Hardwood grading is pretty straightforward. If you’re used to how you can order hardwood lumber based on grade, you may be in for a surprise when it comes to plywood. While we’d all love to be able to rely on plywood grading to determine quality, we can’t live as if we’re in an ideal world. Plywood grading leaves a lot up to interpretation, which means that the grading categories simply aren’t very helpful. Let us explain.
Plywood Price Is Reliable
Because each manufacturer has to take basically the same steps in order to create a sheet of plywood, the main way they can cut costs is to eliminate steps. As a result, cheaper plywood usually means poor manufacturing. While whatever was left out may not be readily apparent, you can wager a bet that your savings will end up costing you more in the end.
Plywood Grading Is Limited
The Decorative Hardwoods Association (formerly the HPVA) has a grading system designed to classify hardwood plywood with an alphanumeric designation that describes the front and back face. For instance, the highest grade would be A-1, which means that not only is the front top quality (A), but so is the back (1). Do you see the limitation of this system? We’ll give you a hint: It’s more about what it doesn’t say. It says nothing about the core or the composition or the manufacturing process whatsoever. Neither does it describe the cut.
Depending on the type of core your plywood has, different processes are used. MDF, Poplar, or Fir cores all require different materials as well. Different types of cuts require more expertise and produce more waste; while the pricing for sequential matching or center book matching cuts will reflect the cut used, the grade categories have no way of doing that.
Plywood Buying Is Complicated
The grading scenario is frustrating to many, as are the widely fluctuating prices on plywood. So what’s a customer to do? If you’ve purchased much plywood at all, we’re guessing that at some point, you’ve come across some that you’ve loved; it was everything you’d hoped it would be. Ask yourself, “How much did it cost?” Now expect to pay at least that much to purchase something similar in the future. Anything much less than that won’t measure up to the quality you’re expecting, and just because something at a different price point is labelled “A-1” doesn’t mean it will be what you need.
One way to make sure that the plywood you purchase has the same consistent quality that you desire is to choose a lumber supplier that purchases directly from time-tested manufacturers. At J. Gibson McIlvain, the lines of communication and education are always open.