re working on, project panels or plywood alternatives can save you time and money. If you need help identifying a tool or material, find products fast with image search in The Home Depot Mobile App. Snap a picture of an item or material you like and we'll show you similar products.