The Basics of Decorative Hardwood Plywood for Cabinetry and Custom Furniture

The Basics of Decorative Hardwood Plywood For Cabinetry and Custom Furniture.jpg

If you're working on home renovations for the first time, you may be surprised at the number of options for some aspects of the process. One common choice some home-owners find overwhelming is the type of material to use on cabinets, custom furniture, engineered wood flooring, solid hardwood, etc. A popular choice for these projects is decorative plywood hardwood, which consists of a solid core laminated with decorative veneer. The various types of core and veneer material can make selection a bit confusing. If you're considering using decorative hardwood plywood in your renovations, these tips should help ease the process. 

Choose a Core

There are a number of options available for the material used within the core of decorative hardwood plywood. There are even specific woods used for particular types of structures. But for basic indoor architecture needs, the options are Veneer Core, Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF), Particleboard and Combi Core. 

Veneer core is composed of thin strips of wood laminated together to form a solid core. Materials used for this type of core can vary depending on where the panels are made. In the United States, veneer core is often composed of White Fir, Douglass Fir, Ponderosa Pine or Poplar. Veneer is stronger than many other options, holds screws well and looks the closest to real wood. However, it is around 15% more expensive and often has variations in thickness. 

One of the most popular options for core material is particleboard. Particleboard is the cheapest core type, features a smooth, uniform surface and thickness and can hold screws reasonably well. It is a bit heavier than veneer, and a typical panel can weigh around 90 - 100 pounds. 

Medium Density Fiberboard, also known as MDF, is very similar to particleboard. Both materials are composites, meaning they are composed of fibers glued together to form the solid core. The main difference between MDF and particleboard is fiber size. Where particleboard uses larger wood fibers, MDF is composed of smaller, finer fibers. Like particleboard, it features a smooth uniform surface and reasonable screw hold, but it is heavy as well and a bit more expensive. 

Finally, there is the option of Combi Core. This material is a sort of hybrid core, and it can be a little expensive, but it is lighter than the composite cores, which can make a significant difference in some situations. 

Choose a Veneer

Once you've chosen a core for your decorative hardwood plywood, the next step is choosing a veneer to cover it. The most popular options for veneer species are Birch, Maple and Red Oak. These three woods are the most widely available and generally the least expensive. 

However, there are other options, like Cherry and Walnut, which are pricier woods but offer a different quality and appearance. You can even choose some more exotic woods, opt for softwood options or even go with bamboo (which isn't actually wood at all!). 

Choose a Cut

Aside from your choice of veneer wood, the cutting style you choose will make a difference in appearance as well. There are four ways to cut the veneer for decorative hardwood plywood. For some woods, like Red Oak and White Oak, you can most likely find what you need in any of the cut styles, but for other options, certain styles tend to look more pleasing than others. 

One style of cutting is rotary style. Simply put, panels cut rotary style are cut in the same way you would peel paper towels from a roll. This style is the most environmentally friendly way to cut and can be used for most of the popular woods in decorative hardwood plywood.

The other types of cutting panels involve cutting from only a portion of the log, rather than the entire circumference. For instance, plain slicing consists of paring down the log, then taking slices from the top lengthwise. This method is more expensive and less environmentally friendly than rotary style, but many people prefer this due to aesthetics.

A step up from plain slicing, quarter slicing comes from taking the lengthwise slices from the edge of one quarter of the log. This produces a pattern like plain slicing, but it is worth nothing that there can be what's called flaking, which some find unappealing. If this is the case for you, opt for rift cutting, which is close to quarter slicing but with minimal flaking. 

Choose a Shade

Finally, when deciding the composition of your veneer, note that there are two different shades of wood, based on the location within the tree. Wood in the center of the tree, called heartwood, has a darker appearance, like you'd see if you cut down a tree. Likewise, the outer layers of wood, called sapwood, are lighter. There is an extra charge to have either of these shades exclusively, and most panels include both colors of wood.

There are a number of other options for decorative hardwood plywood, and whatever your renovation, your contractor and designer should be able to provide guidance regarding the best choice for your space, but it will help to have some idea what they're talking about! Did you have similar questions during a recent renovation? We'd love to hear feedback from the other side of the table!

by Anjie Cho