You would think, as a period furniture maker, the word plywood would never pass my lips, and in most instances you’d be right. But I’ve found over the years that it is a viable alternative (in certain instances) to bad period construction. Besides, there are historical examples of plywood dating back to the ancient Egyptians, though it isn’t the kind of stuff you’ll find in your local big box store. The rub is, I like to make my own when I can, and when I can’t I like to use good Baltic birch.
The reason I like to make my own plywood is, I can use more plies. That’s the same reason I like to use real Baltic birch plywood. I say, “real” because there are different types of Baltic birch plywood. Some of it is made properly with no voids and enough layers to ensure the panel remains flat and dimensionally stable. Then there’s the stuff you can buy at your national lumber yard chain that comes from China or some-such place.
If you don’t think there’s a difference compare the two photos in this post. The bottom layers in the first photo are Baltic birch that had been purchased from a plywood supplier who sells to the cabinetmaking trade. If you look in your area, you can probably find one without too much trouble. Some only sell wholesale in large lots, while others aren’t opposed to selling a sheet or two here and there to a woodworking enthusiast. And if you can’t find a supplier, make friends with a local cabinetmaker who’s churning out custom cabinets. He might be able to sell you what you need.
And if you compare the bottom two layers of plywood in the first photo with the piece in the second, you’ll instantly see why the stuff sold at your big box store shouldn’t be called Baltic birch. It’s got lots of layers, but it also has lots of voids. And are those overlapping plies I see?
If you want to know a little more about what ought to go into plywood, log into your premium account and check out this week’s article, “Inside Plywood.”
— Chuck Bender