Sheet Goods Selector
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Wood Magazine

Sheet Goods Selector

Do you know what sheet goods work best for shop fixtures? Or which ones excel in furniture construction? Armed with our chart, you'll be an instant expert.

Sheet Goods Selector 1

Sheet Goods Selector 1

PARTICLEBOARD Description: Wood shredded into tiny chips (essentially sawdust, often from waste wood), combined with adhesives, and then heated and compressed to form sheets. Uses: Widely used as a substrate for flooring and countertops and for building inexpensive knockdown furniture and cabinetry. Also suitable for some shop fixtures. Available Sizes: Sold in 4x8' 1/4", 1/2", 5/8", 3/4", 1", and 1-1/8" thicknesses. Half and quarter sheets are often available. Common Grades: PBU -- for floor underlayment. M-S, M-1, M-2, M-3 industrial grades are best for making shelving and countertops. Pros: PBU grade is readily available and inexpensive. Particleboard cuts easily and is fairly stable. Cons: Low stiffness, heavy, holds fasteners poorly, not moisture resistant. Where to find it: Home centers carry 1/4-3/4" PBU grade. "M" grades (mostly M-2) are found at building-material and millwork suppliers. Price (3/4"x4x8', sheet unless noted): $12+ per sheet for PBU grade. "M" grade prices range about 20 percent higher.


MELAMINE Description: Particleboard faced with paper impregnated with melamine resin, a type of plastic. Paper on low-cost types is simply adhered. Higher-cost sheets are thermally fused (essentially melted together). Uses: Great for making cabinet carcases because it wipes clean easily. Use it, as well, for shop fixtures or to make an economical router-table top. Available Sizes: Sold in 49x97" oversize sheets in 1/4", 1/2", 5/8", and 3/4" thicknesses. Common Grades: There are no standard grades for melamine, but there are "vertical" and "horizontal" types. Higher-priced sheets generally feature thermally fused coatings and are made with thicker paper. Pros: It is inexpensive, readily available in a variety of colors and in wood-grain patterns, and has an easily cleaned surface. Also available with kraft paper or real-wood veneer on one face. Cons: Melamine is not moisture resistant, heavy, edges chip easily when cutting unless you use blade designed for cutting laminates. Where to find it: Home centers carry 1/2" and 3/4" sheets, shelves, and closet parts. Colors other than white and patterned papers are available by special order. Price (3/4"x4x8', sheet unless noted): $25+ for adhered-surface, vertical-grade white sheets common in home centers. Colors and wood-grain patterns cost slightly more. $40+ for thermally fused sheets.


HARDBOARD Description: Ground wood pulp combined with resins and pressed into sheets. May be smooth on one or both faces. Uses: Excellent for shop fixtures and jigs (especially the variety with two smooth faces) and benchtops. Use perforated hardboard for hanging tools. Available Sizes: Available in two thicknesses: 1/8" and 1/4" in 4x8' sheets. Common Grades: Service (2 green stripes), Standard (1 green stripe), Service-tempered (2 red stripes), Tempered (1 red stripe), S1S (smooth one side), S2S (smooth two sides) Pros: Readily available, easy to cut, relatively stable, available with two smooth sides or one, takes paint well. Cons: Standard and Service grades are susceptible to moisture, can't sand faces, flexible, edges easily damaged, holds fasteners poorly. Where to find it: Home centers carry 4x8' sheets plus half and quarter sheets in standard and tempered grades. Look for the edge stripes. Price $10 (1/4" 4'x8', tempered). Perforated sheets are also available at a similar price.


 

Sheet Goods Selector 2

Sheet Goods Selector 2

MEDIUM-DENSITY FIBERBOARD (MDF) Description: Cellulose fibers combined with synthetic resin and formed under heat and pressure. Uses: Excellent for shop jigs and fixtures, cabinets, painted projects, molding and millwork, furniture, and as a substrate under veneer and plastic laminate. Available Sizes: 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 5/8", 3/4", and 7/8" thicknesses in both 4x8' and 49x97" sheets. Common Grades: One main grade: Industrial. Lower grades, which aren't commonly available, carry "B" or "shop" grade. Also classified by density: Medium-density (MD) is standard; low-density (LD) is a lightweight version. Pros: Flat, no face or core voids, consistent thickness, glues easily, has machinable edges. Cons: Heavy [100 lbs. per sheet in MD grade; low-density version (LD) weighs approximately 60 lbs.], standard wood screws hold poorly. Where to find it: Home centers carry medium-density (MD) 3/4" sheets. Low-density (LD) is available through millwork suppliers and some hardwood retailers. Price (3/4"x4x8', sheet unless noted): $20+ for both MD and LD.


