7th Nov 2023 -

Plywood sheets offer designers and builders an affordable and structural material. It also provides decorative potential thanks to the broad range of finishing and veneer plywood options available. From stain and paint to laminate and wood grain, plywood surfaces can be enhanced in countless ways.

We discover how the choice of finishes and veneers can elevate the visual appeal of your project. With suitable finishes and veneers, plywood transitions from utilitarian to sleek and stylish.

What are the different types of plywood finishes?

Whether it is showcasing the natural beauty of wood to introducing innovative, textured surfaces, there is a wide spectrum of options to cater to various design preferences. Below, we explore all the different plywood veneers and finishes available. 

1. Natural wood finishes

There are 3 natural wood finish types to choose from.

  • Plain-sliced veneer: This is the most common type of veneer, sliced from the log in a straight, plain pattern, showcasing the natural wood grain. Plain-sliced veneer can be used for an interior door, wall panelling or furniture. 
  • Quarter-sliced veneer: Veneer slices are cut at a 90-degree angle to the growth rings, creating a straight-grain pattern with dramatic flecks. This type can also be used for many interior jobs from cabinetry to tables and chairs.
  • Rift-cut veneer: This veneer is sliced at a slight angle to the growth rings, resulting in a straight grain with minimal flecking. You will find rift-cut veneer plywood is primarily used for furniture making and wall panelling. 

2. Exotic wood veneers

You can install veneers from exotic wood species such as ebony, teak, and mahogany for a luxurious and unique aesthetic. From retail displays to shelving units and boat interiors exotic wood veneers are flexible for a range of applications.

3. Reconstituted veneers

These veneers are made by reassembling and dyeing wood fibres to mimic the appearance of rare or endangered wood species. Reconstituted veneers are suitable for both residential and commercial purposes and are a sustainable option.

4. Painted plywood

Painting plywood can be finished with various colours and textures to achieve a specific look or style. Whether it is signage or outdoor garden furniture, residential décor and playground structures, painted plywood is extremely versatile.

5. Stained plywood

Stains are applied to plywood sheets to enhance their natural wood colour while preserving the grain pattern. This is a popular option for jobs such as crafting plywood furniture. You may also find stained plywood used for stair treads and risers, as well as ceiling finishes.

6. High-gloss and matte finishes

High-gloss finishes provide a shiny, reflective surface. While matte finishes offer a more subdued and non-reflective appearance. High-gloss plywood is widely used for modern kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Whereas matte-finished plywood is primarily used for projects such as exhibition booths and subdued custom furniture. 

7. Laminates

A plywood sheet can be laminated with decorative plastic laminates for added durability and a wide range of design choices. Laminated plywood is commonly utilised for projects such as kitchen and bathroom countertops, as well as flooring with plywood and classroom desks.

8. Melamine-faced plywood

Melamine is a synthetic material applied to plywood surfaces, often used for cabinetry and furniture due to its easy maintenance. You can also use melamine-faced plywood for jobs including built-in wall units and bathroom vanity units due to its moisture resistance. 

9. Textured finishes

Some finishes come with textured surfaces, adding depth and tactile interest to the plywood texture. Whether it is interior wall panelling, ceiling finishes or cabinet doors, textured plywood is often used for jobs where visual interest is paramount. 

10. Fumed and ebonised finishes

These finishes involve chemical treatments that darken the wood, creating a rich, aged appearance. You will likely see fumed and ebonised-finished plywood used for custom woodwork and contemporary furniture. Interior doors and accent walls may also utilise fumed and ebonised-finished plywood. 

11. Distressed finishes

Distressing techniques, such as wire brushing or hand-scraping, can be applied to plywood for a rustic or vintage look. Distressed-finished plywood can be applied to create feature walls in residential and commercial spaces. It adds texture and visual interest, making any wall a focal point. 

12. Speciality finishes

Some manufacturers offer speciality finishes like charred wood, which has gained popularity for its unique appearance. It is also a type of fire-rated plywood. Speciality finishes can include anti-slip plywood and are likely to be included within boat and aircraft interiors. 

Can you mix and match veneers and finishes?

Yes, mixing and matching veneers and finishes is a brilliant way to infuse character into your designs. However, designers and builders should take some key points into account when planning a job. 

  • Proportion and balance: Consider the proportion of each veneer and finish the entire piece. Strive for a balanced composition to avoid the overwhelming presence of one element over another.
  • Functionality and purpose: Keep in mind the functional aspects of the piece. Certain finishes may be more suitable for high-traffic areas, while others may be better for decorative accents. Be sure to match the materials to the purpose.
  • Texture and grain patterns: Explore the textures and grain patterns of different veneers. Mixing grains can add visual interest, but it is crucial to maintain a balance. Complementary textures can create a tactile and inviting experience.
  • Room lighting: Lighting can significantly impact how veneers and finishes appear. Test your combinations under various lighting conditions to ensure they maintain their intended visual appeal.
    Transitions and edges: Pay attention to how different veneers and finishes transition between components. Well-executed transitions and edges contribute to a polished appearance.

