My sense of smell has changed after working with Chinese plywood

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Forum topic by CutsTwiceMeasuresOnce posted 03-15-2009 04:18 AM 9026 views 0 times favorited 30 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4 posts in 4205 days

03-15-2009 04:18 AM

In the Fall, I worked with some Chinese plywood bought from a local “big-box” store and because I have no workshop, I did all the cutting of the 4X8 pieces in the kitchen supporting the pieces on boxes. I had lots of circular saw work to do, and also used a router to cut grooves. I didn’t think to hang a sheet over the door into the adjacent room, nor to cover the cold air duct to our old gravity furnace that hangs from the kitchen floor into the basement. Then I got a little smarter and wore a respirator and hung a sheet.

I thought the Chinese plywood smelled strongly of formaldehyde, and because some of the sawdust got onto the warm surfaces of the gravity furnace, I could smell that odor and what seemed like a glue/wood odor for some weeks after.

Since then I have found that I have that glue/wood odor constantly in my nose, but no one else in the family notices it.

Has anyone else had his or her sense of smell permanently or semi-permanently altered because of sawdust or glue odor?

30 replies so far

View 8iowa's profile


1591 posts in 4499 days

#1 posted 03-15-2009 04:37 AM

Read woodworking author Nick Engler’s editorial on Chinese plywood;

-- "Heaven is North of the Bridge"

View Betsy's profile


3394 posts in 4633 days

#2 posted 03-15-2009 06:48 AM

Thanks for the link. It’s a good article and makes good points.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


19116 posts in 4413 days

#3 posted 03-15-2009 07:26 AM

Thanks for that link. I was up at Port Angles, WA this last week. I saw a couple of container ships passing through the straight one day. Couldn’t help but think it was another load of junk from China. As long as Americans buy the trash they make, they will keep the race to the bottom going.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View cmaeda's profile


205 posts in 4292 days

#4 posted 03-15-2009 07:29 AM

I stopped using plywood about a year ago when I noticed the face veneer was now whisper thin. Almost everything I build uses solid lumber or if I do use plywood, I buy it from Rockler, they still carry the good stuff.

View dusty2's profile


323 posts in 4167 days

#5 posted 03-15-2009 03:54 PM

Be careful. Some of that stuff we buy, even when marked with names that we seem to recognize, comes from places that we would not knowingly chose to support.

I am becoming a real believer. There is no such thing as a free lunch. We get what we pay for and nothing more. Maybe less but never more!

I’ve also noticed that some MDF dust bothers me more than other. When I do chose to use MDF, I get it from a lumber yard and NOT from a box store. When working with MDF, wear that dust mask!

-- Making Sawdust Safely

View Praki's profile


203 posts in 4734 days

#6 posted 03-15-2009 05:55 PM

Reading Nick’s editorial, I couldn’t help but compare my experience of working with plywood I bought from HD here. The veneers were razor thin and even minor sanding wiped it out. Smell was horrible. I guess I was lucky to have not come across any embedded metal.

I have also bought plywood from Rockler paying quite a bit more money. One surface was full of plugged holes and voids were present to a considerable extent. While it was definitely better than what I bought from HD, I didn’t think it was good.

I have come to the conclusion that good plywood is not available to me anymore. At least, where I live.

-- Praki, Aspiring Woodworker

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


19116 posts in 4413 days

#7 posted 03-15-2009 08:32 PM

I don’t buy much plywood, but I was wondering why it isn’t full thickness any more? It is all labeled a 64th or 32nd shy. I never thought they would be shipping plywood from China and it is now metric! I watch the labels on the wood and they are American names I know. Guess you can’t trust anyone any more ;-((

BTW Cutstwice, you are probably a bit more sensitive to certain smells than the others in your family. There is a huge difference between my wife and I. She complains about things I can’t smell; I smell things she can’t.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Gary's profile (online now)


9416 posts in 4170 days

#8 posted 03-15-2009 10:27 PM

My son’s church was building some shelving not long ago using MDF.. it had voids in it. Never saw that before

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View 93mwm's profile


59 posts in 4157 days

#9 posted 03-16-2009 10:21 AM

voids in mdf? you wouldnt think it, would you! Its testimony to the fact that youve just gotta be careful these days

-- mwm! Before you criticise walk a mile in their shoes, and when you do criticise you will be a mile away and have their shoes!