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SOFTWOOD PLYWOOD Description: Face-glued layers of thin softwood veneer. Uses: Outdoor projects (exterior rated), carpentry and construction, shop cabinets, substrates, underlayment for floors and countertops. Available Sizes: 1/4", 5/16", 11/32", 1/2", 5/8", 23-32", and 3/4" thicknesses in 4x8' sheets. Common Grades: Veneer grades: A, B, C, D. Panel grades: include sheathing and "Sturd-I-Floor." Exposure: Exterior, Exposure 1, Exposure 2, Interior. Pros: Cheaper than hardwood plywood, readily available, face veneers can have a nice appearance in higher grades. Cons: Built more for performance than appearance; thick plies reduce stiffness; interior plies may have voids, face veneers often patched. Where to find it: All home centers and building-supply stores carry an array of softwood plywood for construction. Price (3/4"x4x8', sheet unless noted): $25+ for A-C sanded, varies by type and material.


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MEDIUM-DENSITY & HIGH-DENSITY OVERLAY PLYWOOD (MDO/HDO) Description: Exterior-rated softwood plywood covered on both faces with resin-impregnated fiber (paper). Uses: Used extensively for highway signs, great for outdoor projects, siding, painted projects, watercraft, cabinets, shop fixtures, and concrete forms. Available Sizes: 1/4", 5/16", 3/8", 1/2", 5/8", and 3/4" thicknesses in 4x8' sheets. Common Grades: Follows softwood plywood grading. Face and back plies (which are covered with paper) rate as B grade or better, inner plies are C grade. Pros: Resistant to weather and water, flat, smooth, surface is easily paintable, machines easily, and is very durable. Cons: Not widely available, heavy. Where to find it: Some home centers, wood specialty stores, sign shops. Price (3/4"x4x8', sheet unless noted): $35+ for MDO, HDO costs slightly more.


 

Sheet Goods Selector 3

Sheet Goods Selector 3

HARDWOOD PLYWOOD Description: Veneers (softwood or hardwood) glued in layers with alternating grain, and covered with hardwood veneer. Uses: The traditional sheet good of choice for everything from furniture and cabinets to wall paneling and boxes. Available Sizes: 1/4", 1/2", and 3/4" are most common. Occasionally, you'll find 1/8", 3/8", and 5/8" in some species. Common Grades: Face: AA, A, B, C/D/E, Special. Back: 1, 2, 3, 4. Core: J, K, L, M. Panel types: Technical type, Type I, Type II (Type II most common for interior use.) Pros: More stable and less expensive than solid wood, widely available, made in a variety of species, and with many choices for veneer matching on faces. Cons: Thick sheets are heavy, exposed ply edges may mean you'll have to band with solid wood, thin face veneers (1/32") are easy to sand through and damage. Where to find it: Home centers carry a few species, such as oak, birch, maple. Turn to building suppliers and hardwood retailers for other species. Price (3/4"x4x8', sheet unless noted): $35 to $100+. Prices vary greatly due to species, face and back grades, ply count, and cut of veneer. A/2 or B/2 is reasonably priced and suitable for furniture.


BALTIC AND FINNISH BIRCH Description: Made from ultra-thin (1/16"), void-free birch veneers. Finnish birch is like Baltic, but is made with exterior adhesive for outdoor use. Uses: Use to create shop jigs and fixtures, cabinets, drawer sides, furniture, and as a substrate. Available Sizes: In millimeters: 4 (1/8"), 6.5 (1/4"), 9 (3/8"), 12 (1/2"), 15 (5/8"), and 18 (3/4") in 60x60" sheets. Common Grades: No standardized grades, but manufactured with void-free plies and face veneers carrying a grade of B or better. Pros: Stiff, stable, consistent thickness, no voids, nice-looking edge, holds screws. Cons: Hard to find, costly, odd (60x60") size sheet, available only with birch face. Where to find it: Woodworking-supply stores, hardwood retailers, mail-order catalogs (small sizes). Price (3/4"x4x8', sheet unless noted): $45+ for standard-size 60x60" sheets.


APPLEPLY Description: American version of Baltic birch with alder and birch core plies and quality veneer faces. Birch face is standard, other woods available. Uses: Same uses as Baltic above, plus applications where a fine-hardwood face veneer is needed. Available Sizes: Available in 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 3/4", 1", and 1-1/4" thicknesses, in 4x8' sheets. Common Grades: No standardized grades, but manufactured with void-free plies and face veneers carrying a grade of B or better. Pros: Stiff, stable, void-free, nice-looking edge, holds screws, offers a variety of face veneers. Cons: Difficult to find, costly, requires large order to get optional veneers. Where to find it: You'll find distributor information at www.statesind.com. Price (3/4"x4x8', sheet unless noted): $50+.


 

Bendable Plywood

Bendable Plywood

BENDABLE PLYWOOD Description: Plywood with a single face veneer and core plies with all grain running perpendicular to face to allow cross-grain bending. Uses: Used mostly as a substrate for building cabinets, etc., with rounded corners. Sheets with clear face veneers are suitable for furniture. Available Sizes: 1/8" and 3/8" are common, though thicker sheets are produced. Sold in 4x8' sheets. Common Grades: Able to conform to tight radii without splitting or cracking with no need for kerf-bending or steaming. Pros: Flexibility allows radiused corners, decorative shapes. Cons: Not designed for structural use, quality of face veneer varies greatly. Where to find it: Building-supply stores and hardwood retailers. Price (3/4"x4x8', sheet unless noted): $35+ (1/8" 4'x8' sheet).


 

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