If you are preparing for a project that requires construction materials, you might need to decide between plywood and plyboard. On the outside, the two items look alike and are used for a variety of construction projects. Yet plywood and plyboard are not the same and it is easy to get them confused with one another. So, which do you need?
Plywood is a strong, durable, water-resistant material ideal for construction inside and outside homes and offices. Plyboard is weaker than plywood, but it does not bend or warp, and it has a cleaner finish, so it is ideal for constructing long furniture and similar decorative projects indoors.
You have probably encountered both plywood and plyboard but did not realize what each item actually was compared to the other. Plywood and plyboard are both engineered wood-type products and look very similar, but also have their advantages and disadvantages. Read on to learn the differences and advantages of each.
What is the Difference Between Plywood and Plyboard?
Plywood is not exactly wood. Instead, it is a wood-based material that is actually made of numerous thin layers of stacked wood veneer sheets acquired from certain species of trees for a hardwood structure. Plyboard is also a wood-based material, just like plywood, but what makes it different is its construction.
Plywood is assembled in layers of wood veneers that are glued crossways—up to 90 degrees—and hot-pressed into a sheet. The process of compiling these wood veneer sheets is as follows:
This process of compilation affects the quality of plywood depending on the gluing and the number of layers used to make each sheet. Although plywood is essentially “laminated” wood, plyboard, on the other hand, has timber framing and solid wood layers in the core.
Plywood has a variety of uses and it is strong and durable. Some of these common uses are below.
- Interior and exterior walls
- Kitchen cabinets
Plywood can be used for fencing and on boats due to its water-resistant nature. You would never want to use plyboard for items exposed to the elements because it retains moisture. On the other hand, plywood sags and would not be good for long furniture.
Instead of gluing together thin layers of wood, manufacturers combine softwood strips and glue them together to make up the core of the material. The plyboard sides are made of veneer panels, while the wooden strips make up the middle.
Plyboard contains layers of wood-based material and one to two veneer sheets that cover the sides of the playboard, basically squeezing the wood strips in between the veneer sheet(s). The wood strips are about an inch wide and placed edge to edge. Plyboard is usually weaker at its core and not meant to be as durable as plywood.
Plyboard comes in handy for those long furniture items. It should be used for wooden projects that need longer pieces of wood since it is less susceptible to bending than plywood. Examples of these projects are below.
- Wall panels
Plyboard will not last as long as plywood, but it can be veneered, painted, or laminated, which extends its lifespan by 50 years or more. Its lifespan is increased even more if you keep the plywood in a dry environment (although it can be used around water). Plywood is more expensive, however, due to the quality hardwood strips used.
Which is Stronger, Plywood or Plyboard?
Plyboard could have a long lifespan when compared to other products and can make a quality piece. However, it is weaker than plywood because it is made of softwood strips (but these softwood strips are also more affordable). That being said, you should not worry about using plyboard for longer tables, shelves, and benches.
Plywood and plyboard have similar uses for furniture, shelving, doors, and paneling. If you have ordered a bookshelf and it came in pieces, for example, some of those pieces are more than likely either plywood or plyboard. They have different finishing and are both used to cover larger areas of the furniture like doors, shelves, paneling, and tables.
- Plywood is stronger – Although plywood is made of very thin sheets of wood veneers, plywood is stronger than plyboard. It is thicker, and the thickness of the material is uniform, unlike plyboard that only has softwood strips in its core surrounded by the veneer sheets. Now, if those wood strips are made of hardwood, this could greatly improve the strength of plywood.
- Plyboard does not bend or sag – When it comes to bending and sagging, plyboard over plywood and should be used for longer projects. Plyboard is more advantageous if you need to use longer pieces of material because it is stiffer than plywood. This means the plywood may bend and sag, whereas the plyboard can be used when a long piece of wood is required.
- Plywood is resistant to warping and cracking – Plywood is usually stronger and is more resilient to warping and cracking. This makes plywood ideal for framing and paneling interior walls since it is both strong and flexible. Plus, it lasts longer. Plyboard should be used when longer pieces of material are needed, but it is less durable overall.
