Cheap Plywood Isn’t Good and Good Plywood Isn’t Cheap

If you already know about my recent plywood nightmare this post may sound a bit redundant and you probably won’t want to read this. However, it has come to my attention that a lot of people who visit this website don’t do the social media thing and aren’t aware of my Chinese plywood wasted day from last week. Combine my experience with the fact that Chinese manufacturers were recently caught admitting to illegally mislabeling hazardous manufactured flooring imported to the USA to save money and it makes me want to do everything I can to shine a light on the issues about disappointing and possibly unsafe Chinese plywood.

The miter saw station that I am currently building (now with different plywood by the way) requires 12 sheets of 3/4” plywood. That’s obviously a bit of an expense and the reason I have been putting it off for several months after finalizing the design. So in an effort to save a few bucks I went to a local lumber yard that had the least expensive 3/4” plywood in town. I’ve used this stuff previously with good results so I got 10 sheets. It saved me about $100 up front.

chinese plywood (1)

The top and bottom faces of the ply didn’t look that great visually but this is a shop project so it’s not a deal beaker to me and everything else looked structurally sound. So I started batching out my cabinet pieces on the table saw.

chinese plywood (2)

I cut everything largest to smallest so it wasn’t until several hours of work after starting the work day that I realized how bad this junk was. The smaller the pieces got the more the problems were noticeable. When ripping my 3-1/2” and 1-1/2” strips a good percentage of my pieces were either filled with voids or literally falling apart. I thought it might have been a problem with just the sheet I was working with but after checking all of my pieces from the the 4-1/2 sheets that I cut I could tell that the problem was not isolated to one sheet. Almost every piece that I cut that day had some type of delamination that I could pull apart to some degree with my hands. Some pieces took a little effort and others just literally crumbled.

chinese plywood (5)

I ended up cutting 4-1/2 sheets and wasted a day’s worth of work from buying this junk just to save a few dollars. Luckily I was able to waste even more time taking the rest of the full sheets and all of my cut pieces back to where I bought it and got a full refund. It was a hard lesson learned. Don’t waste your money or time on cheap Chinese plywood…..ever! And who knows what’s actually in it. A follower of mine said “good things aren’t cheap, and cheap things aren’t good.” When it comes to plywood I couldn’t agree more.

So how do you know if the plywood is made in China? It’s tough to tell sometimes. Obviously you can tell if it is labeled but if it isn’t you may need to do a bit of research.

If you are wondering how this affected the miter saw station build it pushed my schedule back one week so I could find some better plywood that was made in the USA. I’m very please with the quality of the plywood I ended up getting and the first part of that huge build should be published this Sunday morning.

chinese plywood (4) chinese plywood (6) chinese plywood (7)

60 COMMENTS

  1. I had a similar problem at a well known store with their top end pure bond plywood Jay. It wasn’t until cut it that realised big voids where the top layer just pushed in. I had to pack with some slithers of wood and glue and eventually got it looking okay. Perhaps I should have done the same as you and just taken it back.

  2. I shopped at Lowe’s for plywood and the de-laminations were so obvious I ended up driving 65-miles to another place that had guaranteed American made products.

  3. I have seen plywood like those you have shown, used to sheet pallets, make shipping crates and for general “one time” packaging. There are different grades of plywood available from any manufacturer. I have come to understand the problem often lies not so much with the manufacturer, but with the distributing supplier. Often enough, the cheaper lower grade of plywood is purchased by the distributing supplier, with full knowledge of the grade category and intended application, but still sells it to the unsuspecting end-user at a below market price and as a higher grade product. This seemingly lower price is not comparing apples with apples, but the end user does not know this. The end user is thinking he is getting apples for lemon price and thus is getting a great deal. He is really getting lemons at lemon price. The supplier makes a much higher profit from this type of arrangement, than from selling apples at competitive market price. Your supplier is fully aware of this and was thus more than willing to not question you and give you a full refund so that you would not make too much noise publicly. If 20% or even 30%of his customers return the bad goods and get a full refund, that would be a very high percentage, but he would still be in a high profit position. It therefore makes more sense to the slippery supplier to continue with this type of business, despite the high returns. He is still making plenty of money. The supplier, and not so much of the manufacturer is the problem here, because you can also get higher grade plywood from manufacturers. This is why the problem won’t go away, we will see more and more suppliers doing this type of slippery business to the unsuspecting innocent end user. The other side of the problem is some uncaring contractors will say “this is the plywood sold to us, so it must be acceptable” and use it to construct homes. When all is sealed up and finished, the unsuspecting home owner is left with a house of questionable structural integrity. Their lives are now at risk. However it is people like you, me and others who need to say this is not acceptable and make people aware, so that they can make more informed purchasing decisions. Thanks for highlighting this. Good job.

