Difference between Plywood and Solid Wood

Solid Wood types

Furniture is the soul of any place, be it home, office, workshop, hotel, shopping mall, beauty spa, and so on. The size, type, design, and colors of the furniture items say a lot about the owner.

Being rational, people compare various available options on several basis, and select the one which suits their needs the most. The material is one of those elements regarding furniture which require serious pondering. Compared to plastic and glass, wood is preferred widely for home and office décor due to its aesthetic appeal.

But, here again comes the question of choice, between plywood and solid wood. So, how are they different? Knowing about the process by which they are made would clear half the doubts.

Solid wood is obtained from various kinds of trees and used in its natural form. Following the process of felling, the timber logs are sawed into blocks of different sizes at the saw mill. These blocks are then used to make furniture. Teak wood, Oak wood, Maple, Mahogany, Cherry, and Indian Rosewood (Sheesham) are the known varieties of solid woods in India.

On the other hand, plywood is an engineered wood, i.e. not used in its raw natural form. The logs are rotated and peeled into thin layers known as veneers. These thin plies or veneers are then glued together by placing one sheet over another. Gurjan wood is widely used for manufacturing plywood.

Solid wood and plywood can be compared on the following parameters, which act as considerable factors in choosing among the two:

  • Strength: Being homogenous, solid wood is stronger than plywood. But, again, it depends on the variety of wood, for example, hardwoods such as teak wood and sheesham are denser and heavier than softwoods such as mango wood or pine wood.

Plywood’s strength is dependent on the quality of the original wood and the type and strength of the glue or adhesive used. It is categorized into different grades, which denote its strength. Boiling water resistant plywood i.e. BWR grade is better than Moisture resistant i.e. MR grade, whereas, Marine grade plywood is better than both of these.

  • Durability: It is closely related with strength and hence depends on the same aspect, i.e. variety and quality of original wood used. Talking about solid wood, teak wood and sheesham are bound to last longer than softwoods. And talking about plywood, Marine grade would certainly have a longer life than MR and BWR grades.

While solid wood naturally prevents growth of termites, plywood is made termite-resistant with the help of chemicals.

Needless to mention, the way you use and maintain your furniture items, largely impacts their durability.

  • Look: No one can deny that the trunks of dense trees are indeed beautiful, and therefore, solid wood gets the brownie points here. One fine example is teak wood which charms everyone with its straight grain pattern and golden brown colour.

Plywood on the other hand has a plain look, and is therefore decorated by staining and painting. Sometimes, solid wood veneer (Ex. Teak wood) or laminate sheet (Ex. Sunmica, Formica, etc.) is glued on the top layer of plywood to enhance its visual appeal.

  • Maintenance: It is advisable to keep water away from both solid wood and plywood, and hence only dry cloth, should be used for cleaning purposes. However, for removing stains, damp cloth can be used.

Furniture made with solid wood should be sanded and re-polished once every 2-3 years to revive the lost colour and shine. Plywood is free from such hassles and can be easily maintained. Laminated plywood is scratch and moisture resistant and looks like new even after several years of use.

While going for laminated plywood, choose the laminate which is adequately thick as thin laminates can get damaged. Replacing the damaged surface can be a difficult and costly issue.

  • Use: Solid wood is ideal for making bookshelves, wardrobes, doors, windows, storage containers, etc. as plywood cannot serve the purpose here due to its tendency to bend in the middle, which can compromise the strength and durability of the furniture items. It is also used for flooring, decking and roofing solutions in residential, commercial and industrial applications.

For making single and double beds, divans, settees, etc., plywood works best. Flexible plywood is a variety of plywood, which stands perfect for items with curved surfaces, for example, skateboard ramps.

When it comes to dining and study tables, chairs, cabinets, etc., any one of the two can be used. But, in case of cabinets, solid wood veneered or laminated plywood needs to be used.

In various instances, a combination of the two seems perfect to get the desired outcome in terms of stability and appearance. For example, desks and shelves made with plywood have edges made of solid wood.

  • Price: On account of ecological reasons, there has been a sharp decline in the supply of wood from the forests. To worsen the situation, the number of trees has also been decreasing on a daily basis due to urbanization.

Thus, solid wood is definitely more expensive than plywood; low supply and high prices of the former has led to increase in the popularity of the latter.

Along with these points, effects of heavy use and environment need also to be borne in mind while taking the decision. Plywood veneers can get separated due to rough use and humid atmosphere. Solid wood can also shrink, crack, or even split due to the same reasons, if there have been mistakes in the carving process.

Solid wood furniture is available readymade and can also be built at the site of the consumer (for ex. construction projects) to achieve economies of scale. Due to the inherent characteristics of the solid wood, intricate pieces of furniture can be made from it. Plywood is preferred by many as it is available in standard sizes and thickness. People buy plywood and get the furniture custom-designed with the help of craftsmen.

Apart from furniture, both the wood types are used in other industries as well. For example, marine grade plywood is specially manufactured for building boats, ships and other marine applications.

In various eras of the past, the royal families have got the astonishing furniture items and show pieces built for their palaces using solid wood. We can witness this in palaces, museums and old buildings. But, the manufactured wood products such as plywood, MDF and particle boards have created a distinct place for themselves in the market today.

Author Bio:

Nishant Gupta is founder of Simply Interiors with more than 5 years of experience in FMCG (CPG and Retail domain). He is adept at operations along with marketing and finance. We at Simply Interiors are Leading  interior designers in Hyderabad and one of our areas of Specialization is Room Painting Ideas for your Home. Come meet the experts for your next project.

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