We thought we understood plywood until we put 11 different samples through a variety of tests. What grade? Knot Size: Poplar typically displays smaller knots than birch. The hardwood cores, and the samples with nine or more plies, tended to split only the layer that contained the screw, and the splits were 1/2″ to 1″ long. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask your supplier what they mean by the terms and grades they use. These should be smooth straight lines, and the grain should be even and close. Hobbyists often ask about the differences between luan and poplar for model building. Expect to pay a premium for plain-sliced, bookmatched veneer. Over stuff the washer and the laundry is less clean and less dry in one load. Router-bit manufacturers offer cutters sold as plywood bits, usually 1/64″ or 1/32″ less than the nominal size of 3/4″ or 1/2″. Some plywood from South America and Asia is graded on a similar system, but much of this material is not graded. In professional cabinetmaking, they are the preferred materials for quality work because they’re flat and of a consistent thickness. Color Variation: Poplar typically displays less color variation than birch. In the seven-ply samples, the splits were much longer, and in the worst cases were several inches long. Where do I buy it? Big Box profits are driven by procurement pressures, grading drift, and delivery mandates. We found some surprising facts about quality and materials. There are a variety of poplar plywood products available. The fir core at left chipped severely while the hardwood core at right had a smooth surface. Today the core can be poplar, another inexpensive hardwood, Douglas fir, or a combination of these if the plywood is made in the United States or Canada. You can write down all the other grade and core construction and face details but as you suggested these have different naming conventions from dealer to dealer and point of origin. Baltic, Russian and other European birch plywood faces are graded by the letters B (best), BB, CP and C (worst) for both the face and the back. However, this does not impact our recommendations. Grade A poplar plywood is good for building furniture and cabinets. It’s worth noting that plywood marketed as yellow poplar is actually sourced from a magnolia species – but like its cousins, it offers some desirable features. A: Poplar plywood may be classified as both hardwood and softwood, depending on the species and the manufacturer’s literature. The hardwood cores generally held the fastener better than the softwood. It also includes plans for a plywood tool storage cabinet. There are few things a woodworker will ever face that are as confusing as plywood. The first question to answer is this: Are you looking for something that looks like it belongs in a piece of fine furniture, or is utility your main concern? Pull a sheet off the stack and sight down a long edge. Untreated poplar is not rot-resistant, and it will not stand up to the demands of exposure to the elements. Fine Italian poplar plywood, for example, is often sold in thin sheets that are suitable for laser cutting. What core? Birch Plywood vs. Baltic Birch Written by Scott Legros Although they share a name, Baltic Birch and standard birch plywood have several key differences that can impact the strength, stability, and overall visual appeal of your next project. Poplar Plywood Uses It’s a good idea to weigh your options carefully when deciding on the best plywood for your project as no two products are exactly alike. During this process, there is some degree of compression in the core layers. But while birch has many merits, poplar plywood has a lot to offer too. In 3⁄4″-thick material, the thickness of the core layers can range from about 1/8″ on seven-ply material (five core layers plus the two face veneers) to less than 1/16″ in 13-ply material. Right behind it were the 10-year-old samples of oak with a Luan core. Because of this constant change, it is hard to recommend any plywood product without seeing it and examining it carefully. Is it just me, or does plywood get a little worse every time I buy it? The reasoning is that an undersized thinner panel will still fit in a groove cut at the nominal size, but an oversized panel would not. There are certainly exceptions but in general, better quality poplar plywood can usually be found at specialty stores, including online sources. On the inside, you still want it to look good, but small areas of burl, mineral streaks or sap wood won’t be the distractions they would be on a surface that is always exposed. From Luan to Chen-Chen, the names given are trade names for groups of species, which may or may not have similar properties. On the surface, both MDF and plywood contain real wood but are highly engineered into their finished forms. Because poplar’s color is pale and its grain is fine and even, it can be finished to mimic the look of costlier woods this makes poplar plywood a cost-conscious and attractive choice cabinetry. Know the integrity of your retailer and suppliers when flatness is critical. What can you use poplar wood for? Hardwood plywood has a distinct face and a distinct back. The thinnest veneers are very easy to sand through and often will telegraph any unevenness of the core layers to the finished surface. The grain should look like several pieces of solid wood, 6″ to 8″ wide. While there are exceptions, these large retailers tend to offer good prices on bulk poplar plywood. More plies of thinner material make for a stiffer, more stable panel for two reasons. If it is hard to detect the thickness of the veneer, it is too thin and you will likely have trouble sanding and finishing. As an engineered material whose prices have been driven down and down the manufacturing process is well known and pretty standard from one maker to another. Only six of 18 pieces showed .003″ or less variation within the samples. The one constant is usually price. The total variation within the Baltic birch samples was .009″. In fact, the Architectural Woodwork Institute Quality Standards prohibit using veneer-core plywood for specific items like cabinet doors in the higher construction grades. One of the big drawbacks to veneer-core plywood often won’t appear until finishing. Fasteners driven in the edges of plywood can cause an inferior core to split, often delaminating adjacent layers. If the veneer is thin, and the core uneven, this unevenness will telegraph through and appear in the face veneer. In the samples with hardwood cores – poplar, birch and the imported wood – the rabbets were smooth. Twenty-five years ago, if you bought a piece of birch plywood, or any other hardwood plywood for that matter, the core would be birch. We began with a 24″ x 24″ square of each type and cut that into 18 pieces that were 3-7/8″ x 7-7/8″. Good veneer can easily double the price of a sheet of plywood. Will the veneer be so thin that I sand through it with the first pass of the sander? What surprised us is how much variation there is, even in a small sample. Maple's sugar content is dramatically higher than birch's, and as such it will be more prone to burn marks when routing or cutting than birch. Sugar maple, black maple, sweet birch, yellow birch and white ash are all strong hardwoods. Going to a lumberyard is like going to a foreign country. More plies are generally better, and hardwood cores are better than softwood. If you’re looking for a cheap trim product, you may want to consider poplar plywood. It also gives you a more even finish. Dampening the wood can give more vibrant results if you are working with darker or brighter colors. The answer depends on the finish you’d like to have. This block was glued from 10 of the 11 samples we measured for thickness. But one was .005″ thinner than the other. Who else does the retailer supply? These names may also change from time to time. The samples with the highest number of core layers were most resistant to splitting. If you’ve never done it before and you don’t know the language, you’ll experience culture shock right off the bat – and sticker shock as well! Poplar and Birch believes in mindful purchases and shopping small. We deliberately placed the screws close to the edge, and we don’t recommend driving screws without drilling a pilot hole. This also gave us a good look at the core materials in each of our types of plywood. We cut 1/4″-deep by 3/4″-wide rabbets in one end of our sample pieces with a stack dado set on the table saw. 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