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 4743 days

#10 posted 03-16-2009 12:15 PM

I recall a reception desk we built at the company i used to work for a few years ago. It had bendable plywood in it with an especially noxious odor. The Secretary that was to use it complained for a few weeks until we ended up taking it out and gutting it to get rid of the ply. I have no idea what was in that batch of plywood but it wasn’t good.

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

View anotherbrick's profile


73 posts in 4393 days

#11 posted 03-18-2009 11:30 AM

Tips of Chinese plywood:
1,When you select plywoods for furniture,cabinet or other indoor purpose, please ask the seller if the formaldehyde emission of the plywood can meet the interior standard. There are totally two kinds of chinese plywood shipped to USA.One is specially manufactured for cabinet and furniture purpose,we named it cabinent plywood,the formaldehyde emission can meet interior standard (E1,E2) or CARB.Another kinds of plywood will emit extra formaldehyde because they didn’t manufactured for cabinet purpose,we name it ‘commercial plywood.’ The usage of this commercial plywood should be packing,pallet …...

2,Cabinet plywood would have better core veneer,thicker face veneer and low moisture content than commercial plywood.

3,There’s a bad change in the thickness of face veneer.Thickness of both Cabinet plywood and commercial plywood had been reduced.Normally thickness of Cabinet plywood’s face/back veneer should be over 0.3mm. Some factories still make 0.4mm face veneer plywood. Thinckness of commercial plywood’s face/back veneer will be thiner,about 0.2mm to 0.3mm.

4,Most okoume face plywood are commercial plywood.Some kind of commercial plywood will have okoume veneer on the face and E grade birch on the back. Most cabinet grade plywood will have a/b/c/d grade birch/poplar/maple face/back veneer,or other face veneer.Some okoume plywoods are also can meet cabinet plywood standard. You should check it from you seller.

5,There are thousands of plywood factories in China.The quality of plywood from different factories are not the same.Some produce good stuff,some produce crap. Different import supplies different quality chinese plywood to you too. So you must compare your suppliers.

I don’t want say Chinese plywoods are best quality.I know maybe the quality of Chinese plywood can not compare to your domestic plywood.I know there are many weakness in Chinese plywood,such as thin face veneer,a little more voids and other.But this is not because we don’t have the ability to produce better product,it’s just because the cost and the expectation on Chinese product. The expectation of Chinese product is: Chinese product should be cheap. So at this time,chinese manufacturers and american importers only can ship cheap products to USA.Expensive products will not be accepted by market,though the quality will be better.

You woodworkers are experts in wood material.Your feedback of chinese plywood will be useful to chinese manufacturers. But some comments about chinese plywood are wrong. I’d read the link posted by 8iowa. I’d been wondering how the author get so many crappy plywood.The author said in his article that he want to make a cabinet,but some picture showed some commericial plywood,this kind of shouldn’t be used for cabinet purpose.I think he must have bought the wrong material.

-- china

View Durnik150's profile


647 posts in 4059 days

#12 posted 05-03-2009 01:17 PM

I think AnotherBrick’s comments speak volumes, regretfully, most of it is between the lines. There is an arrogance along with the message, “The Americans will buy cheap crap if we make it for them.” He then goes on to criticize another woodworker for selecting the wrong plywood and implying that the woodworker who bought the inferior product is the one at fault.
Sorry Brick, I just don’t appreciate the attitude and regretfully it has caused me to develop one of my own. Plain and simple folks, look closely at what you are considering for purchase, every little bit of it. If it is of inferior manufacture, don’t buy it. And make sure you let your suppliers know you have seen the inferior stuff they are trying to sell you. Let them know you will buy from them when they stock worthwhile merchandise. The message will get through, slowly but it will get through.
Hmmmmm. I just remembered something. The USA built thousands of landing craft for the invasion at Normandy in WWII. They were built out of PLYWOOD! It was the thing that put plywood on the map in the USA. I seriously doubt they accepted boards with gaps and inconsitensies in them. I would bet (although I wasn’t around yet) that the plywood was made in America!
I’ll climb down off my soapbox now.