The Durability of Plywood
The durability of plywood is due to its procedure of laminating numerous layers of wood veneer together with glue. This process resulted in a thicker, stronger, and sturdier wood sheet, and plywood, along with its many strengths, was born.
The strengths of plywood include:
- Its laminated structure makes it more stable than plyboard
- The Wood-based material makes it impact resistant
- The cross-lamination ensures sheet stability
- It has a higher strength-to-weight ratio
- It does not corrode when exposed to and used with certain chemicals
The strength and durability of plywood are based on two things: how it is made and the material in its core. Plywood is made using a process called cross-graining, during which the wood strips are layered. Since plywood is made of layers of wood veneer that are rotated up to 90 degrees, it is more durable for outdoor and indoor projects.
This process of cross-graining also increases the plywood’s strength because it uses an odd number of layers. This odd number helps the plywood resist warping because it is more balanced throughout. Yet, it is the hardwood material inside the core layers that makes plywood much stronger than plyboard. Hardwood is stronger than softwood.
Another advantage of plywood is its resistance to splitting when you hammer nails into the edges. If you ever hammered nails into a wood-like material only to have the edges split, you were likely nailing into plyboard, not plywood. If you are making furniture that needs nails or screws inserted in the edges, plywood is the best choice over plyboard.
Three Types of Plywood in Which to Choose
There are many uses for each form of material due to their advantages and disadvantages. For example, although plyboard is ideal for larger projects due to its resilience to bending and sagging, it is not water-resistant like plywood. Plyboard is susceptible to water damage and is even known to hold in water and stay damp.
Although plywood is more advantageous for outdoor uses due to its water-resistance nature, there are essentially four different types of plywood that have different uses:
Structural plywood is strong and durable for subfloors, roof and wall bracing, and beams. Exterior plywood is also strong and water-resistant, so it is used for outdoor constructions. Marine plywood is a sturdy, higher-quality material for outdoor boat and deck structures. Interior plywood is what you would use to build home furniture pieces.
Plywood is ideal for custom-built, less lengthy furniture, walls, floors, and roofs due to its water-resistant nature. Although it is much more resistant to moisture and carries less risk of being damaged by water, a disadvantage of plywood is that it is lighter and tends to sag and bend in the center, so it is not advantageous for creating long items.
Exterior, Interior, and Structural Plywood
Just as there are differences with plywood versus plyboard, there are also choices that need to be made when it comes to exterior versus interior plywood. Exterior plywood is constructed using a high-quality adhesive, which is stronger compared to the glue used for interior plywood. However, this also makes exterior plywood more costly.
Exterior plywood also uses waterproof glue, which is why it is much more appropriate for outdoor construction. That being said, interior plywood can be made to be water-resistant as well. Remember that this is a benefit of plywood overall. Choose interior plywood with water-resistant glue, and you can ensure your items will be water-resistant.
Both exterior and interior plywood carry the same advantages:
- They are both made in layers, so the weight is light overall.
- They both use the same cross-graining procedure, so they are both strong.
- They are both resistant to cracking, warping, bending, and shrinking.
- They are both aesthetically pleasing because of the specific timber that is used.
Structural plywood is usually used in home construction because its thickness adheres to building codes. So, this type of plywood is used for wall and roof covering and flooring. You can also find structural plywood in parts of a home’s actual structure, such as in roofs and floors. It is also beneficial in crates, boxes, outdoor furniture, and sheds.
Marine Plywood versus Structural Plywood
Marine plywood and structural plywood cannot be interchangeable even though they are both ideal for outdoor use. Although marine plywood is considered a type of structural plywood, it still has its specific uses and criteria below.
Unless plywood meets the criteria below, it is not marine-grade plywood and should not be used for projects that specifically require the use of marine plywood:
- Marine plywood cannot have voids in the inner veneer layers because they can cause delamination when filled with water
- It must be manufactured using waterproof glue
- It requires a higher grade of face veneer
All three of those criteria must be met for plywood to reach marine-grade standards. Marine-grade plywood should also meet a water boil-proof standard when it is manufactured if it was originally made for boatbuilding. There are other reasons when marine grade plywood is used over structural plywood.
