Plywood vs. Hardwood: Which to Choose?

Plywood vs. Hardwood: Which to Choose?

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If you are choosing a building material for your next construction project, wood is always a good way to go. With that said, there are many different kinds of wood out there for you to build with. Today, we want to compare plywood with hardwood solid lumber.

Let’s figure out what both of them are, what similarities they share, and what the differences between them are.

Plywood vs Hardwood: The Basics

Before we start talking about similarities and differences between these two things, let’s first figure out what they are.

What is Plywood?

Plywood is a specific type of engineered wood. Here, strips or veneers of wood are laid side by side to create a sheet.

One sheet or layer is technically called a ply. Anywhere from three to seven of these plies are layered together, with the wood veneers being perpendicular to each other from one layer to the next. These are then glued and pressed together to form a solid sheet. Is a relatively strong, lightweight, and cost-effective building material.

What is Hardwood?

On the other hand, we have hardwood, which is solid lumber. In other words, here we are talking about cutting down a tree, cutting it to shape, and then using it as is without any further processing. Some examples of hardwood trees include mahogany, oak, maple, walnut, teak, and hickory.

Similarities of Plywood and Hardwood

Let’s first take a look at the various similarities shared between plywood and hardwood. Although both are wood, there are only a few of these similarities.

1. They’re Both Woods

A very basic similarity is that both of these items are technically wood. Hardwood is of course solid lumber, and plywood is made out of wood. Yes, it is engineered wood, although the base material is still wood.

2. They Can Serve the Same Purposes

As you will see, the purposes that these two building materials serve can be different, but they can also be the same. For instance, you can make floors out of both plywood and hardwood. That said, hardwood does tend to have more uses.

3. They May Look-Alike

Although they do often look different, plywood and hardwood may look similar. This is especially the case if high-quality wood veneers were used to make a high-quality piece of plywood. Depending on the plywood you get, you may still be able to see the original wood grain.

Differences Between Plywood and Hardwood

Plywood and hardwood do share some similarities, although as you are about to see, there are many more differences than similarities.

1. Overall Strength

The simple fact of the matter is that hardwood solid lumber is just much stronger than plywood. Solid lumber is denser and harder than plywood, and this means that it has more versatile applications.

For instance, cabinets made out of hardwood will sag less than cabinets made out of plywood. This is also why you can use hardwood for roof joists and ceiling beams, but not plywood. Plywood just isn’t strong enough.

2. Flexibility

Another main difference between these two is that plywood tends to be fairly flexible, whereas hardwood solid lumber is not. Being flexible is at times not good, but there are times when it comes in handy.

This is why you can build the surface of a skateboard ramp out of plywood, but not out of hardwood.

3. Appearance

One of the major differences between these two things is of course appearance. With plywood, unless it is very high quality, you can always tell that it is engineered wood. That said, there are several ways to make plywood look better.

On the other hand, with hardwood, you can see all of the original wood grain, and most people would agree that it looks much nicer. This is why you would use hardwood for high-end furniture rather than plywood.

4. Cost

The reason why plywood is a popular building material when compared to hardwood is due to the simple fact that it costs much less. Hardwood is generally the better of the two in most respects, but also way more expensive to purchase.

5. Structural Applications

Due to the increased strength of hardwood, it is much better for structural applications than plywood. Building support posts, beams, and anything in between are much more reliable when hardwood is involved.

You just can’t make a large support beam out of plywood as it is not strong enough. There is some plywood that can serve structural purposes, although nothing close to real lumber.

6. Resistance to Water

Another main difference here is that solid lumber or hardwood is much more resistant to water and decay than plywood. Depending on the type of plywood, water can penetrate it quite easily, and it will then start to break down very quickly. Hardwood does not really have this problem at all.

7. Solid vs. Engineered

Of course, a basic difference is that hardwood is solid lumber milled from a tree, whereas plywood is an engineered type of wood.

8. Splitting and Cracking

One benefit that plywood has over hardwood is that hardwood may crack or split over time, or when it is worked with. Due to the way in which plywood is constructed, cracking and splitting are not usually a problem.

9. Weight

Plywood may also be a more popular building material when compared to hardwood due to the fact that it’s much lighter.

Hardwood is stronger and looks nicer, but it’s also much heavier. That said, there are some specific species of hardwood that may be slightly lighter in weight than plywood.

10. Sustainability

The other main difference here is that plywood is much more sustainable when compared to hardwood, at least when the plywood is made out of recycled or reused materials. You can use old hardwood and solid lumber, break it down, and then make plywood out of it.

Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you are building a shed, making a subfloor, building structural walls that will be out of sight, doing roofing underlayment, making skateboard ramps, or anything else of the sort, plywood is generally the better option.

However, for structural purposes, such as ceiling joists, roof beams, floor supports, visible hardwood floors, furniture, and more. If you are looking for something strong and durable, water-resistant, and absolutely beautiful to look at, then hardwood is the way to go.


Now that you know what the main differences between plywood and hardwood are, you can make an informed decision between the two.