The Untold Beauty of Plywood
The Untold Beauty of Plywood
I recently discovered a new trend – both in the green building movement and in more posh, design circles – that plywood is ‘fair game.’ Plywood is generally considered a very unfinished, unsightly you could say, building material. But new creative use of plywood has allowed it to disown its ugly mold and to adapt a new paradigm as a cheaper, greener and even beautiful form of wood material.
So this in many ways is very good news, for people who want to maybe have the benefit of hardwood floors without having to pay for labor intensive installation or the very expensive wood with which to do that installation.
So plywood has many advantages – perhaps the most obvious is its large dimensions paired with cheap cost. It’s easy to install on the floor so any diy-er can do this without worrying about the joints. The joints are fewer and farther between and since plywood is large, properly aligning the pieces is not difficult to do – nor is cutting it when you need to.
Checking out different types of plywood spaces on Google I discovered a lot of beautiful spaces that have really capitalized on plywood’s untold potential. So that’s really amazing and interesting to me…
I think that as plywood is more and more known, people will feel increasingly comfortable using it by looking beyond its original unfinished quality. Now there are plenty of examples of polished, well-designed spaces that are maximizing on the positive qualities of plywood. People can visually connect with such images and spaces, and so they’re much more willing to make that translation to their own building decisions and choices.
So let’s look at plywood’s anatomy: It’s basically a thin conglomeration of cheaper quality wood that independently couldn’t be used for any sort of structural purpose. Plywood is a manufactured result of that, with layers that are fused together, and because the layers are so thin they run in alternating grain direction. Its an odd number too, standard of five, sandwiched layers that effectively locks the plywood together as a way of counteracting plywood’s natural tendency to warp, which being a cheaper and flexible material, does have legitimate concerns.
There are three grades of plywood – so you must properly match the purpose of the plywood with the grade of the plywood. Grade A is the smoothest, you could walk barefoot on it, ‘splinter free’ and with very few if any surface flaws in the wood – no bulges, no easy chipping, etc. It’s as close to flawless as plywood gets. So then there’s the middle grade B, which is not so smooth but could still be sanded down in most cases. And then grade C should be reserved for sub-surface functions in a floor, patio, furniture, etc. – any area that is not to be visible or directly touched. Also beware that plywood is a jackal and hyde kinda material : one side is ‘presentable’ – the other side is rough and flawed.
Four types of plywood that I’ve discovered:
Pine – a very soft wood, which makes it less than ideal to become plywood – because its so soft and because plywood in its own right is flexible and soft, it’s probably not a good idea unless its used for something that won’t be exposed to a lot of wear and tear – for example wall paneling or shelves. Pine on the floor or deck? Not so good.
Birch – a hard wood, a light wood, can be very pretty whether stained or not.
Oak – is more expensive than birch and pine but it’s also more difficult to fabricate and join. The source I read said that with joining oak plywood, nailing the plywood always requires drilling a pilot hole, and easily chip with over-working, but if done properly the finish on oak plywood can be considered superb, esp. considering its price point – the ‘happy medium’ with good results.
Eucalyptus – another one that is a bit more exotic to us in North American dwellers. The advantage of this tree is that it grows at a much faster rate than other hardwood trees. But keep in mind that eucalyptus is an import. It is considered a semi-tropical, exotic wood, so along with mahogany, I would think very carefully about where this wood is sourced from and whether or not I feel ethically aligned with that source. Also an interesting fact is that eucalyptus apears and behaves a lot like cherry wood, which is a very warm wood.
Check out this site to compare different types of plywood….
Anyways – if you’re ever in a pinch for wood floors, just dare to consider plywood!