Wood is arguably the most beautiful material available for designing furniture, shelving and even certain aspects of the home. Two excellent, man-made options available for these purposes are MDF (medium density fiberboard) and Baltic birch plywood.
These products use a resin for binding various pieces of wood together and extreme pressure to eliminate any voids. The primary difference is that MDF is often made from small materials, about the size of sawdust, while Baltic birch plywood uses veneers that are sandwiched together.
Two huge advantages of Baltic birch plywood are the all birch core and thick outer veneers. The core veneers are cross-banded and this process makes the plywood strong. Thick outer veneers make applying the finishing touches easier.
Unlike plywood, MDF doesn't provide much strength over long spans without support. However, MDF offers a smooth surface and this is excellent for cabinetry or furniture covered with a veneer. Keep in mind that MDF is rather dense and this means it is a heavier material than plywood.
Baltic birch plywood has another advantage over MDF. Plywood products handle connecting systems, including the use of screws, much better. This makes it an excellent material for long term use.
Plywood is an excellent lumber for many purposes, especially those with exposed surfaces, but selecting the right product is crucial. For example, Baltic birch plywood comes in at least two sheet sizes and various thicknesses.
One important concern when estimating required sizes is that Baltic birch plywood is measured using the metric system. This is mostly due to the origin of the lumber and its original purposes, hand crafted furniture and cabinetry.
The typical sheet measures 1525 mm x 1525 mm or 60” by 60” Imperial. The standard 4' by 8' Imperial size is now available as well.
The most important factor in sizing Baltic birch plywood is its thickness. This is a factor of ply count and is measured in millimeters. A thin sheet with 3 plies is 3 mm and a thicker sheet of 13 plies is 18 mm.
The reason why this is important is that the U.S. market tends to translate the metric measurements into Imperial units, but the process is not exact. For instance, the 13 ply, 18 mm panel is often listed as 3/4”. It is actually a bit thinner and this can affect the way parts join together.
Plywood is one of those materials that serve a number of purposes, but using this man-made lumber requires a bit of knowledge. Specifically, how the wood is graded and how these gradings affect the final product.
Baltic birch plywood is graded on the visible surfaces. That is, the covering veneers on the front and back of the sheets determine product quality. The gradings are:
Shop grades are often damaged versions of the others with 1 to 3 splits of less than 10 inches.