Previously hidden in the fabric of our interiors, this beautiful basic is now a statement surface in its own right. Here’s how to use it at home, from crafted furniture to full interiors
What is plywood? It’s thin layers of cross-laminated timber (where the direction of the grain alternates with each layer), which are compression-moulded together with glue to form a single sheet. Plywood can be anything from 0.4mm up to 50mm thick. And any wood can be used to make it, from spruce to eucalyptus. The most common though is birch, which is also the best quality off-the-shelf option.
What’s so great about it? Strength and stability. “It doesn’t have any directional bias; which means it’s hard to snap even a thin strip of plywood because the layers of grain go in opposite directions,” says craftsman Ed Shaw-Stephens. It’s also incredibly versatile – it can be machined, drilled, screwed and finished in anything from paint to lacquer. And even before sealing, plywood is water-resistant. It can also be used inside or out, although you should look for an exterior-grade plywood if you’re planning to use it outdoors, and if you want to use it in a bathroom, ask for Marine Ply, which is made with waterproof adhesive; you’ll still need to seal it using a suitable paint or varnish though.
How can I use it? Traditionally, it’s been relegated to the position of structural material or substrate; low-grade plywood is often used for any area that needs boxing in (such as around pipework), or levelling (like floor underlay). But now better-quality versions are being used for combined structural and aesthetic purposes: to clad walls, ceilings, roofs, floors and to build cabinets and shelving. Like any timber, it creates instant warmth – quite literally, as it also insulates when used as cladding.
Is it durable, even for floors? Yes, as long as it’s properly sealed – apply more coats of clear lacquer than the tin recommends — it can withstand regular footfall, but it’s probably best to ditch the heels. Having a plywood floor can also be pretty economical (in both labour and materials) as you can cover a large area quickly. But for a bespoke look, Shaw-Stephens suggests designing your own panels – perhaps in a classic chevron pattern – and having them cut, then glued or nailed into place.
How much does it cost? From around £18 per 2.4m by 1.2m sheet. Albeit the price varies depending on the thickness and grade of wood. Find a good selection at most building depots. We’d recommend James Latham, Jewson or Timb Met.