What is plywood? (with photos)

Stacks of plywood sheets.

Plywood is a wood product made from many sheets of veneer, or layers, pressed and glued together, with its grains going in opposite directions. It tends to be extremely strong, though not very attractive, and is treated in many different ways depending on its intended application. Due to the way plywood is constructed, it also resists cracking, bending, warping and shrinkage depending on its thickness. It is also known as engineered wood, although it is made from a composite of wood materials and various shapes have been made for thousands of years.

Sheets of plywood being attached to the side of a building.

The layers that make up plywood are usually cut on a rotating lathe, which cuts a continuous roll of wood while a log, called a debarker, is turned against it. Rotary turning is fast and makes efficient use of wood while producing veneers that are highly suitable for plywood. Some lathes are designed to expose the most interesting parts of the wood grain, although they can waste more wood.

Plywood is made from several layers of plywood glued together to create a strong but not-so-attractive substitute for solid wood.

Rotating turned veneers tend to have a dull appearance, yet are perfectly functional. After the veneers are cut, they are covered with layers of glue and pressed together until dry to form a flat, even, tight piece of plywood. Plywood is stronger than regular wood sheets or panels because the veneers are laid with their grains opposite, which also makes the wood product resist warping as the grains stretch against each other.

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Plywood comes in many forms and is commonly used to build houses.

Plywood comes in many forms, including softwood, which is made from pine, spruce, or spruce. Softwood plywood is usually light in color and is used in construction applications. It can also be decorative, with an exotic hardwood veneer. Mahogany or birch is used to create an extremely strong type known as aircraft plywood, because it was used in aircraft construction during World War II.

If the plywood is for indoor use, it is made with urea-formaldehyde glue, which dries quickly and is inexpensive. For use in outdoor applications or humid environments, a more expensive water resistant glue is used to prevent the layers from splitting, or delaminating, and compromising the strength of the plywood. Layers vary in thickness depending on the panels they are used on, from 1/10 inch (approximately 1/5 centimeter) to 1/6 inch (almost 1/5 centimeter). Standard sizes consist of sheets measuring 1.2 by 2.4 meters (4 by 8 feet) in three, five or seven layers. The end user can cut, reshape or sand these sheets to the required specifications.

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