When Marine Grade Plywood is Advantageous
Its water-resistance is probably one of the main benefits of using plywood over plyboard. Although having your construction projects inside will extend the life of plywood, you can and should use it when your projects are near water. This is where marine plywood can be used, in case regular plywood may not be an option for you.
Marine-grade plywood should be used for durable outdoor structures like boats and decks because it is a higher-grade material than structural, exterior, or interior plywood. It is also even sturdier than the other types of plywood and is not treated with chemicals. It is, however, treated with heat and pressure to retain its structure around water.
Unlike normal wood that is exposed to water, this wood is resistant to rotting or decaying. This is because marine-grade plywood is treated with heat and pressure when the plies are arranged. Similar to regular plywood, the layers are cross-laminated and glued, but the waterproof glue aids with moisture and high temperatures.
If you plan to build a project that is outdoors in high temperatures, near water, or simply around moisture or humidity, you should use marine-grade plywood versus structural, exterior, or interior types. The waterproof glue will ensure the plies will not delaminate and stay strong in any climate. The protective finish will defend against rot and decay.
The Durability of Plyboard
Plyboard is stiffer than plywood and is less vulnerable to bending and sagging. Both materials are resistant to splitting, but plywood is more difficult to cut and chip. Plyboard does not part when cutting and has a uniform structure versus plywood’s slight visible gaps throughout. It is also very resistant to warping and cracking.
Although plywood can be painted, laminated, lacquered, or veneered, its surface clearly shows the wood’s grain characteristics. This may be off-putting to some homeowners. Plyboard does not display a grain pattern and is available in an assortment of aesthetic and cleaner finishes. You can choose decorative looks including:
- Wood veneer
- Plastic laminates
- Melamine paper
Plyboard is perfect for long furniture such as bookshelves, extensive and prolonged wall panels, and long tables. It also looks more like wood in many cases because the board has a more solid wood appearance. The wooden sheets glued together on plywood are more visible and may not look good on decorative projects.
Although plyboard is ideal for longer projects, it is not as strong as plywood because softwood strips are used in the core. If you need plyboard for strength, make sure the core is made of hardwood. That way, its strength can be increased. Keep the plyboard projects inside the house since it is susceptible to water damage and retains moisture.
When to Use Plyboard
Plyboard is ideal for covering large areas of furniture, for example, while plywood is used for smaller areas because it tends to sag and bend. Plyboard is ideal for the following uses within your home:
- Larger pieces of furniture like long tables or bookshelves
- Long wall panels
Plyboard weighs less than plywood because the latter is made of dense, hardwood veneer. This makes plywood a higher quality material overall for many projects. Plywood also has numerous uses in construction projects because of its durability and flexibility. Some common uses and applications of plyboard are:
- Furniture (except long pieces)
- Roofing and flooring
- Playground furniture
- Stereo speakers
Both materials come in a variety of sizes. Plyboard is available in about a half-inch to two and ½ inches in thickness. Plywood comes in much smaller ranges, less than an inch in thickness. Both materials come in the standard eight feet by four feet size and can also be customized based on your needs and the specifics of your project.
If strength is a major factor in your project, plywood is the way to go. For example, kitchen cabinets, which are opened and closed throughout the day, need a stronger material like plywood. Plywood is made of hardwood and plyboard is made of a softwood core, so plywood wins out on the strength and durability front.
Projects that are long call for plyboard instead because plyboard does not have the same tendency to sink or sag in the middle that plywood does. Just be sure to keep plyboard items inside your home since they are not water-resistant. In the end, an outdoor table can be made of plywood, and an indoor table can be made of plyboard.
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As a homeowner, I am constantly experimenting with making the structure of my house more energy-efficient, eliminating pests, and taking on DIY home improvement projects. Over the past two decades, my family has rehabbed houses and contracted new home builds and I’ve learned a lot along the way. I share my hard-learned lessons so that you can save time and money by not repeating my mistakes.
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