Author Chigwell Building & Joinery
Depending on your intended use, there are several plywood alternatives you can use for various building projects.
But in doing so, you must choose carefully as some materials are inferior in many ways.
Typically, most contractors and experienced DIY enthusiasts opt for plywood first due to its strength, versatility and high end finish.
But with recent issues surrounding supply chains and increased prices, plywood is no longer as attainable as it once was.
As a result, you may need to look for a suitable alternative for your project.
Below we outline several plywood alternatives that can be used instead, whilst still giving great results.
Plywood is a type of engineered building material made from thin layers or "plies" of wood veneers that are glued together under high pressure.
Typically, the layers are oriented with their grain direction perpendicular to each other, which gives the plywood its strength, stability and in certain cases, flexibility.
The number of plies used to manufacture a sheet of plywood can vary depending on the intended use and the desired thickness and strength.
Plywood is commonly used in construction, furniture-making, and other applications where a strong, durable, and stable wood material is required.
It can come in various sizes, thicknesses, and grades, depending on the intended use.
Some types of plywood may also have a decorative veneer on the outermost layer to enhance its appearance.
However, plywood is regarded as an expensive material, and may not always be suitable for projects on a tight budget.
Due to the pandemic and recent wildfires in countries where plywood is mass produced, plywood has become harder to obtain.
So finding suitable alternatives to plywood have increased in demand.
There’s numerous factors why timber and consequently plywood is in short supply, which includes:
When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there was a global slump in sawmill activity, which led to far less plywood being produced.
The resulting knock in effect caused a major shortfall in timber-based materials being readily available as they were before.
Due to both the pandemic and weather conditions, the number of logs cut in Europe dramatically fell from 2020 onwards, leading to a supply drop in raw materials.
Plywood use was still high as the construction industry continued to operate, so existing stocks disappeared whilst production simply couldn’t keep up with demand.
To make matters worse, extreme weather conditions during summer months led to a number of forest fires, destroying literally millions of acres of forests.
Due to the UK leaving the EU, the importation of timber material involved a great deal more red tape.
Moreover, the weakening British pound sterling meant purchasing power had been severely depleted, making it harder to acquire plywood at previously affordable prices.
You may be surprised to learn there are several excellent alternatives to plywood.
Depending on their use and the type of project you have in mind, some of the following materials may actually be more appropriate as well as more affordable than plywood sheets:
Image credit: Pixabay
Polyurethane board, commonly referred to as PU board, is a type of rigid foam insulation material made from polyurethane foam.
It's frequently used in building and construction as a thermal insulator for walls, roofs, and floors.
Polyurethane board is manufactured by combining polyols (organic compounds with multiple hydroxyl groups) and diisocyanates (organic compounds with multiple isocyanate groups) in the presence of a blowing agent.
This causes the mixture to then expand and form a foam.
The foam is then cured and cut into boards of various sizes and thickness.
As a result, polyurethane boards have excellent thermal insulation properties, high compressive strength, and good resistance to water penetration.
It's also very lightweight, easy to install and affordable, making it a popular alternative to plywood for a wide range of building applications.
Image credit: Amazon
Medium Density Fibreboard is a type of engineered wood product made by breaking down hard or softwood residuals into tiny fibres, which are then combined with wax and resin under high pressure to form panels.
MDF is typically denser than plywood and particleboard, and has a smooth and uniform surface that's free from knots and grains.
This makes it a popular plywood alternative when constructing furniture, cabinetry, shelving, and decorative mouldings.
The material can be cut, shaped, and routed with standard woodworking tools such as jigsaws and CNC machines.
It can be painted, veneered or laminated to achieve a variety of finishes.
Finally, it’s very reasonably priced, making it a suitable alternative to plywood.
Image credit: Wikipedia
Also known as Hardboard, HDF is very similar in composition to MDF, yet is a much stronger and denser building material.
