Plywood vs. Drywall: Which Should You Use?

Plywood vs. Drywall: Which Should You Use?

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Whether you are building a new garage, building a shed, or renovating or building your home, two of the most common building materials that you are going to run into are plywood and drywall.

Yes, both materials are very versatile and widely used, but of course, they’re not at all the same things. Let’s take a look at what exactly both of these materials are, what the differences between them are, and which one you would use for specific cases.

Plywood and Drywall: The Basics

Before we start talking about the differences between plywood and drywall, let’s first figure out what exactly both of these materials are.

Plywood

Plywood is a specific type of engineered wood. In case you didn’t know, engineered wood is any type of wood-based product such as plywood, plyboard, MDF, particleboard, and others, that are made out of real wood that has been broken down and reformed into sheets or solid pieces.

For instance, plywood is a type of engineered wood that is made by taking thin wood veneers or wood strips and gluing them together in layers. These layers are perpendicular, or in other words, one layer faces left to right, and the next one top to bottom, and so on and so forth. This can go on for up to 21 layers.

This perpendicular gluing results in a so-called cross-grain pattern that has a good deal of strength. There are many different kinds of plywood out there, including low grades designed to be hidden from sight, as well as much higher grades with good-looking finishes.

Drywall

Right off the bat, for those of you wondering what the difference between drywall and Sheetrock is, there is none. Sheetrock is a specific brand name of drywall. Drywall or sheetrock can also be referred to as wallboard, gypsum board, buster board, custard board, and plasterboard. Drywall panels are made out of calcium sulfate dihydrate, commonly known as gypsum.

The so-called plaster is made out of a combination of gypsum, paper and/or fiberglass fibers, plasticizer, foaming agents, and other additives, and is then sandwiched in between two pieces of very thick and highly specialized pieces of paper.

This paper and plaster sandwich is then put into a drying room until it is totally dry, thus resulting in a sheet that is strong enough to be used as a building material. What is interesting to note is that natural gas is pumped into the drying chamber in order to complete the drying process.

Plywood vs. Drywall: What Are the Differences?

Now that you know exactly what both plywood and drywall are, it’s time to figure out what the differences between them are, so you can get to making an informed decision as to which one is best for your specific needs.

Weight

One of the major differences between these two materials is that plywood is much lighter than drywall. Plywood will weigh no more than 2.1 pounds per square foot, whereas drywall can weigh upwards of 2.75 pounds per square foot.

For example, if you have a 5 x 9 feet sheet of drywall and plywood, the drywall can weigh in excess of 30 pounds more. In terms of installation, this can make life a bit more difficult, mainly just because holding up the drywall and mounting it often ends up being a two-person job.

Ease of Manipulation

Another notable difference here is that due to the construction of plywood, it is hard to saw apart. That cross-grain pattern often results in uneven cuts with a lot of tear-out and splintering occurring. This can make sawing plywood sheets quite difficult.

Drywall on the other hand has no such issues and is about as easy to cut with any saw as humanly possible. While drywall may be significantly heavier, when it comes to workability, it is the better of the two.

Ease of Repair

Related to the previous point, drywall is much easier to fix than plywood. With drywall, you can cut sections out of it and then easily replace it with new sections. It’s fast and easy.

However, if plywood is involved, if it rots or cracks, there is really not all that much that can be done in terms of repairs. You can replace small sections of drywall, whereas with plywood, it is likely that the whole sheet would need to be replaced.

Cost

Another huge advantage that drywall has over plywood is that it is much cheaper to purchase.

In the grand scheme of things, you can expect to spend anywhere between 25% and 100% more on plywood than on the same amount of drywall. Of course, the exact difference is going to depend on the exact types and brands of plywood and drywall.

Fire Resistance

What is really neat about drywall is that when it is made, there are special substances added into that plaster mixture to ensure great fire resistance. Yes, drywall will still burn, but it actually takes a good deal to get it burning.

On the other hand, generally speaking, plywood will go up in flames like a tinderbox. Plywood just is not very fire retardant at all.

Ease of Decoration

Plywood usually has a very rough finish that does not look nice, is hard to sand and nearly impossible to paint. Drywall on the other hand is totally flat and smooth, thus making it very simple to sand, paint, and decorate.

Structural Integrity

One of the major advantages that plywood has over drywall has to do with structural integrity. Drywall cannot hold up any weight, or at least almost none, especially when compared to plywood.

You can screw small cabinets and picture frames right into plywood, but if you have walls made with drywall, you will need to find the studs underneath. If you try to screw something into drywall, it won’t be able to hold the weight.

Sound Dampening

One benefit that drywall has over plywood is that it is the better sound dampener.

Water Resistance

What you need to be aware of here is that neither of these building materials is very resistant to water, at least not on their own.

Now, plywood does come in various types, including outdoor and marine plywood that can resist a good deal of moisture. On that same note, drywall can be coated to help increase its water resistance. Treated drywall does tend to be a bit more moisture resistant, but that said, neither of these materials is ideal to use when moisture is involved.

Which of the Two Should You Choose for Walls, Soundproofing, Insulation, and Other Uses?

If you need to build walls that look nice, are easy to paint, and do not cost much, then drywall is a good option to consider. Due to its fire-retardant capabilities and its ability to dampen sound, drywall is an ideal choice for many situations, such as for music studios.

It’s an easy to work with material that ends up looking quite nice, does not cost much, and is easy to repair.

That being said, if you need to do anything that involves strength and structural integrity, then it is plywood that you want to use. Plywood is also much lighter in weight, thus making it the better option for large-scale use where tons of panels need to be installed.

Summary

The bottom line here is that both plywood and drywall are fairly versatile building materials. However, they do not at all have the same properties or uses, so choose wisely!