What is the best finish or veneer for your project? 

Choosing the right plywood finish or veneer is a pivotal decision. Below, we offer 7 actionable top tips to navigate the selection process. Make an informed choice that aligns with your project's unique needs. 

1. Understand project requirements

Clearly define the purpose, size and requirements of your project. Is it for indoor furniture, outdoor structures, or high-moisture areas like kitchens and bathrooms? Knowing this helps narrow down your options.

2. Examine moisture resistance

If your project will be exposed to moisture or humidity, prioritise finishes and veneers with good water resistance. Thick options such as marine plywood or other waterproof plywood types may be suitable.

3. Select appropriate wood species

Choose the right wood species based on the project requirements. Some species are harder and more durable, while others offer unique grain patterns. Consider the specific characteristics of each wood type.

4. Check sustainability credentials

If environmental considerations are important, look for finishes and veneers from sustainably sourced wood. Certifications like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) indicate responsible forestry practices. 

5. Pick up test samples

Where possible, gather some samples before making a final decision. This allows you to see how the finish or veneer looks in your specific lighting conditions and how it complements other elements in your project.

6. Review maintenance requirements

You should think about the maintenance needs of the finish or veneer. Some may require more care and upkeep than others. Choose a veneer or finish type that aligns with the amount of maintenance you are willing to invest.

7. Think long-term

Be sure to account for the longevity of the finish or veneer. While initial costs are essential, it is crucial to factor in the expected lifespan of the plywood sheets to assess their overall value.

Is plywood difficult to work with?

All types of plywood sheets, panels or tiles are not difficult to work with. However, while plywood is renowned for its versatility and user-friendly nature, the choice of veneers and finishes can influence the level of expertise required.

Discover the nuances of working with and maintaining different plywood materials, from hardwood and softwood veneers to a spectrum of finishes. 

Plywood veneers

  • Hardwood veneers: Hardwood veneers can be denser and, in some cases, harder to cut than softwood veneers. However, their durability and aesthetic appeal often make them worth the effort.
    Maintenance: They require less maintenance compared to softwood veneers. However, the specific maintenance needs can vary based on the type of hardwood and the finish applied.
  • Softwood veneers: Softwood veneers are generally easier to screw and saw, but they may be more prone to dents and scratches. Proper tools and techniques can help mitigate these issues.
    Maintenance: While softwoods can easily bend and more flexible plywood, they might require more attention to prevent and address physical damage.
  • Exotic wood veneers: Exotic wood veneers may have unique characteristics and may require specific tools and handling. It is important to be mindful of the wood's properties.
    Maintenance: Some exotic woods are naturally resistant to pests and decay, but they might still benefit from occasional protective treatments.

Plywood finishes

  • Painted finishes: Painted plywood is typically easy to work with, and the application of paint is a straightforward process. Touch-ups may be required over time.
    Maintenance: They can be relatively low maintenance. Especially if high-quality paint is used for exterior plywood. However, painting plywood surfaces may require touch-ups over time due to chips or fading.
  • Varnish or lacquer finishes: Plywood finished with varnish or lacquer can be easy to work with during the application. However, refinishing may require more attention to detail.
    Maintenance: Regular cleaning and occasional reapplication of the finish may be needed, especially in high-traffic areas.
  • Stained finishes: Stained plywood is generally easy to work with, but care must be taken to ensure an even application of the stain. UV protection is crucial to maintain the colour.
    Maintenance: Stained plywood requires careful maintenance to preserve its appearance. UV exposure can cause fading, so it is important to protect stained plywood from direct sunlight. Periodic re-staining may be necessary to refresh the colour.
  • Oil finishes: Oiled finishes are usually straightforward to apply, but reapplication may be necessary for maintenance. Oils can enhance the natural beauty of the wood.
    Maintenance: These finishes may require more frequent reapplication to maintain their protective qualities, but they are often easy to repair.
  • Polyurethane finishes: While polyurethane provides durable protection, applying and repairing it can be more involved. It may require careful surface preparation and even sanding between coats.
    Maintenance: While it may require less frequent maintenance than some other finishes, damaged areas can be more challenging to repair. Ultimately, you may need to remove them.

Excellent plywood finishes at Building Materials Nationwide

Transform your construction projects with top-notch plywood sheet materials. Explore our selection of different grade plywood veneers, from the timeless elegance of hardwood like oak and birch to the rustic charm of softwoods such as pine and cedar.

Our collection boasts a variety of finishes which allow you to customise your plywood to perfection. Whether you are working on a residential floor or commercial partitions, our range of all plywood sizes ensures durability and aesthetic appeal. Shop our range with quick UK delivery options. 

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