Softwood Plywood vs Hardwood Plywood: What is the difference?
Plywood is an engineered wood product made from layers of thin veneer that are glued together. The layers are glued together in alternating, perpendicular directions to create a strong, stable sheet.
Plywood is a versatile product that can be used for a variety of applications, from construction to cabinetry.
It is often used for DIY projects, as it is a strong and relatively inexpensive alternative to solid wood. It comes in different thicknesses and grades to meet the different needs from wall sheathing to furniture making.
While there are many different types of plywood, there are two main categories in terms of the wood used to make it: softwood plywood and hardwood plywood.
Softwood plywood is made from softer conifer woods that remain evergreen through the winter, such as spruce, pine, and fir. While hardwood plywood is made from deciduous trees that lose their leaves in the winter.
Since softwood plywood is typically softer and less dense than hardwood plywood, it is not as strong or durable. It is typically used for temporary structures, such as scaffolding, and for interior applications where cosmetic appearance is not as important, such as wall sheathing.
On the other hand, hardwood plywood is stronger and more durable, making it ideal for places where a high level of strength and stability is required, such as furniture making and cabinetry.
While softwood plywood is typically less expensive than hardwood plywood, both types of plywood come in a variety of grades and thicknesses that can affect the price.
In this post, we’ll compare softwood plywood vs hardwood plywood and discuss the key differences between them.
What is softwood plywood?
Softwood plywood is made from softwood veneers, such as pine or spruce by pressing and gluing together multiple layers of veneer.
The layers are usually arranged with the grain of alternate layers running in opposite directions, which gives the plywood panel greater strength and stiffness.
Softwoods that make the softwood plywood are mainly coniferous species. The most commonly used softwoods for plywood are spruce, pine, fir, and larch. These woods are relatively light in weight and in a result manufactured plywood is also lighter in weight.
Softwood plywood is used in the construction of walls, sheathing, roof decking, concrete form boards, floors, and containers. It is also used for interior applications where cosmetics are not as important, such as wall sheathing.
Since they have a lower density, they are the preferred choice where the weight of the plywood panel is a key criterion. Due to their lower weight, they are easier to handle and transport while reducing the shipping costs.
The applicable standards for softwood plywood are SIC Standard 01 93 23, EN 636-3, North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) code 321212. These standards define the plywood and veneer subsector of the forestry and logging sector.
Under these standards, the subsectors include establishments that manufacture plywood, veneer, and engineered wood products using logs of softwoods.
What is hardwood plywood?
Hardwood plywood is made of hardwood veneers that have been glued together with an adhesive. The exterior layers (face and back) surround a core that is often made of lumber, veneer, particleboard, or medium-density fiberboard.
Hardwood plywood can be pressed into panels or plywood components (e.g., curved hardwood plywood, seat backs, chair arms, etc.).
The most commonly used hardwoods for plywood are oak, maple, birch, and beech. Hardwood plywood is denser and heavier than softwood plywood and as a result, is stronger and more durable.
Hardwood plywood is utilized for interior projects such as furniture, cabinets, architectural millwork, paneling, flooring, store fixtures, and doors.
The applicable Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code for hardwood plywood manufacturing is 2435 and the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code and NAICS code is 321211.
Both of these codes define the hardwood plywood and veneer subsector of the forestry and logging sector.
Differences between softwood plywood and hardwood plywood
Now that we have looked at the definitions of softwood plywood and hardwood plywood, let’s compare and contrast the two in more detail:
Hardwood plywood is generally stronger and stiffer than softwood plywood. This is because hardwoods are denser than softwoods, meaning that there is less space between the wood fibers.
The tighter the fibers are packed together, the stronger the wood will be.
However, this is not always the case. The mechanical strength of plywood also depends on the number of layers (or plies) in the panel, bonding quality, thickness, as well as the adhesive used to bond the layers together.
A plywood panel with more layers will be stronger than a panel with fewer layers. Because the higher the number of layers, the higher the bonding surface area between the layers. This, in turn, increases the strength of the panel.
Hardwoods plywood are also harder than softwoods plywood. This is because, as we just mentioned, hardwoods are denser than softwoods.
The density of the wood is determined by the amount of space between the wood fibers. The tighter the fibers are packed together, the harder the wood will be.
The manufacturing processes used to produce hardwood and softwood plywood are different. Hardwoods are typically rotary peeled, while softwoods are usually sliced.
Rotary peeling is a process in which a log is mounted on a lathe and peeled into thin sheets. This method is more expensive than slicing, but it results in fewer defects and a higher-quality veneer.
Slicing is a process in which a log is cut into thin sheets with a slicing machine. This method is less expensive than rotary peeling, but it produces a lower-quality veneer.
The bonding methods used to produce hardwood and softwood plywood are also different. Hardwoods are typically bonded with urea-formaldehyde (UF), while softwoods are usually bonded with phenol-formaldehyde (PF).
The reason for this is that UF adhesives are more resistant to water, which is important for hardwoods because they are often used in humid environments.
UF adhesives are also more expensive than PF adhesives, which further drives up the cost of hardwood plywood.
Hardwood plywood is used for a variety of applications, including furniture, cabinets, architectural millwork, paneling, flooring, store fixtures, and doors.
Softwood plywood is also used for a variety of applications, including packaging, sheathing, and wall panels.
However, softwood plywood is not as strong or durable as hardwood plywood, so it is not suitable for applications that require high levels of strength or durability.
Hardwood plywood is more expensive than softwood plywood because both the cost of hardwood and the manufacturing process is more expensive.
Most hardwoods are more expensive than softwoods because they are less abundantly available. In terms of manufacturing, hardwood plywood takes longer to produce than softwood plywood because the logs need to be peeled into thin veneers before they can be glued together.
This extra step in the manufacturing process drives up the cost of hardwood plywood.