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Big Box Plywood Quality

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  • Big Box Plywood Quality

    I am in the process of completing the winter project of building a storage coat closet to be installed as built-in for our foyer. It will be painted with cove molding extending to the ceiling.

    The planning and design started back in October 2016. It is 82 inches high, 50 inches wide and 24 inches deep. Four drawers on the bottom with full extension soft close Blum slides and two cabinets on the top with an open display in the middle. The coat hanging portion is 48 inches high and wide with sliding doors covering the opening.

    I have been using the orange store (TOS) birch plywood, 1/2 inch for the drawer boxes and 3/4 inch everywhere else. I know we have talked about plywood quality and big box stores in the past. I almost hate to go and buy it sometimes.

    A couple of weeks ago I went to buy the last piece I needed at TOS and took a piece I thought would be OK when I cut it. This was for the sliding doors and it needed to be straight since there is nothing else to support it. A few days later I made the first cut. This crap had a 1/2 inch bow over 48 inches.

    What to do? Went back to TOS and was surprised I could return it. Got my credit and went to look at the pile of same material. Now six sheets down was a load of new pristine pieces. I thought about this and decided they would not want to move the existing stuff, which was really dinged up so I left.

    I knew my choices were the blue store (TBS) or the twice the price high quality lumber yard for those folks that build along the Connecticut shore.

    I have not used TBS because the choice of product was Asian plywood and very limited. I thought well, I have to drive by TBS so why not have a look. To my surprise they now have a brand called "Top Choice" and the birch plywood looked great. It was $5 more but that was not a concern.

    I loaded up a sheet, took it home and cut the needed pieces. Very happy with the material. As I worked on the pieces I saw the stamping along the edge, "Made in the USA". A little research indicated it comes from Roseburg Forrest Products.

    The only way to fit this in the room was create it in the basement then, disassemble and paint it. Priming and painting is under way now. Next is some room preparation and then I can install the project.

    At this point I will go to TBS first for my project plywood.

  • #2
    I think that plywood is a crap shoot, regardless where you purchase it. Like they say it doesn't warp like regular wood, it warps like plywood. Cabinet shops use plywood with Masonite core for doors and panels that are not braced to restrict warping. This material is quite pricey.


    • #3
      I've found it's hit or miss with the Roseburg plywood. Sometimes I'll get some good pieces I'm happy with, but about half the time I find the center of the sheet is delaminated and un-usable. Each time I've returned it for another no problem though. I think I for my next plywood project I'm going to see what I can get through a cabinet shop though - I'll pay the extra bit for a nice core and thicker veneer.


      • #4
        The cabinet shop nearest me wanted over $100 a sheet for 1/2" core plywood. I needed 10 sheets, so no, I went with the big box stuff. Some of the doors warped and I'm not happy with them, but it was for laundry room cabinets, not kitchen cabinets. They will do.


        • #5
          Around here I've had the best luck finding plywood at Menard's. For dimensional stock, it's my local Lowes. I hit the BORG only when I'm desperate.

          "Be excellent to each other."
          Bill & Ted


          • #6
            Originally posted by gsmittle View Post
            Around here I've had the best luck finding plywood at Menard's.
            That's my practice as well. I made a project with "cabinet-grade" plywood from BORG some years ago. The plywood was imported from a really big country on the other side of the world. It turned out to be the lowest quality plywood I've ever seen. I don't know if they have stopped sourcing junk plywood in the intervening years. How bad was the plywood? I ripped several seven-foot long, 1 foot wide panels and discovered insanely large voids in the laminations. Some were so bad the 3/4" plywood pieces flopped around like the plywood was made of rubber.

            I haven't picked up much plywood at Menards recently, but in the past it has always been US or Canadian manufactured and I've had good success with the quality. Dimensional lumber at Menards, well, that isn't always so good...