    • Every time you don’t buy American, you put another American on the welfare roll or into a job where he can’t take care of his/her own family. Consider that when you shop at a big box.

      • Whoa… I fully appreciate the problems with weeding through cheap, crappy products to find good, or even decent, quality. But looking across the range of all products we have access to, “buying American” is not always the guarantee of high quality so often espoused by the patriotic consumer. Look at car manufacturers. The American car mfgrs got themselves into the trouble they had, ending up in a gov’t bailouts to keep them from going out of business. GM should have been allowed to go belly up as it was the fault of the CEO and high upper management. Making crap cars and resting on the laurels of PAST reputation. The people working on the assembly lines would suffer. I look for the best quality I can afford and if that means I drive a Japanese made car (for example), then so be it. THAT is the essence of American capitalism. But we see how American corporations are gaming the system, such as the case in this blog post re: plywood. I always seek to buy American where possible since it usually DOES indicate high quality, but if it’s junk, then I’ll go with the better option no matter who made it. Your comment about sending American workers on the welfare rolls is a ridiculous generalization and over simplification. The head of Lumber Liquidators was doing what all American CEO’s do… try to make as much money as possible. He apparently tried to cheat and got caught. The paucity of information available to consumers about the details of the products they buy puts them (Us) at the disadvantage. Consumers should demand more access to information instead of buying based solely on price point. It’s not always easy, and sometimes you don’t even know that you need to be asking questions. Looks like be on the look out for EVERYBODY trying to work some kind of scam. Sad. But to many of the points made about plywood. I’ve switched to using a local lumber yard. “Buy once, cry once…”

      • I try to buy either Canadian made or American made. The economies are intertwined so it benefits both. Keep the jobs here and the quality high!!

  4. Not to make light of your sitch – but HORRY CLAP!! They didn’t even TRY to make a decent product. Those voids are hilarious!

  5. I’m trying to think of an acceptable use for plywood that crappy… Something fleetingly temporary, one-time-use, non weight-bearing, splinter-tolerant, that would be thrown away when you’re done with it. I’m drawing a complete blank.

  6. Jay,It’s a shame that this happened. Last time I bought plywood I went to Lowes and looked through the goods and didn’t find anything I wanted. I moved a lot of ply around and finally said it was’t worth it. I dtove over to Home Depot and found good quality goods so I bought the. I only go to HD for my supplies.

    • Around here, Michigan, HD (red store) does seem to have the best quality lumber available, better than the ‘blue store’, and the ‘green store’, wink wink, nudge nudge, ……………. ;-)

  7. That is the worst crap I have ever seen! I usually go to HD an pay about $45- $50 per sheet. For a workshop it’s good enough. I had my kitchen remodeled last year and the plywood the cabinet maker used was over $100 a sheet. That stuff is fantastic, but he buys 50-80 sheets at a time. I got some small pieces to play with. It seems to be the same quality as Baltic Birch, with many plies and thick outer vineres.
    I bought 2 sheets from him about 2 months ago, because I am making a new Bathroom vanity. It is really nice to work with and cut.
    Home Depot does have the chinese plywood also, and it looks like carp and don’t know what I would ever be able to use it for. Just looks like junk and it’s $39 a sheet for 3/4″
    Sorry you hand to go thru with all that work of hauling it, cutting it and then taking it all back.

