Plywood vs real wood

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Forum topic by illcrx posted 01-13-2012 10:36 PM 7456 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 3402 days

01-13-2012 10:36 PM

As a fairly new woodworker and having most of my work experience being with MDF I have been toying over making a few pieces lately mainly boxes, cabinets and such. I already made my son a toy box out of pine plywood from the Home Depot and that came out pretty good, I kind of slapped it together and the wood is 1/2 and it warped a little already, the box is 51” long, and Im not extremely happy about that but that got me thinking about real wood vs plywoods.

The plywoods are cheaper overall I believe, please correct me if Im wrong, also they come in 4×8 sheets and are easier to make boxes out of and all my experience is with 4×8 sheets. With the real wood I’d really have to hunker down and pay attention to the details of things since its harder to fix something with a good piece of wood, if not impossible.

So I just wanted some opinions on what projects I should do with real wood and what with some decent plywood. The projects I have in mind are:

Wall cabinets for living room with full doors and an end cabinet with open shelves, floor level.

An equipment rack “wall” with a full door and on the other side will be a cabinet with a slide out coat rack and a large drawer below for dog food and such.

A small medicine cabinet for the GF, I just think it would be cool to make!

In wall slide out pantry for food.

A cabinet around my washer and dryer in the garage to cover the appliances as well as another surface to work on. This though I’ll probably make out of MDF.

Anyway just wanted to ask someone smarter than me in these matters!

Thanks for your advice in advance.

8 replies so far

View DamnYankee's profile


3320 posts in 3639 days

#1 posted 01-13-2012 10:45 PM

Generally you want to build your cabinet carcasses out of plywood. (you can get decent cabinet grade at HD or Lowes 4×8, or 5×5 better ply at a hardwood supply store). You then build the facing, tops (in the case of things like dressers, end tables, etc), drawers (other than bottoms) out of real wood. Also build must structual pieces from real wood.

-- Shameless - Winner of two Stumpy Nubs Awards

View ShaneA's profile


7085 posts in 3675 days

#2 posted 01-13-2012 10:55 PM

I agree with Rob, carcasses in ply, face frames and doors out of solid wood. You will want to search out a hardwood retailer or CL source for the solid wood. You will save a ton of $, and have more species available to pick from. Also the med cabinet you may make out of all solid wood. Good luck.

View DS's profile


3745 posts in 3497 days

#3 posted 01-13-2012 11:13 PM

Are we talking about “imaginary wood” = plywood?
No wonder it warped. (I have a warped imagination)

Generally, I use REAL plywood and Solid wood for projects.

-- "Hard work is not defined by the difficulty of the task as much as a person's desire to perform it.", DS251

View David Kirtley's profile

David Kirtley

1286 posts in 4075 days

#4 posted 01-14-2012 01:51 AM

I really like plywood but stay away from construction ply. It is good for subfloors and roof sheathing and not much else. Ideally, you want good hardwood ply. The thinner the individual layers the better. There is nothing cheap about high quality plywood and it will out perform solid wood in many ways.

In order from best to kindling:

Aircraft grade ply (Real pricey. Not much different than marine but it is certified)
Marine grade hardwood ply.
Baltic Birch, Appleply and other names such as russian or finnish plywoods..
Cheaper luan based can be hit or miss.
Marine grade fir ply
cabinet grade hardwood ply (Usually has good faces but unknown quality inner layers)
MDO – Good stuff. It’s what they make street signs out of.
Construction grade ply. Generally not structural grade for anything.

The differences are:

the thickness of layers: thinner is better.
Glue quality: marine=best, exterior=so-so, interior=forget it unless in really controlled environment.
Surface quality= The marine stuff is usually A with no knots or patches. A-B usually has one good face and one patched. B through D face grades: Great stuff for places it doesn’t matter.
Quality of layers. Marine grade will have no voids. It goes downhill from there.

-- Woodworking shouldn't cost a fortune:

View adzdub's profile


22 posts in 4302 days

#5 posted 01-14-2012 11:20 AM

Use real wood and learn something. Not every thing is a consumable uniform trade good. Real wood has some thing to teach if you want. If not ply wood is cheep and uniform.

-- ego sum quis ego sum

View Steve1957's profile


5 posts in 3382 days

#6 posted 05-19-2013 02:57 PM

Solid wood—no plywood—cabinets are more expensive to build but the quality and beauty are worth it in my opinion. I am building a set of Hickory cabinets right now for our kitchen. You have to make sure all the grain runs the same way in the cross grain direction. I do use a hardwood plywood back a sheet of this is around 70 bucks at HD. Also it is a good idea to have the shelves “float in large dado’s. Solid wood will move and it can move a lot. I keep .250 or .125 gap for the back and it is screwed on. All parts are planed to 3/4 inch thick.
These are pretty heavy to install as well, you will need help to lift them.


-- Steve

View RobertStix's profile


19 posts in 2913 days

#7 posted 05-19-2013 04:29 PM

All really good points and I learned from your question, too. When I’m choosing a material for a project I think about the final use & finish, the joinery method and then the material cost/availability. I do a LOT of salvaging and dumpster-diving so sometimes the process is reversed; “I just found a 4’ x 3’ x 3/4” piece of seven-ply A/C grade maple-veneer stock with two good factory edges. Time to make that shelf & rack for the entryway” or “Hey, half a formica countertop and it’s still dry! Some contact cement and a 2’x2’ sheet of laminate and viola; ROUTER TABLE TOP!”
In general – plywood spans shorter under load (bookcases) than an equivalent thickness piece of hardwood or even double-lam MDF. I have found that plywood, while more “woodlike” in nature than double-lam MDF, has to have the loads equalized or controlled somehow or it will flex. Great if you’re making a snowboard, bad if you’re making bookcase sides.

-- "I wear eye protection when using power tools because my blood stings my eyes and because I can't read braille."

View firefighterontheside's profile


21408 posts in 2934 days

#8 posted 05-19-2013 05:58 PM

As others have said, plywood for carcasses and solid wood for face frames. You want to hide the cut edges of plywood except for those like Baltic birch which has no voids. So when using plywood as shelves you can either glue on veneer or use small pieces applied to the face. I generally use a front that gives the shelf a thicker appearance from the front.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

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