-- Behind the Bark is a lot of Heartwood----Charles, Centennial, CO

View Brad_Nailor's profile


2545 posts in 4695 days

#13 posted 05-03-2009 02:04 PM

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…chineese ANYTHING is inferior, poorly manufactured and probably full of toxins and harmful ingredients. They have to answer to nobody when it comes to standards and the American company’s that import their crap know it but don’t care because they can get a lower price point and make a higher profit…why do they care that the plywood you used for your cabinets is slowly poisoning your whole family. This is nothing new…since I was a kid the joke has always been that products “made in China” were complete crap….it’s just now instead of cheap toys its building materials. Just go to a “Christmas Tree” shops store..its filled with cheap, low quality, probably hazardous items from third world countries. My wife came home with a blanket chest from that store and whatever they used to finish it smelled so bad you couldn’t even put anything in it because whatever you put in it smelled like the “PCB and Mercury” solution they used to finish it. After two days the chest stunk up the whole room and finally it met its destiny in the trash…that was a waste of 20 dollars…and guess where it was made…CHINA! We need to go back to manufacturing things in this country and take a little pride in producing a quality product and stop importing so much foreign crap.


View TheCaver's profile


288 posts in 4577 days

#14 posted 05-03-2009 02:54 PM

If only it were that easy…...People act like its China’s fault that we are in this situation…..A demand is being met, it’s that simple. You don’t want wavy plywood, then go to a cabinet shop and pay $100 for good ply. You can’t demand $100 plywood at a $40 price point anymore than you can demand heirloom furniture at Target prices.

This whole made in the USA thing is nationalist bullshit. The US is not the only country making good products. And we turn out just as much junk as any other country. If you lived in other countries, you’d know that.


-- Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan

View TheGravedigger's profile


963 posts in 4762 days

#15 posted 05-03-2009 04:14 PM

I can’t agree that ALL Chinese products are inferior. The Chinese do very well at some things, especially traditional ones. Many Chinese silks, for example, are superb examples of the art. I’m a Taiji Chuan (Tai Chi) practicioner, and my jian (straight sword) was made by Shen Guan Long in the Long Quan valley, an area well known for it’s swordmaking. It is an exceptional weapon, with a beauitifully forged and balanced blade – an exceptional value for the price. And this is a practice sword—their high-end blades are stunning.

The problem is, most of these goods show up in specialty markets like high-fashion textiles and martial arts. The common consumer goods are produced to a lesser standard because that’s what most of the American public wants. What’s Wal-Mart’s biggest selling point? LOW PRICES! Is it possible for the Chinese to produce a travel bag that’s better quality than the cheap nylon one for $10.00? Sure, but would Wal-Mart stock something made of raw silk with spring steel reinforcements and heavy leather trim that cost $150? NOT A CHANCE! Low price is what most consumers care about.

Indeed, how many of us (raise your hands) go straight to the Lowes or Home Depot ad on Sunday to see what’s on sale?

The best thing we can do is look for other sources. We can rant and rave at the box stores, but will they care? Most of their plywood goes to cut-rate contractors that buy it by the truckload for housing developments. The next share is the weekend project homeowner that doesn’t have a clue about what “good stuff” is. We’re just a drop in the bucket.

Here’s an idea. If you have a local woodworker’s club or guild, why not get up a list of names and go to a locally-owned lumberyard. Give the owner the list and tell him that these people would all be willing to buy from him if he can guarantee a good quality product. This establishes a relationship that would beneficial for all concerned. Hey, it can’t hurt to try.

-- Robert - Visit my woodworking blog:

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