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Plywood: 5 ply vs. 11 ply

bbobo's picture

What are the main differences, both strengths and weaknesses, between 5 ply and 11 ply plywood?  I've always thought that the more plys, the better due to the less likelihood of voids in each veneer but then again, the price of the 5 ply plywood is more expensive.  Also, is there a "top" and "bottom" to cabinet grade plywood, especially Birch?  With Birch, there is a lighter side with more knots vs. a slightly darker, more figured grain on the other.  Some education on plywood would be greatly appreciated...

On a similiar note, I found what appears to be a blend of maple and oak hardwood (11 ply) cabinet-grade plywood at my local HD for $24/sheet.  Has anyone seen this or have an idea as to which hardwood it is?  I'm in the Houston area so I'm not sure what other regions/areas carry this same product.  It's quite cheap but appeared to be a good-quality plywood for jigs, shop cabinets, and possibly case work for bookcases or chest or drawers.

Thanks in advance,


Jigs-n-fixtures's picture

(post #113678, reply #1 of 9)

As a general rule the more plys the stiffer, and less voids.  It also should machine better and hold screws better with more plys.  But the glue type comes into play, so that isn't a hard and fast rule.  There is quite a bit of plywood coming in from over seas, that is of suspect quality.  There is also some great stuff coming in. 

My local lumberyard had some "shop grade", which means ungraded, 17-ply 3/4 hardwood stuff for a while that had started life to be AA cabinet grade, but had sand throughs in one or both faces.  Stuff was dirt cheap, and I should have bought a bunch more of it.  

The American Plywood Association website ( ) has a lot of good information on plywood, that is well worth the time it takes to read it. 

Pondfish's picture

(post #113678, reply #2 of 9)

unfortunately, with plywood quality dropping fast, counting the number of plies is not guaranteed to get you good plywood.  I've had great 5-ply sheets and lousy 7- or 11-ply sheets.

HD plywood varies widely in quality; beware the "sandeply" for P/G use: it has a very open grain face veneer, and is terrible for painting (it's like painting oak).

Recommending the use of "Hide Signatures" option under "My Preferences" since 2005
Recommending the use of "Hide Signatures" option under "My Preferences" since 2005
oldusty's picture

(post #113678, reply #3 of 9)

bbobo ,

            The quality of the veneer core plies is more important than the quantity . 5 ply domestic hardwood is the bottom of the line in most cases hardwood plywood 3/4" comes 7 and often 9 ply . The 11 ply or 17 ply is surely an overseas ( China probably ) product .

      Be careful the stuff has a tendency to warp and change after cut into parts Try a panel before you buy large quantities to be safe .

 It is believed the glue used is suspect and the cause of odiferous offgassing .

   Plywood is graded several ways , the face may be a B face and a 3 back , there are core grades as well , C core D core and so on A-1 being the best grade usually.Face materials have different allowances within each classification such as Monarch Birch may have large but tight knots Plain Sliced is bookmatched and Rotary cut Oak may be whole piece face (wpf) split face is chopped pieces of rotary cut.  Plain Sliced is not created on a lathe like rotary cut veneers.Vine marks are allowed with some grades of Maple .

     There are composite or Armour core panels that have a thin mdf core under the front and back skins with veneer core in the centers.

          hope this tells you a bit


PlaneCrazy's picture

(post #113678, reply #4 of 9)

While we are on the subject of plywood, I have just started considering a couple of products where sheet goods are the only reasonable way to go.  My question, I haven't had much luck finding a good source of reasonably priced plywood. Any suggestions on where to look besides the big box guys? There are plenty of distributors but none seem to be interested in someone looking for 3-4 sheets at a time.


oldusty's picture

(post #113678, reply #5 of 9)

Hi Ken ,

       You can look in the yellow pages under cabinet makers and may find suppliers , try one , if not then try a small to medium size cabinet maker .Tell them what your up to and if they feel you are no threat to them they may be more willing to help. Some guy's might even look at it as beer money if you catch him just right .

       " A good source of reasonably priced plywood "

     Kenny , sit down , if you want good plywood and haven't found a reasonably priced source yet , the reality is close to this ,the quality plywood products are made for all types of applications . But ,,,

The better grades of hardwood veneers and such are not going to be bargain basement priced . Downfall and shop grade of these nicer panels are less then the on-grade certified and graded panels price point .

   Then we now have the China Syndrome ,,,  maybe some of the product is the best of it's kind ever made ? But I'm not so sure I've heard many rave about the product , maybe we will now? When it is all that's offered , that's what you get .

   You may have to consider a Melamine product , at least for the interiors.

                             regards         dusty


WillGeorge's picture

(post #113678, reply #6 of 9)

Great post.. Right down my alley at this time.

Nothing to answer your question but I'll just comment on some 4X8, 3/4 and 1/4 inch Jatoba faced ply I bought a few weeks ago.

Some was MDF backed a some wooden ply.

First off the face (Jatoba) was really nice. The back of the wooden ply looked just a bit better than C grade.. I should have stopped there but (Me being me, I got that sheet of wooden ply 3/4 inch). I couldn't't wait for MDF backed at the time..

BIG MISTAKE.. and at 130.00 US a sheet.. STUPID buy on my part.

The MDF backed ply was as good as anything I have ever used..
The wooden backed was (can I say crap in here?). The Jatoba face chipped off in places and just a outright disaster!

I guess the wooden plys were made of old orange crates I made things of when a kid and white glue?..

I want to go back to the place I got it from and raise hell but overall I usually get nice stuff from them.. I want to raise hell, but I'm just not that way.. I should have known better when I saw the back.

Oh well, live and learn.. And I'v had a LONG time at learning.. Maybe when I'm 100 I'll get it down pat!

Edited 9/6/2007 7:26 pm by WillGeorge

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

BigK's picture

(post #113678, reply #7 of 9)

The 11-ply that I think you are asking about is Acathus. I am fairly certain that it is from China. Proceed with caution as this stuff can be highly unstable. Yeah the price is cheap, until they put the competition out of business. There is a reason why some are now calling Homer's the Borg. Please support your local hardwood lumber dealer and buy your goods there, while you still have a choice.

WillGeorge's picture

(post #113678, reply #8 of 9)

Please support your local hardwood lumber dealer..

I got my problem from my 'local hardwood lumber dealer'. Just a comment. No hate here.

Have a great day.. Life is wonderful even if you are having a bad day!

BigK's picture

(post #113678, reply #9 of 9)

I am sorry to hear that. The few times that I have had issues with any of my local hardwood suppliers, they generally take care of my problem. The only exception has been a nearby Austin Hardwoods, and we don't interact anymore. The problem was how they did business and the attitude of their employee. I hear that things have changed, but the locally owned lumber yards that I deal with take real good care of me. I have had real problems with the 11 ply Chinese "birch" plywood the couple of times that I tried it, extreme warping was a real issue. I will stick with Baltic Birch for all of my future needs.