  8. Wow. I don’t use a lot of plywood in my woodworking, but am so thankful that you have made us aware of the vast difference in quality. I have purchased some plywood from lumber specialty (ie: not big box) stores and when I said I wanted good stuff was a little taken aback by the price. Now I know why. Thanks again for showing us this.

  9. Jay. A word from over the pond. Like you I have been conned in the past and I can still hear my dad saying You only get what you pay for so. I like you now buy ply made in the country of my birth.
    Cheers
    Patrick.

  10. We call that kind of plywood “China Birch” around here. Usually use it for large panels that are going to be painted. Its cheap but I’ve never seen any that cheap. Maybe that was a batch made by a disgruntled veneer gluer, or maybe the Chinese government just through his family in prison and he was a little nervous that day, or maybe he forgot to add the lead to the glue. For smaller pieces I try to use 1×4 material instead of cutting them out of the “China Birch.” They tend to fall apart as soon as you run a screw through them. I’ve pinched even more pennies by buying 2×4’s that were cheaper than 1×4’s and then planed them down to the appropriate width.

  11. Glad that they gave you a refund. Not everyone would do that since you had cut the ply. the old adage of buy cheap buy twice applies to everything it seems. Fyi a full sheet of ply (8′ x4′) costs around $80 -$100 for cd quility and over $120 for aa grade in Australia. I would not be happy laying out that many beer coupons for rubbish

  12. I have had the same experience as you. My local retailer made a “bargain” buy of some oak veneer ply. He told me later he has done that twice …. the first and last time!! What a pile of crap!! The veneer was not quite as thick as paint. Forget all about sanding it. My buy was only three sheets and I was able to use it with care but never again.
    Interior was not nearly as bad as yours but still; at $90 a sheet (Canadian) that’s about $1.87 US LOL i expect better.

  13. Unfortunately in a desire (or need to please stockholders), the box stores Home Depot and Lowes both appear to have discontinued carrying any quality plywood products. Just a few months ago, I picked up the last maple hardwood that my local Home Depot had…now they don’t even offer maple as an option. And, no American products whatsoever. In theory, PureBond is supposed to be available at Home Depots, but there are three that are within about 45 miles of my house and none of them carry a single PureBond product. PureBond’s website says their products are available at Home Depot, but they are not. You might think that PureBond would recognize that Home Depot is not ordering as much product as they did at one time.

    I would gladly pay an extra dollar or two per sheet for American made product. I ended up buying some 3/4 ply from Home Depot as I had to have the material to finish a project. It is made in Ecuador and $44.95 per sheet. I would rate it as B goods at best…poor lamination inside similar to the Chinese products. Very disappointing. I really don’t know where I am going to go to find decent materials going forward.

    Think it is time that we all started sending Home Depot messages asking them to give consumers a choice rather than cramming crap down our saw tables.

    • I think some of that better stuff needs to special ordered from HD. They usually don’t keep it in the store. You might be better off finding a nearby lumber yard. You’ll probably be able get better quality on a more consistent basis.

  14. I buy my plywood from a local cabinet maker and gladly pay the price and have had an issue. He said he would pass on his discount for larger quantities if I wished. Also if there are any boat builders in your area find out where they purchase their plywood a lot of them use exterior grade instead of marine. Same glue as marine but larger voids are allowed but it is really good stuff.

  15. I’ve got a rule, now. Make that a RULE!!! From here on out I’m not buying any plywood from either of the BORG’s. And I’m not buying plywood that doesn’t have an APA rating stamped on it. (You can find the APA site here: http://www.apawood.org/ )

    Anything else, especially the stuff from HD and L is a waste of money.

  16. Wow…it almost looks like the separate plys are way too thick; that there should be more of them in a sheet of 3/4″. I’ve never come across this, but thank you for raising awareness so others don’t get duped. Sorry you had to do all that extra work, but the finished product looks great, as usual.

