Thoughts on Plywood Quality and Lumberyard Managment

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Blog entry by Don Butler posted 08-25-2010 02:50 PM 2260 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Thoughts on Plywood Quality and Lumberyard Management

Right up front, let it be said, I have never managed a lumberyard.
But I’m certainly no stranger in management, having managed business all my long life and continue to do so.
The main subject is plywood quality with lumberyard management as a subtext.

Plywood Quality

Yesterday I called a lumberyard that’s only a mile or so away. It’s an old family concern and they’re my neighbors, since we live in a community with only one traffic light. I needed some plywood for a set of cabinets I’ll be building for our library.
The library isn’t as grand as the mere word implies. It only a set of floor to ceiling cabinets along one wall, around the corner and along the short wall with a door in it. The room is actually our living room, so things are getting tight.

But I digress.

I wanted plywood grade A/C which would give me at least one side of fairly good surface and it’s the best grade carried in this yard. I’d like to get something better, but that would involve shipping with the addition of truck charges.
I had ordered three sheets of A/C from this company a year ago and had to send them back because they were severely cupped and had unacceptable flaws in the A side. Since then I had been assured by the manager and an employee who lives right across the street that it was a fluke and they would have nice, flat plywood from now on.
Well, they have free delivery and I’d rather buy from my neighbors, so I gave it another try. I only needed two sheets. “Surely”, he thought to himself, “they could find two flat sheets!”.
On the phone I cautioned the owner’s wife that I was building cabinets and they’d have to be flat. She assured me in confident tones that it was not a problem.


The poor driver, arriving at my shop was apologetic and asked me to look at them before he unloaded them. They looked like they had been left out in the rain. They were buckled and cupped and the edges only touched the truck bed in one or two corners. I said it wouldn’t do and since I was painting these cabinets, I wouldn’t worry about the ten or fifteen plugs in the A face, even though that just didn’t measure up to the grade. Could he find flatter stock with more repair plugs?
The guy said he’d go back and see what he could find.
He came back with two more and I didn’t even have to go to the truck to see how badly they were distorted. I told him I was sorry to cause so much trouble and asked him to take them back and have them adjust my bill.
Later last evening I went to the big box store ten miles up the road and found a stack of plywood with the A side so pretty it needed no repair plugs at all and the C side was almost as nice, except it wasn’t sanded as all “A” face plywood should be.
It was ten dollars a sheet cheaper than the unacceptable wood my neighbor was selling!
I guess I should have let my fingers do the walking!

And Now, the Subtext

Selling anything to the public requires management skills. Having the right goods at the best possible competitive price is paramount to keep a good reputation in your community and in your industry. In the past, I worked for quite a few retail businesses and a few industrial firms in the capacity of management and purchasing. I know how hard it can be to do those jobs. But I also know that one must do the job well or the business will suffer.
Disappointing one customer can lead to the loss of other business. The worst part is that a manager never knows how much is lost because the customers who go elsewhere usually don’t announce their departure. They just go.
I wish I could buy more from my neighborhood lumberyard. They have nice #2 lumber and the quarter inch Luan is good enough, but when building paint grade cabinets I need good plywood.
They also don’t carry MDF (medium density fiberboard). They suggest particle board.
I wouldn’t build a chicken house with particle board!

One day, soon, I’ll write about Left Brain versus Right Brain management.


-- No trees were damaged in posting this message, but thousands of electrons were seriously inconvenienced.

6 comments so far

View chrisstef's profile


18129 posts in 4061 days

#1 posted 08-25-2010 02:57 PM

Having worked at a lumberyard for a few years in my teens, i think i have an idea why you end up with such inferior plywood. These lumberyards typically cater to the home builder and not to a cabinet maker, therefore they do not emphasis the importance of dead flat good looking plywood. They usually grab 65 sheets of CDX and load it up on the truck to be used as subfloor or sheathing, typically not for finish grade furniture or millwork. What i would do, is go to the lumberyard and pick out the sheets buried in the middle of the stack. The guy loading the truck is just pulling off the 2 top sheets because they are the easiest to get to is my assumption.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3921 days

#2 posted 08-25-2010 05:25 PM

Don, I run into the same problem with plywood all the time. Only, in my case, the problem is with Lowes and Home Depot. The cabinet plywood is simply not flat. I have complained about it time and time again but it never gets any better. I can use it if the parts for whatever I’m building are small enough. I think that part of their problem is in the way that they store it. It’s just very frustrating. My only alternative is to drive 30 to 40 miles minimum to one of the cabinetmakers supply wholesalers.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Don Butler's profile

Don Butler

1092 posts in 4450 days

#3 posted 08-25-2010 05:33 PM

The “furniture” grade plywood at the big boxes is yet another ball of wax.

I fail to see how it qualifies for the name and the hardwood veneer is only a few thousandths of an inch thick.
Don’t even think about sanding it or you’ll be through it into the interior, softwood plys.
In the stuff I bought it also had interior voids. It shouldn’t be graded as cabinet grade. Perhaps thats why they call it ‘furniture’ grade.

There may have been an odd fluke going in my favor. They specified on the signage above the pile that it was a Special Purchase. Maybe this big box normally doesn’t carry it, either. The Other One never carries A/C in this city.


-- No trees were damaged in posting this message, but thousands of electrons were seriously inconvenienced.

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 4025 days

#4 posted 08-25-2010 06:04 PM

Well, my story is a little different. I live in a small town; under 10,000 folks live here. We do have one local lumber yard left since Home Depot built a store here.. we used to have three. I am constantly frustrated by the quality of the lumber at HD. I did get three sheets of AC sandply a while back to build my workbench and they were very nice, 3/4” with 7 plys, no face plugs, and labeled as a special purchase, on sale for $27/ sheet. Now I wish I had bought the whole stack cause they haven’t had any thing as nice since even at $47/ sheet..

Out of frustration I went back to the local lumber yard and they had a whole stack of birch 3/4” plywood, 13 plys, no voids or patches for only $37/ sheet. I don’t think they knew what they had because when I asked for birch or hardwood plywood “like for making cabinets” they kept showing me paneling. Finally the manager got involved and sent me out to the storage shed where we found the birch. Now my problem is these guys are only open during the week and only from 7:00AM to 5:00PM; the same time I work, so I have to take a day off work to shop here.

View GregP's profile


154 posts in 3932 days

#5 posted 08-25-2010 10:25 PM

Hey don, I feel your pain here. I often find the wood at the lumber yards and places like lowes and home depot to be terrible. I think they cater mostly to construction. I now get pretty much 100% of my wood from my local cabinet shop supplier unless I’m doing something like a shed. I’ve also found some nice imported 3/4” birch for a reasonable price, it’s heavy but it’s flat, smooth and has a nice face. You’re absolutely right about quality too, you do something very poorly and you lose customers, you do something well and you keep them and they’ll recommend you to everyone else. I’ve recommended my supplier to many people looking for wood.

-- Greg P, Washington State,

View BigTiny's profile


1703 posts in 3943 days

#6 posted 09-02-2010 10:24 AM

I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and I can find baltic birch at the local Windsor Plywood stores. It’s metriv and the sheets are 5’ x 5’, but you get used to working with it. It’s beautiful stuff, sanded both sides and bo plugs or voids. Comes in 1/8” to 3/4” thicknesses and the 3/4 is about 13 ply. Really nice stuff, but a tad pricey.

-- The nicer the nice, the higher the price!

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