            • #7
              Cabinet grade 3/4" plywd is about $100.+ per sht. in Hawaii depending on wood veneer type. About 8 yrs.ago I had a job that required 3/4" matching grain numbered sheets with Koa veneer, I needed 11 sheets for the job, it was $795. per sht. and that was my price, it retailed for $900.00 per sht. Can you imagine what it would cost now. Anyway the BORG here don't carry cabinet grade plywood. They sell their ply for about $49. per sht. for 3/4" Oak veneer and the veneer is soo thin you got to score your cut line b4 cutting with your saw. Cost of materials here is way out of line but, that's the price we pay for living in Hawaii.


              • #8
                I finally learned my lesson. Two days ago I started building a shop cabinet and decided to use a combination of what I thought was 3/4 Aurauco ply and 3/4 scraps. In fact the "Aurauco" was baltic birch I'd purchased a few years ago. Well, that 16x30 piece of scrap for the back was warped just enough that it would not fit into dadoes I'd cut in the sides of the baltic with a plywood router bit. Fortunately I had enough birch to cut a new back.

                Cheap as I can be at times, paying more for quality materials pays off in a better quality project.


                • #9
                  I have pretty much stopped using plywood for cabinet carcasses. The good quality suppliers are 30+ miles out and I don't want to make the drive. I use melamine for pretty much all of my cabinet builds. It is heavy but I find it to be consistent quality from Home Depot which is 3 miles from me and open late and open on the weekends. I don't recall finding a warped sheet or one with voids. It completely cuts out the need for me to finish the interior and I don't need to be too careful with glue because not a lot sticks to the surface. 4x8 sheet is $30. I have a melamine blade to give me clean cuts.

                  For certain projects I even buy the precut melamine sheets that come in 12" and 16" widths for closets. These come predrilled for shelf pins and as long as I'm carefully to keep both sides lined up, I don't even have to drill shelf pin holes.

                  A few months ago I was making doors for our MBR vanity using shopsawn veneer. I decided to make the 30 mile trip to buy a sheet of baltic birch ply--very nice stuff. They store their sheets vertically and mine must have had a slight bow in it because 1 of the 4 doors also has a slight bow. I should have stayed with usual veneer substrate, MDF.


                  • #10
                    Paul, about using melamine - the biggest bugbear is the difficulty of joints: glue is mostly useless strength-wise, and not all screws hold fast. I have found that by taking some time to 'size' the edges, and to use screws built primarily for it, you can get acceptably strong enough joints (I have found drywall screws to work too).

                    All that doesn't mean I disagree with your core premise - actually I totally agree that melamine works better than plywood in many situations: it's consistent, comes well 'finished', and if you are not building anything moveable, it's pretty strong. (In other words, don't expect to build chairs out of melamine, but cabinets and such are good).

                    I also like that unlike ply, melamine is more impervious to moisture from it's main surface (either face); of course it's more vulnerable at the edges, but whenever I could, I have sealed edges with epoxy or even paint for longer lasting peace of mind.
                    It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
                    - Aristotle


                    • #11
                      I can only speak from personal experience but I've had great success building with melamine. I make sure when I glue melamine to melamine, that it's the particle board core that is being glue together. So my cabinets are built with dadoes or rabbets and then secured with screws--either drywall screws or wood screws. Most of what I built sits on the floor so it doesn't get moved around (TV console) or gets screwed to the wall (bath vanity). My kitchen cabinet uppers are melamine and I used longer screws to hold those together as well as installed braces inside that screw threw the cabinet into the wall studs. The 1/2" cabinet back is rabbeted and then sits in a groove to further prevent the cabinet from pulling away from the wall.

                      I have made one mobile melamine project. That's my flip cart stand that used to hold my Ridgid OSS and Ridgid planer (which has made way for a grinder) so it was holding some pretty good weight. For this cart, the sides are doubled up sheets of melamine so 1 1/2" thick instead of just 3/4". In this case the sides are lag bolted to the bottom stretcher which is plywood. The cart does not sway when it's rolled around the shop.

                      I also like that I don't get splinters from melamine like I can with cheap plywood, but I've definitely got some "papercuts" from those sharp edges after ripping an edge.