  17. Yes I’ve bought the same crap. It’s all Wal-Mart’s fault…
    Yes that’s what I said, they are the ^%$#s that started making (really forcing) their suppliers have their products made in China so they could get lower prices and higher profits. Sure they say it was to keep prices down but its funny how the prices never did go down. Just check out the 60 Minutes show about Wal-Mart & China & Jobs Lost. But back to the wood, Ok Wal-Mart didn’t buy or sell the stuff but they got the lumber business thinking about getting cheap stuff from China or wherever. Hell I’ve been to China and they don’t use that crap in the building that I saw. I bought some of this crap a few months back and I remember thinking I was getting a deal. Until I started to use the stuff, most of mine looked like yours but I was using the sheets in the attic of my shop for flooring. The attic is about 3.5 ft. high in the center and it just a storage area so no big deal. You know Jay in cases like this the lesson is always the same, you get what you pay for, or if it’s 50% cheaper than the quality is 50% less. I’ve learned the only wood you’ll ever get for 50% off is sold out of the back of a truck by a guy named Lefty or Nunzeo. Glad you were able to get your money back and get the right stuff, guess the guy that sold it to you didn’t want to get trashed on YouTub.
    Love your shows, keep up the great work.
    In the immortal words of Mr. Spock (yes he was a woodworker) Live Long & Build Something.
    Terry

    • It isn’t Wal-marts fault, …………………… it is the customers that are willing to save some money by buying crap!! If the customers don’t buy it, the store can’t sell it! The same thing happened back in the 60’s (1960’s, I am old, but not THAT old) K-mart started selling all the Taiwan, Japanese, and Chinese stuff, it was cheaper and people went crazy for it. It really hurt Sears, Hudsons, and many other retailers. If people won’t accept poor quality, then the store will have to stop selling it, or go out of business. It is ALL up to the customers, ……………. stop settling for bad stuff!

  18. As someone who has covered their entire house (including under the vanities in the bathrooms and under the kitchen cabinets with said cheap Chinese laminate, I feel your pain. I’m currently in the “submit to a lab for testing” phase. Hopefully the retailer will play nice and not give me too much of a hassle.

  19. Hah! You think you had bad luck with plywood crap? Look at this stuff, sold as plywood here in Thailand.

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  20. Chinese plywood cost me 2 $400.00 Kiwi Kayaks. In a hurry to get my move from Spokane, WA to Pahrump, NV I didn’t pay attention to the 3/4″ plywood I purchased to build side board panels for my pickup truck. I packed up and tied up the 2 kayaks to the top of the load..150 or so miles south of Spokane I looked into the rear view mirror just in time to see the second of the kayaks slide off of the top of the load. The 1/4″ eye bolts that I had screwed into the plywood had just completely pulled right out of the POS plywood. I don’t know where the first one went but the second one was delivered to me at the side of the road stuck under a diesel 18 wheeler. It was wedged sideways under it and ground down completely through all along one side. I now thoroughly check all plywood when I buy it. So I know how you feel Buddy. BTW, I’m one that doesn’t do social media. OH, forgot to include that these 2 kayaks were the Missus’s so I did catch some chit.

  21. Jay, what is the actual thickness of the PureBond 3/4? HD’s website says .703. Did the Kreg screws for 3/4 work with it?

    Thanks,
    Rod

    • I just went out to the shop and measured three parts of the miter saw station that I know came from different sheets and got .725 .734 and .745. The 1-1/4″ pocket hole screws worked just fine. If you ever have a situation where the pocket holes break out the back side just reduce the depth on your drill bit stop collar by 1/16″ or so and you will be fine.

      • Thank you, sir… Getting ready to start my first project and want to get the right plywood. I drew plans in sketchup. I used 3/4 for thickness, will the difference screw me up if I use the purebond?

  22. Buy your plywood at menards if your going big box. they have the best stuff of the big 3. For $50 a sheet they have a nice B grade plywood that is almost furniture grade stuff. With the gaps in the layers of that crap you bought jay that stuff must have been D grade

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