Understanding The Different Grades of Plywood

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Hardwood Plywood Grades

Plywood Substrate
Plywood (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Procuring suitable plywood for your project can be a daunting task. You are probably aware that several different grades of plywood exist. It can be confusing, especially when you try to understand the labeling system. To make things even more complicated, you can get different cuts and core types as well.

In this post, we attempt to demystify the process of plywood classification to help you in your woodworking projects better. You can get plywood made from softwood as well as hardwood. Here, we go more into the details of hardwood plywood, as it is a versatile material for a wide range of woodworking projects. Let’s jump right in!

What Are The Different Cuts Of Plywood?

We start by considering the different face cuts that you can get in hardwood plywood. The face side of a hardwood plywood board will always be the surface of the best quality that will be visible. The back is usually made from cheaper quality material with a coarser finish as it will not be visible. Here are the primary face cuts that you can find:

Plain Sliced (Flat Cut)

We can identify this cut by the “cathedral” shaped grain pattern, with arches and inverted arches. Plain sliced plywood is the most commonly used as well as the most cost-effective form of plywood.

Rotary Cut

We need a rotary lathe to cut slices of veneer for plywood to produce rotary cut plywood. The log rotates against a huge knife, rather like a giant potato peeler. The grain of rotary cuts is broad and wild.

Quarter Sawn (Cut)

We make quarter sawn cuts by slicing off the logs at the growth rings. The grain imparts the appearance of quarter-sawn lumber.

What Are the Different Grades of Plywood?

Plywood Veneers
Plywood Veneers. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Coming to the different grades of plywood, there are four major grades for the front face and back face, respectively. The four respective categories are the letters A, B, C, and D.

Each grade will be composed of two grades. For instance, we would write on the plywood, AB, AC, and so on. The first letter denotes the face veneer grade, while the second letter represents the back veneer. “A” grade plywood is the best quality, while “B” grade plywood is the lowest quality.

Some plywood comes with “X” added to the end, such as “ABX.” The “X” stands for “exposure,” meaning that it can withstand a reasonable moisture level.

A-Grade Plywood

It is the most superior and expensive quality of plywood. The sheets will have no flaws. If you are looking for plywood with a smooth surface that you can paint easily, A-grade plywood is a good choice.

B-Grade Plywood

With B-grade plywood, you will get some flaws. Although it is smooth with a solid foundation, you will find some areas that have been repaired. But the defects will not be very severe in B-grade plywood.

C-Grade Plywood

Now, you are moving down the ladder of plywood grades. With C-grade plywood, you will find flaws and knots. Perhaps, you will find this grade of plywood useful as backing or in places where it will not be visible.

D-Grade Plywood

D-grade plywood is the cheapest grade, and the manufacturer does not attempt to repair its flaws. The flaws will be significant and visible. If you are going to cover the D-grade plywood with some laminate or wood veneer, then using it will be a cost-effective option.

Additional Plywood Grades

CDX Grade Plywood

This grade of plywood is a cheaper plywood version that combines two of the lowest grades of plywood. The “X” denotes the capacity of the material to be exposed to moisture and the elements. CDX grade plywood plays a prominent role in building storage units and work tables.

Sanded Pine Plywood

Although not a hardwood, pinewood makes a suitable grade of plywood thanks to its light color and smooth finish. We use sanded pine plywood for making boxes, and kitchen and bathroom cabinets.

Baltic Birch Plywood

Here’s a grade of plywood that enjoys wide popularity thanks to its durability and clean finish. Baltic birch plywood is the grade that you will prefer for a project where a smooth finish and durable material is the main priority. Baltic birch plywood is one of the more expensive grades of plywood.

Options For Indoor And Outdoor Plywood

You can get advice from the manufacturer on whether plywood that they sell you is suitable for outdoors or should be used only indoors. However, it is good to know something about the plywood grades that you can use either indoors or outdoors:

Indoor Plywood

As mentioned above, sanded plywood will be a suitable option for you to use indoors. The label may say “Sandeply” or “Sanded Pine BC.” Although inexpensive, this plywood has a smooth finish and serves well for making indoor furniture. You can get sanded plywood made from various wood species.

Oriented Strand Board (OSB) is another viable option for indoor plywood. Although not technically plywood, people tend to club it under the umbrella of plywood. The other name for this material is “wafer board.” We make OSB by combining wood chips and gluing and compressing them into boards.

Plywood for Outdoor Uses

Many plywood grades are suitable for outdoor use and can be left out in the rain, snow, and sun. There is, however, a limit to the extent that any plywood can withstand the elements. Here are a couple of outdoor plywood grades that you could consider:

Pressure Treated Plywood

This grade of plywood resists mold and mildew. We add chemicals to pressure treated plywood to impart added protection. It can last for several years without varnish or paint.

CDX Sheathing

Here again, is another grade of plywood that you will find useful for outdoor use. Although you may leave this type of plywood out in the open, it needs to be covered. You can cover it with tiles or shingles to enhance its durability.


Although plywood can never be an ideal substitute for solid wood, it plays a crucial role in woodworking projects. You need to know a bit about the different plywood grades to get the best out of this material

Here, we went into great lengths to explain the different plywood grades that you can get in the market. Once you are aware of what to look for in plywood, you will be able to procure suitable material for your woodworking projects.