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Characteristics of birch plywood

Updated February 21, 2017

Birch plywood has been the workhorse of cabinet makers for many years. It is readily available and can be found in any home improvement store or lumberyard. There are several different grades, it's manufactured in several different thicknesses and it's easy to work with. Birch trees are fast growing making birch plywood an obvious choice as a renewable resource.

History

Birch plywood was at one time the most available of all the hardwood plywood. Shop-grade birch plywood was used almost exclusively in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. Most of the retro ranch-style, single-level homes from this period had birch plywood cabinets with a natural finish. Some real estate appraisers can even date a home simply by viewing birch plywood cabinets with a natural varnish finish.

Affordability

The availability of shop-grade birch plywood makes it the most affordable of the hardwood plywood. A single sheet of 3/4-inch shop-grade birch plywood can be purchased for approximately £29 as of 2010. Similar grades of oak or ash plywood will cost about £52 to £61.

Characteristics

Birch plywood is ideal for cabinets because of its smooth surface. It is not prone to chipping as it has a very tight grain pattern with few knots. It won't split and won't often splinter or cause "runs," where the veneer tends to peel off the plywood core. The birch plywood core is more solid than other shop-grade hardwood plywood and is usually free of "blows," or "voids," in the core--- which are hollow air spaces inside the core of the plywood.

Blend and Stain

Birch plywood is good for mix and matching. Most often when birch plywood is used for cabinets it is pared with alder hardwood. This is one reason for the popularity of birch. It can blend with alder, which is one of the cheapest of the hardwoods. Birch plywood takes stain readily and, when mixed with alder, can take on dark or light design character more readily than other hardwoods.

Sizes and Uses

Birch plywood can be purchased in 3/4-, 1/2- and 1/4-inch thickness. Quarter-inch plywood is sometimes used for interior panelling under wainscoting, for sliding doors in speciality cabinets or for the bottom of drawers. Half-inch birch plywood is often used for drawer construction and in furniture construction such as the back of some hardwood chairs. Three-quarter-inch is the choice for cabinetmakers.

Detractions

Lack of grain pattern is one reason why some high-end home builders shy away from birch. Some consider it dull and lifeless when compared with the bold grain patterns of oak or ash. In contemporary home building, the trend has shifted away from birch plywood cabinets

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About the Author

Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.