Likewise, it is an engineered wood product, mainly used in the manufacture of furniture as well as construction projects.
Similar in composition to particleboard and MDF, it’s constructed out of exploded wood fibres, which are compressed under high pressure in either a wet or dry process.
Unlike plywood, HDF is very homogeneous with no grain.
It has many applications, such as a substrate, and is commonly used in construction, flooring, furniture, home appliances, automobiles and cabinetry, making it a good alternative to plywood in these scenarios.
Image credit: Amazon
OSB is a type of engineered wood panel made from wood strands oriented in specific patterns and then bonded together with adhesives.
It's commonly used in construction as a sheathing material for walls, roofs, and floors, as well as subfloors and underlays.
It's known for its strength, durability, and low cost compared to other building materials such as plywood, making it a very viable alternative.
OSB is also more environmentally friendly than other engineered wood products because it's made from fast-growing, renewable trees.
It also uses less energy and chemicals during production.
Image credit: Rotor DB
Particleboard, also known as chipboard, is a type of engineered wood made from particles and fibres bonded together with a synthetic resin under heat and high pressure.
The particles used to make chipboard are typically small, ranging from sawdust to tiny wood chips, and are often made from low-grade or waste wood that would otherwise be discarded.
Particleboard is widely used to make furniture, as well as the construction industry as a cheaper alternative to plywood.
It's commonly used for shelves, cabinets, and tabletops, as well as subfloors and wall panels.
Furniture products tend to be made from a laminated melamine faced chipboard, to give them better strength and aesthetic appeal.
Particleboard has several advantages over plywood, including its uniformity, stability, and low cost.
However, it's less durable than plywood and can be prone to swelling or warping when exposed to moisture.
Importantly, some types of particleboard contain formaldehyde, which is very harmful to human health, so should be used with caution.
Image credit: EKOply
EKO ply is a relatively new product to hit the construction materials market, and could be a game changer.
Made from 100% recycled plastic, this plywood alternative is one of the most environmentally friendly and economical choices available.
Made purely from recycled material with no organic products whatsoever, EKO ply is fully weatherproof, extremely tough and durable with low maintenance, non-toxic and easy to cut and screw.
As the name suggests, it’s fully intended as a full fledged plywood alternative and could be ideal for your next project if you’re unable to source or use traditional timbers plywood.
Image credit: Unsplash
It may seem like an obvious choice, but using real solid wood instead of manufactured plywood could be a very suitable alternative.
There’s a number of benefits to using solid wood instead of plywood which you may not have considered.
For starters, it’s much more attractive with its real character and grain.
It can be used in a variety of ways, as well as cut and shaped as desired.
But for the environmentally conscious individual, this may not be the ideal choice, since it’s far less sustainable and tends to produce far more waste.
Image credit: JT Dove
Fibre Cement Board is made from a mixture of cement, cellulose fibres, and other additives.
The resulting product is strong, durable, and resistant to fire, moisture, and insect infestation.
It's commonly used in construction applications such as sidings, roofs, and floors.
The manufacturing process of Fibre Cement Board involves mixing cement, sand, and water with a wood pulp or synthetic based cellulose.
The mixture is then formed into sheets using a mould or a Fourdrinier machine.
The board is then pressed and cured, which results in a dense, hard material.
Known for its strength, durability, and versatility, Fibre Cement Board can be cut and shaped into different sizes, making it a popular alternative to plywood in a variety of construction projects.
Finally, Fibre Cement Board is also very environmentally friendly, made from sustainable materials with no harmful chemicals or toxins.
Image credit: Amazon
Fibreglass, also known as Glass Reinforced Plastic, is a type of reinforced plastic material made by weaving or knitting glass fibres together to create a fabric-like structure.
The fibres are usually made from molten glass that's drawn into thin strands, and then woven or knitted into a mat or fabric.
Fibreglass is a popular alternative to plywood for a variety of applications, including construction, automotive parts, marine products, aerospace and sports equipment, to name a few.
