Manufactured boards in various forms have revolutionized the principles of wooden construction.
By processing solid timber into sheets of stable material glues together by different means, suppliers have managed to considerably increase their usable output. In turn, it’s improved the performance of materials for many woodworkers.
Parts of the tree that would otherwise have been pulped can be reformed to produce a superb and cost-effective building material.
For woodworkers, the principal advantage is the availability of large panels that are stable, very easy to work and extremely economical.
Plywood consists of several very thin layers of wood. The grain is usually at right-angles in alternate layers. This is called cross-ply.
This board is dimensionally stable and very strong indeed.
- The thicknesses range from 3mm through to 25mm.
- Softwood ply is generally made from Douglas fir. It’s coarse-grained and highly durable
- Birch ply has more laminations. It comes pre-sanded to give a smooth finish that is absolutely ideal for both painting and varnishing
- Far Eastern ply is cheaper. This variety is more open grained and more useful when it comes to any structural work you might want to carry out
- Exterior-grade ply uses a WBP (waterproof and boil-proof) adhesive and hardwood laminations
- Marine ply is the most durable ply of all. Unfortunately, it’s correspondingly expensive
- Flexiply has the grain running in the same direction on every layer. It can be formed into tight curves. It also has no voids in its structure
- Decorative ply comes with a veneer of decorative hardwood bonded to one or both sides. It’s prefect for enclosed panels and carcass construction
The core of blockboard is made from solid strips of softwood. These are glued along their edges.It is faced with a layer of veneer on each side.
Blockboard is lighter than plywood, resistant to bending and is useful for both shelving and large structures.
As a rule, this type of manufactured board is available only in 19mm and 25mm thicknesses.
Laminboard is similar to blockboard. It has an internal core made of much smaller strips of softwood. This means that the board is more stable.
If you are looking for a smooth and ripple-free finish with your woodworking then laminboard could be just what you have been looking for.
With particle boards, no thin layers of solid used are used whatsoever. Instead, the board is made from tiny particles of processed timber bonded together with resin.
- Chipboard is the most common type. This is used as a base for laminated work or for utility shelving and carcassing. It has a smooth, hard surface with a softer core. Unlike plywood, it is prone to splitting if screws are driven into the edges
- OSB (oriented strand board) is similar to chipboard but it is made from large, wafer-like particles and has uneven faces. Both types can be used to provide durable, hard-wearing surfaces for flooring and bench tops but they have low integral strength and poor moisture resistance. Chipboard shelving is prone to sagging unless well supported at very close intervals
- Pineboard is like the core of blockboard but without the outer layers. Small strips of pine are glued together on edge then sanded smooth. This makes it perfect for instant shelving, carcassing and many other home improvement projects
- Softboard or insulating board is extremely soft and light. It can be used as a pinboard or as a pure insulating layer
- Hardboard has one hard surface only but it is very stable and it bends easily. It’s useful for making up templates
- Tempered hardboard is impregnated with resins to make it more water-resistant. It is certainly not fully waterproof, though
- MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is by far the most useful fiberboard product available. This is flat, dense and stiff. It has no knots and is simple to cut. It’s very stable and the fibers are compressed so finely that it can be shaped and cut without crumbling. It is best cut with carbide tools as steel cutting tools may dull too easily. MDF makes an ideal substrate for veneer. It’s available in decorative form with real hardwood veneers already bonded to both faces. Note: Always wear a mask when working with MDF. It kicks off a very fine dust which can be carcinogenic. Glues specially for MDF are also made with formaldehyde and are extremely toxic.
Standard Sizes of Manufactured Boards
Nearly all manufactured boards have a standard size of 1220mm x 2440mm.
Some suppliers will offer a metric size which is very slightly smaller (1200mm x 2400mm) so always check carefully on this when you are buying your board. This small increment can make a critical difference.
Special sizes of plywood and MDF up to 3m in length can be found with some suppliers.
If you want to work with smaller sizes, many timber yards will willingly cut up larger sheets if that’s what you are looking for.
The direction in which the grain runs on the outer layers is always given first when describing plywood. This can be important when you are planning your cutting list.
With birch plywood, for example, 1220mm x 2440mm in the supplier’s catalogue will indicate that the grain runs across the width of the board rather than down its length.
Most veneered decorative boards are manufactured with the grain running across the length. In this case, the catalogue entry would read 2440mm x 1220mm.
These type of man-made boards have many advantages.
- They help to conserve tropical forests which, as we all know, are becoming increasingly ravaged
- Manufactured boards are highly economical
- They are available in large sizes and uniform thicknesses
- The boards are very stable and suffer from no shrinkage
- You will get no warping
- There is very little waste when using manufactured boards