What is Plywood? How To Use, Treat & Paint Plywood

If you’ve ever partaken in a DIY project or you’ve been involved in construction, you’ll have no doubt worked with plywood. This popular material has a whole host of benefits that make it great to work with, from its advantageous characteristics including strength through to its vast versatility and cost-effectiveness. 

Whether you’re dealing with plywood for the first time or you’re looking for a little more information about this useful material, you’ve come to the right place. Here at Arnold Laver, we’re talking all things plywood, answering your FAQs and detailing how to work with plywood for the best possible results. 

What is plywood?

Plywood is a construction or DIY sheet material, made up of a number of layers of real wood – known as “plies” and giving the material its name – glued together. The more layers of wood in the plywood, the stronger and thicker the sheet. 

When plywood is made, a method called “cross-graining” is used. This means the grain of each sheet is alternated, which gives the end product a number of benefits, such as:

  • Plywood is strong, especially compared to other sheet materials
  • There is a reduced risk of the wood splitting when nailed in at the edges
  • Both shrinkage and expansion are reduced
  • The sheet is balanced, which reduces warping

Plywood is mostly used because of its strength when compared to other sheet materials such as MDF, and because of its cheaper price point when compared to solid wood. 

Plywood is an extremely versatile material, used both indoors and outdoors for a wide range of construction or DIY purposes. From walls and floors through the furniture making, plywood remains the number one choice for many.

Can I bend plywood?

While plywood is sold as a solid, straight sheet, it is possible to bend it. This is good news for those looking to build or craft, as it hugely increases the versatility of the material and the ways in which it can be used.

However, not every type of plywood is suitable for bending. Construction-grade plywood, for example, consists of softwood fibres which can separate when placed under pressure. The best plywoods for bending are those with a close-grained hardwood, which is far less likely to separate or splinter. 

When bending plywood, it is better to work along the grain rather than against it – working against the grain puts more pressure on the wood, and massively increases the chance of the surface splintering. 

How to waterproof plywood

Plywood has a number of benefits, a key one being that it is suitable for work in outdoors products. However, if you’re using plywood outdoors – or especially in water, for example in boat building – we would always recommend treating and waterproofing the wood. 

Due to the layered nature of plywood, it can absorb water if it is exposed to an excessive amount. When this happens, the glue between the layers can begin to disintegrate, causing the wood to peel and split. The edges of the plywood, in particular, are susceptible to water damage, so sealing, waterproofing and weatherproofing your plywood is a great way to increase its lifespan. 

The most common methods of waterproofing plywood are with specialist products from home improvement stores, such as paint-on or spray-on protective sprays. These add a fine plastic layer to the wood, sealing them and stopping water from penetrating the surface and damaging the wood. These should be used as per the instructions on the original container, but generally can simply be painted or sprayed directly onto the surface.

How to paint plywood/how to stain plywood

Due to its decorative use in construction or DIY projects, plywood is often painted to achieve an attractive, aesthetically pleasing finish. Whether you’re staining with a varnish or adding a bold pop of colour, there are a number of steps to painting plywood.

  1. What type of plywood are you dealing with? First things first, you need to determine your plywood type, as the level of preparing before painting will depend on the type of plywood you are using. If you’re using high-grade plywood, the finish may not need a lot of work. However, if you’re using construction-grade plywood, you may need to spend a little longer to get that perfect finish. 
  1. Prepare the wood. You can use general wood putty or drywall mud in order to fill in any nail holes, cracks or other holes in the surface of your plywood. If you find you need to apply more than one coat, sand the surface of your plywood between applications.
  1. Prime your plywood. Using a primer before you start painting will seal off the surface of the wood, stopping your paint from soaking in. Apply your primer in the direction of the top grain, and allow to fully dry before painting.
  1. Choose your paint. For plywood projects, water-based acrylic-latex paints are generally the easiest to work with. Epoxy paints also offer great durability. Opt for high-quality paint and apply with a quality brush for the best possible results. Wet the brush before painting, and apply in the direction of the top grain. You will usually need at least two coats for a good finish – be sure to let the paint fully dry between coats.

Where to buy plywood

If you’re looking to buy plywood sheets for your building or DIY project, look no further than the collection here at Arnold Laver. Across our current sheet materials collection, you can explore a variety of options to help you get the job done with ease. Browse exterior hardwood FSC certified plywoods boasting the utmost in quality and strength, alongside sheathing plywoods in a variety of sizes.

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