There is so much to know about using plywood that as I was making this video I kept thinking to myself, I could use a whole YouTube channel just on PLYWOOD, there is so much to know and learn.

Watch it on Youtube:

One of the first things every woodworker should know about plywood is that there are some basic "need to know" things about plywood and first of all is the species selection ...

I think most people know that there are 2 kinds of plywood, hardwood, and softwood. Softwood plywood is used for building construction and rougher work while hardwood plywood is used for finer work like cabinet and furniture making or other specific needs. 

Within the plywoods there are 2 basic ways of making plywood, they are called ROTARY or SLICED. 
As a rule, most softwood plywoods are made by the rotary method which simply means mounting a large long on what looks like a giant wood lathe then spinning that log against a long sharp knife that then peels off a thin sheet of wood (called a veneer) that is then often laid out on a large cutting table and cut into workable size sheets which are then layered into plywood sheets.

Hardwood plywood can be manufactured by either the sliced OR the rotary method. 
It is worth noting here that the cores of hardwood plywood are almost always softwood veneers, which helps to keep the costs down, while the outside veneers are hardwood and hardwood plywood might be hardwood veneered on only one side or on both the front and backside of the plywood.

 It is easy to spot the difference between sliced and rotary cut plywood as in the picture below, the sheet on the right is rotary cut plywood as it is easy to spot the wood "cathedrals" in the wood, whereas the wood on the right is a sliced veneer because the wood can easily be identified as showing the long grain of the wood, similar to what you would see in a natural board.

Plywoods Types

The picture below shows better detail of what you get with better quality plywoods. The top is what is called a Baltic Birch, which is utility-grade plywood, but a high-quality one and you can see the thin veneers and the number of them. This is what makes this plywood so desirable.

The middle plywood is what is called a "cabinet grade" plywood which means it has hardwood veneers on either the front and/or the back but between the hardwood veneers are softwood cores, but they are of nice quality and finely cut.

The bottom plywood is what is called a construction grade plywood and consists of softwood veneers throughout the sheet, including face sides, you will also see the core veneers are larger which means fewer veneers are needed making these plywood marginally weaker, but still very adequate for building construction. 

Plywood Layers

Although not technically a "plywood" sometimes sold next to plywood sheets are MDF sheets that are "faced" with hardwood veneers. These sheets have both their pros and cons over plywoods and will not be discussed here, the only reason for bringing this up is for people to be aware to have a look at the cores before you take the sheets home to make sure you are getting plywood and not a hardwood MDF if that is what you are after.

Breaking down plywood is best done with CROSSCUT blades because the veneers inside are mounted diagonally to one another so half the wood is being crosscut while the other is ripped, but for this, we always use crosscut blades. In a circular saw blade, a cross-cut blade will have either 40 or 60 teeth whereas a ripping circular saw blade will have 24 teeth and is not ideal for cutting plywood and getting a nice clean cut. 

Plywood table saw blades

In terms of planning how to cut your plywood, or "breaking down" your plywood sheets there are few products that can help you get the best use of your sheet by helping you plan where the best cuts might be. Some of these are free, some a free to try while others have a modest cost. Even the ones with a modest cost can save a LOT of money in wood costs, especially if you are using a lot of sheet good products.
I am not reviewing these here, just providing a listing ... 

Cutlist Plus FX
OptiCutter -
CutList Optimizer -
Max Cut Software -

There are a number of others you can locate yourself by searching the Internet

In terms of cutting your own sheets accurately, I have a video on making your own circular saw jig that allows you to make very accurate cuts on plywood by simply using a better blade in your circular saw and making your own jig from a half sheet (cut lengthwise) of 3/8" construction grade plywood.

Click  Here for the link to that article and video, or the picture below

Breaking down plywood

And for those who want more detail on an excellent quality crosscut blade for your table saw, (or your sliding mitre saw)
Check out the details on this blade on the Woodworkweb Amazon page ...
freud 90 tooth blade

One of the common things that often needs to be done to plywood, especially in cabinet making, is to hide or disguise the edge of the plywood by adding either a veneer strip or even gluing on a very thin piece of wood. This is called "Banding". The banding material can be purchased either as natural wood veneers, either natural or with a pre-applied heat-sensitive glue, which means the edging can be put on with an ordinary household iron, or glued off if you have selected a non-glue back version. 

Plywood Veneer

If elected to use your own very think wood strips and glue them on, you might be considering using something like a 23 gauge pinner to hold the wood on while the glue dries. The 23 gauge pins are some small that they often disappear during the nailing. Make sure you hold your air or electric pinner at a diagonal when inserting the pins to help avoid any of them poking out the sides of your plywood sheets. 

Plywood Pin Nailer

Plywood is fun and easy to work with and can save oodles of time and money, but you do need to think ahead of how you are going to cut your sheets, make your joints and just generally work with the plywood to get the best use from it and when you do, you won't be sorry you made the switch.

Copyright Colin Knecht