Materials are a vital aspect of construction and design, both in terms of architectural design theory and practical project management. Development is constant and consistent with material sciences, as new innovations breed new possibilities in private and commercial projects alike. Plywood is a material that we should all know about and what it can bring to the table.
But, in many cases, the simplest materials are the easiest to work with – for repeatability and cost. One base material commonly found on construction sites and in homes around the world is ply. Plywood is an unassuming material, but one that has become extremely important in construction. What exactly are its attributes, and in what ways might it fall short as a material?
What is plywood?
Plywood is a prefabricated wood material, comprising sheets of wood (or “plies” – as in plies of paper sheet – which give the finished product its name) stacked and glued to one another to form a rigid board. The plies are arranged cross-grain, in order to improve the structural integrity of the material.
Ply is used in a wide variety of ways, in a wide variety of industries. It is abundant and inexpensive, making it a popular choice for tight budgets – but it also has its merits as a material both qualitatively and aesthetically. Here, though, we will examine in more detail the pros and cons of incorporating ply in a construction context.
The advantages of using plywood in construction and design
The leading advantage to plywood – at least, over other timbers and sheet materials, is that it is fundamentally inexpensive. Plywood does not eat into materials budgets the same way solid timber products would, and enables the construction of complex shapes – whether for building frameworks, fitted furniture or simply for concrete formworks – with relative ease.
The ply production process also enables sheets to be produced with much large surface areas than solid wood products. A lathe is used to ‘peel’ veneer from a tree’s widthways, producing sheets with metres upon metres of width and length. This makes the creation of boxes and frames much less costly.
Plywood also comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and forms, making it a versatile option. Softwood ply with fewer plies can be steamed and bent into shape, while hardwood ply has considerable applications in furniture and structural design.
But ply is not a miracle material, and there are applications for which plywood materials are not ideal or even suitable. Treated plywood products do exist, whether moisture-repellent or flame-retardant, but the more commonly used plywood products are unsuitable for exposed outdoor use.
In use, plywood can pose challenges to those working with it. Sawing plywood is a difficult task, and the dust it produces is particularly dangerous to inhale – containing as it does volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Plywood can also be difficult to treat and paint after construction, making it a difficult product to use without embracing its natural aesthetics.
Plywood in furniture
Using Plywood in Furniture Plywood is a popular material for furniture making due to its stability, durability, and affordability. Unlike solid wood, which can be prone to warping and cracking, plywood is less susceptible to these issues, making it a more reliable choice for furniture construction. In addition, its uniform surface makes it easier to work with, as it requires less sanding and smoothing compared to solid wood.
Plywood also offers designers a wide range of possibilities, as it can be stained, painted, or finished in a variety of ways to match the desired aesthetic. It can also be bent or shaped into curves, making it a versatile option for creating modern, flowing furniture designs. Hardwood plywoods, in particular, have a beautiful grain that can be showcased through a clear or semi-transparent finish, adding a touch of warmth and texture to furniture pieces.
One of the most significant benefits of using plywood in furniture is that it is a more sustainable option compared to solid wood. Ply is made from thin layers of wood, which are glued together in a cross-grain orientation, making it possible to use smaller pieces of wood that might otherwise be considered waste. This makes it a more eco-friendly choice, as it reduces the need for large pieces of solid wood, which are often harvested from old-growth forests.
Ply is a versatile and practical material for furniture making, offering designers and manufacturers a range of benefits, including stability, durability, affordability, and versatility. Whether you’re creating contemporary or traditional pieces, ply provides a sustainable and practical option that can bring a touch of warmth and texture to any furniture design.
Plywood in art and sculpture
Plywood is not just a material for construction and furniture making. It is also a versatile and practical medium for artists and sculptors. Due to its affordability, light weight, and stability, plywood is an ideal choice for creating large-scale sculptures, wall hangings, and other works of art.
One of the most significant benefits of using this manufactured wood in art is that it is relatively easy to work with. Unlike solid wood, which can be difficult to carve and shape, plywood can be cut, sanded, and drilled with relative ease, making it a versatile option for artists looking to experiment with different forms and textures.
This type of wood is also a great choice for artists who work with a variety of mediums. It can be painted, stained, or finished in a variety of ways, allowing artists to create multi-layered works that incorporate a range of textures and finishes. This versatility makes it possible for artists to create works that are both aesthetically pleasing and functional.
In addition, plywood is a sustainable option for artists who are concerned about the environment. As a material made from thin layers of wood, it enables artists to use smaller pieces of wood that might otherwise be considered waste, reducing the need for large pieces of solid wood, which are often harvested from old-growth forests.
Plywood is a versatile and cost-effective material that has found its way into many construction and design projects worldwide. Its benefits include its low cost, large surface area, and variety of shapes and sizes. However, it also has its limitations, such as its lack of suitability for outdoor use, difficulties in sawing and treating, and health hazards associated with inhaling its dust. Ultimately, the choice to use plywood will depend on the specific requirements of the project and the constraints of the budget and materials. However, it is clear that plywood has a place in the world of construction and design, as a low-cost solution that can bring many benefits to a project.