It's used for its strength, durability, and resistance to corrosion, as well as its relatively low cost and ease of fabrication.
Fibreglass can be moulded into various shapes, and can also be combined with other materials, such as resins, to enhance its properties.
It's often used as a composite material, where it’s combined with other materials to create stronger and more lightweight structures.
Image credit: Travis Perkins
Masonite is a type of hardboard made from wood fibres that have been compressed under high pressure and heat, and then bonded together with synthetic resins.
It got its name from the Masonite Corporation, which was one of the first companies to produce this type of hardboard at mass scale.
Masonite is known for its strength, durability, and smooth surface, which makes it a popular alternative to plywood for a variety of applications.
It's often used in construction for interior and exterior doors, wall panels, and as a substrate for roofs and floors.
It's also used in furniture making, cabinetry, and other wood products.
Masonite can be treated with additives to enhance its resistance to moisture, fire, and other environmental factors.
One of its other advantages is that it's made from renewable wood fibres, making it a more sustainable alternative to other types of building materials.
Image credit: Piedmont Plastics
High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) is a type of plastic polymer that's commonly used in the production of various products and packaging materials.
It's made by polymerising ethylene gas under high pressure and temperature, which results in a high molecular weight, high density polymer.
HDPE is known for its strong, durable, and impact-resistant properties, as well as its resistance to moisture, chemicals, and UV.
It's used in a wide range of applications, including the production of plastic bottles, pipes, cable insulation, and packaging materials such as food containers, and shopping bags.
So it's only a suitable alternative to plywood in very specific applications.
One of the advantages of HDPE is its relatively low cost and easy to manufacture.
It's also widely recyclable, making it a more sustainable alternative to some other types of materials.
Image credit: Wood Guide
And finally, we have Bamboo Plywood, which could arguably be the best alternative, and closest equivalent to timber-based plywood.
First of all, bamboo plywood is made from 100% renewable bamboo, using emissions free adhesives, making it a very eco-friendly choice.
It’s strong and very durable, making it a great material which will most likely outlast its wood-based counterpart.
As a raw material it’s ideal because it’s inexpensive, fast-growing, and widely available.
It can be used for a wide variety of applications including flooring, ceiling, walls, doors, fences, and roofs, making it an amazing alternative to plywood.
So, could bamboo ply be the answer to this question? Very possibly.
Plywood has a number of advantages and disadvantages that affects its suitability for various construction projects.
Below we have listed the most common pros and cons:
Plywood is stronger and more durable because it’s made from multiple layers of thin wood sheets glued together in opposing grain directions.
This cross-grain construction gives plywood its high strength and dimensional stability.
Plywood can be used for a variety of purposes, including construction, furniture making, and crafts.
It comes in different thicknesses, grades, and finishes, making it suitable for different applications.
Generally speaking, plywood is less prone to warping, cracking, and splitting than solid wood because it's made from several layers of wood that are glued together under high pressure.
Plywood is easy to cut, shape, and sand, making it an ideal material for woodworking projects.
It can also be painted, stained, or laminated to get a desired finish.
Plywood can be more expensive than other alternative products, especially if you opt for high-quality marine ply or specialised finishes.
Plywood is made from wood, which naturally raises concerns about deforestation and the depletion of natural resources.
However, plywood made from sustainable sources can be a more environmentally conscious option.
Plywood lacks the natural beauty and character of real wood.
It can look dull and lifeless unless finished with a veneer or high end varnish.
Standard plywood can be vulnerable to moisture damage, especially if left unsealed.
Over time, it can warp, swell or delaminate if exposed to moisture or high humidity levels.
So there you have it - our complete breakdown of plywood alternatives.
From the materials listed above, we’re sure you’ll find a suitable alternative that will give you just as good, if not better results than traditional plywood can.
In some cases, the alternatives may be cheaper, stronger, more durable and more versatile than plywood.
So take a look and give one a try!