Plywood is a strong and durable engineered wood which is often used as an easily accessible and usually cheaper alternative to solid wood. When choosing between plywood and real wood, you must consider various factors such as target application, strength, durability, appearance, workability, and others.
Here’s everything you need to know about the differences between plywood and solid wood along with their respective pros and cons.
What is Plywood?
Plywood is an engineered wood material made by joining thin layers or “plies” of wood veneer together with adhesive. The wood layers are joined so that their grain is in alternate directions to boost the strength and stability of the plywood board.
Plywood is often available in multiple grades based on quality and strength. It comes in various thicknesses for a wide range of applications, including the construction of panels, structures, partitions, doors, etc., furniture making, cabinetry, and more.
Plywood is valued for its high strength and structural integrity. It is a durable material with resistance to warping and cracking. It is also fairly easy to work with and shape. Higher-grade plywoods are often resistant to moisture. Plywood is also usually cheaper than most timber species.
Depending on the core material and intended use, the different types of plywood include hardwood plywood, softwood plywood, and marine plywood.
What is Solid Wood?
Solid wood refers to wood lumber or timber that is obtained directly from a tree, typically cut from the tree trunk. There are thousands of types of trees out there, which makes solid wood available in so many varieties.
Real wood differs from plywood in many ways, including the core structure. The structure of solid wood, unlike engineered wood, hasn’t been altered and maintains the natural appearance and characteristics of the tree it has been derived from, including original grain patterns, knots, and colour/hue.
Solid wood is particularly famous for its durability, natural appeal, and long life, which makes it a versatile choice for a wide range of applications, from construction to furniture making, flooring, instruments, cabinetry, and decorative elements.
There are hundreds of species of wood, which differ from each other in terms of appearance, colour, quality, grain orientation, strength, durability, and workability. The two most common types of wood include hardwood and softwood, with hardwoods like oak, cherry, teak, and walnut usually being stronger and more durable than softwoods like pine, cedar, fir, and spruce.
If you’re confused between solid wood and plywood for your next project, we’re here to make things easier for you. Let’s compare plywood and timber based on different factors.
Solid wood, in most cases, is stronger than plywood. This is because solid wood is a natural material with a dense structure, while plywood is a man-made product which combines thin layers of wood and is easier to fall apart.
Hardwoods (not all), particularly, are very strong and dense and can take very heavy loads. Plywood has limited load-bearing capacity and can break or crack under extreme weights.
Plywoods made with hardwood are of superior quality. Plywoods made using high-quality wood and adhesives can be very strong.
The presence of knots in solid wood can make it weaker, especially if there are many big knots that go all the way through the panel. Plywood has no such problem because it’s made by combining multiple layers of wood. So, even if there are knots, they would not normally penetrate the entire board.
As mentioned before, solid wood or timber retains the natural characteristics of a tree, including the grain pattern, knots and colours, which can make it look extremely beautiful and attractive. Natural wood can be sanded, stained and polished to make it look premium.
Plywood is not very attractive to look at and has a rough surface. It, however, can be stained or polished to achieve a smooth surface. To make plywood more attractive, it is often covered with a thin layer of decorative veneer called a laminate (made from real wood), which also helps customise plywood in various designs and styles. It still doesn’t beat real wood in terms of appearance.
Moreover, solid wood products like wooden flooring can be sanded (and stained) many times to restore their natural beauty, while plywood can only be sanded once or twice maximum.
Depending on the type, both plywood and solid wood can be very durable. Most hardwoods are naturally durable and will last many decades with little maintenance. Softwoods are less durable but have a good life. Softwoods like pine are often treated to enhance their durability and longevity.
Higher-grade plywoods such as hardwood plywood and marine plywood are very durable and have a very long life. Lower-grade plywood made from softwood is not very strong or durable
Both solid wood and plywood are easy to maintain. With regular cleaning, dusting and maintenance, both will last many years.
Solid wood might need a bit more maintenance than plywood, especially if it’s not very durable or water-resistant. Over time, wood might start losing its shine or acquire scratches. Therefore, wood products need to be sanded and re-polished every couple of years and damages must be repaired immediately.
Plywood, if covered with laminate, need not be maintained a lot because the laminated surface is resistant to moisture and scratches. It can be cleaned with a damp cloth. However, it can crack under pressure.
Both plywood and solid wood are easy to work with, depending on the type. Plywood is moderately hard and dense and is easier to cut and bend than solid wood, which can sometimes be very difficult to work with in the case of some hardwoods with cross grain.
Plywood holds nails and screws really well and doesn’t split or crack easily. Some wood species tend to split on edges while nailing. Both are easy to stain and polish.
Major uses of plywood include furniture, basic home construction, roofing, subflooring, and sheathing. Long sheets of plywood are often used for sheathing as they can quickly cover a large area. Treated plywood is resistant to rot and moisture and is generally used for making strong roofs. As a highly versatile material, plywood has many other uses, including furniture, cabinets, boxes, and everyday timber projects.
Solid wood can be used in practically every project, whether it’s construction or a DIY project. However, choosing the right wood is very important. High-quality hardwoods are used for making elegant and durable furniture that lasts many decades. Other than that, wood is extensively used in the construction industry, for making beams, building structures, bases, studs, and more. Moisture-resistant wood is used for outdoor construction, including decks, outdoor furniture, fencing, gazebos, and pergolas. It is also suitable for marine applications such as boatbuilding. In addition, wood is also used for making musical instruments, tools, and small specialty items for crafts and decorations. Wood flooring is very strong, stable and durable.
Solid Wood vs Plywood : Availability & Price
Solid wood is a natural resource obtained from trees which have limited availability and are decreasing in number due to extensive deforestation and increasing timber demand. This is why many popular solid woods have low availability and high prices.
Hardwoods are more popular and have a higher demand than softwoods and are usually much more expensive. Also, hardwood trees grow slowly and may take many years to fully grow to produce timber, which is also why hardwoods are quite expensive. Some of the most popular solid woods like African Blackwood, Ebony, Sandalwood, Pink Ivory, Lignum Vitae, and Agar Wood are very rare and expensive.
Plywood was discovered as an alternative to solid wood due to the high demand and low availability of wood. It’s an equally good and strong material that imitates real wood. Plywood is also much more easily available and comes in various sizes and thicknesses. It is usually less expensive than real wood depending on the type.
- Solid wood looks better than plywood
- Plywood is dimensionally stable, however long sheets might bend over time
- Plywood cannot be sanded again and again like wood to restore natural appearance
- Hardwood is stronger and more durable than plywood
- Treated plywood is water-resistant
- Solid woods are usually more expensive than plywood
- Plywood is particularly useful for sheathing, roofing, basic furniture making and DIY projects
- Solid wood is a better choice for premium furniture, structural beams, tabletops, flooring, etc.
Conclusion: Plywood vs Solid Wood
Both plywood and solid wood are strong, durable and versatile products that can be used in a wide range of applications. The major difference between plywood and real wood is in terms of appearance and price. Solid wood looks better than plywood but is also more expensive and scarce.
Looking to buy high-quality wood or timber online? Contact White Knight Consulting Ltd to explore our wide range of solid hardwood and softwood timber. All our wood is sourced from sustainably managed forests and is available for worldwide shipping. Contact us for consulting or the best price for timber.