In 1865, plywood was introduced into the United States. A little over 60 years later, the first standardized 1.2 m by 2.4 m plywood sheet was introduced as a building material. In the decades since, plywood has come on in leaps and bounds. These days, it’s no longer considered a cheap substitute for solid wood. Its strength, versatility, and affordability have made it the preferred choice of material for many homeowners and builders. And now we’ve got yet another reason to use it, a reason that comes by way of two little words – ‘lightwood plywood.’ Lightweight plywood has a myriad of uses and benefits. It’s not necessarily going to change your life, but it could transform even the most challenging DIY project into a breeze. Here’s what you need to know about the uses and the merits of lightweight plywood.
What is Lightweight Plywood?
Lightweight plywood is exactly what it says on the label. It’s plywood. And it’s lightweight. It really is that simple. Other than its weight, it has the same properties as every other type of plywood. As Hunker explains, most plywoods that measure under 1/4 inch thick will be considered lightweight. If you’re looking for a particularly thin type of material, some stores offer ‘skin-ply’, which consists of plywood in sheets as thin (or sometimes even thinner) than 1/10 inch. Considering its weight, you can’t expect lightweight plywood to provide very much by way of structural strength. However, if you’re looking for a veneer that’s flexible enough to curve, it’s ideal.
What is Lightweight Plywood Made From?
The type of wood that goes into the construction of plywood is fundamental to determining its weight. Typically, Balsa is the preferred choice for lightweight plywood. Although lighter woods exist, they’d be too light for use in building applications – considering the building industry is one of the biggest consumers of plywood, this would make it impractical. Balsa is lightweight enough to bend and flex, but heavy enough to offer at least some degree of structural strength.
How is Lightweight Plywood Made?
There’s no standardized way of making plywood. Sometimes it’s made by pressing wood chips together, other times it’s made by compressing finely ground wood particles into sheets. When it comes to lightweight plywood, veneer core hardwood is the usual choice for people looking for the very lightest option. This type of plywood is made from a core of fir that’s been covered on one side with a wood-grain veneer. As How Stuff Works explains, the process of making this kind of plywood usually begins by softening a log with steam before mounting it on a lathe. A thin layer of wood is then peeled from the log in a continuous veneer sheet. A single veneer sheet is strong in the direction of the grain but weak across it. To counter the problem, several layers of veneer are layered together with grain direction alternating between the layers. Glue is used to keep the layers in place before the stack is heated and pressed to form a single durable panel. A more cost-effective way of making lightweight plywood is by using chips of wood rather than a continuous veneer. During manufacture, the chips are lined up in different layers to ensure the final panel is strong in all directions. Although this method is cheaper, it produces less attractive results.
What is Lightweight Plywood Used For?
Lightweight plywood has numerous uses but is particularly popular for making furniture. Whereas heavier materials and solid wood can be unwieldy, lightweight plywood is remarkably easy to use. As it can be bent, it’s a great choice for curved surfaces. Some of its other uses include:
- Interior cladding
- Skateboard ramps
- Film sets
Essentially, whenever you need a flexible, resilient material that can be easily worked and won’t cost a fortune to buy, lightweight plywood is worthy of consideration.
What are the Benefits of Lightweight Plywood?
Lightweight plywood has numerous benefits, including…
- It looks great – As HuffPost Life writes, one of the chief reasons that plywood has achieved the popularity it has is down to how it looks. Call us superficial, but if we’re going to bring something into our homes, we don’t want it to stick out like a sore thumb. And plywood most certainly won’t do that. After all, plywood isn’t made from some cheap synthetic. It’s made from real wood and offers many of the same attractive features. Even if the core of the plywood is made from utility-grade material, the outer veneer (i.e. the part you actually see) can be made from anything from mahogany to hickory, cheery to walnut. As a result, it carries all the same luster and richness you’d expect from solid wood.
- It’s environmentally friendly – Man-made products rarely have a good rep for eco-friendliness, but plywood is the exception. Sure, it uses wood, but it uses far less than you’d find in solid wood products, meaning all kinds of good things for trees, the environment, and your green credentials.
- It’s durable – Solid wood might be strong, but only in one direction. Plywood, on the other hand, has uniform strength, regardless of the grain direction. This means that plywood is resistant to the kinds of knocks and blows that could damage solid wood products.
- It’s cheap – Plywood is excellent value. When you buy a sheet, every inch of it is usable. There are no knots or mill marks to cut off and no rough edges to sand down. What you buy is exactly what you get… something you can’t always say about solid lumber.
- It’s big – Bigger isn’t always better, but when it comes to large scale projects, it has its advantages. Lightweight plywood is available in sheets with lengths of at least 1800mm and widths of around 1200mm. Regardless of the application, you’ll get a huge amount of use from material of that size. Better still, it’ll come without the gaps, uneven ends, or wastage you’ll often get with other kinds of materials.
- It curves – Creating a curve from solid wood is a challenge and a half. Unless you’re a master carpenter, it’s not even worth attempting. Creating a curve from lightwood plywood, on the other hand, is a breeze. Regardless of how curved the surface, the bendy nature of lightwood plywood will let you fit it smoothly and easily.