Plywood Kitchen? – The essential purchasing guide

plywood kitchen

Plywood kitchen – The modern choice

Plywood kitchens have started to trend. Once a niche corner of the kitchen market, the desirability for a plywood kitchen is trickling into the mainstream thanks to lots of coverage within social media channels, home improvement magazines and of course several TV features.
Luckily for us, we’ve been producing bespoke plywood kitchens since 2009 so we’ve got a bit of experience under our belts and are happy to share it with you.
In this article we’ll explain:
What is plywood?
Plywood – Why we use it
Plywood kitchen cabinets vs particleboard
Our plywood specification
Things to consider when buying a plywood kitchen

 

What is plywood?

Plywood is a manufactured sheet building material made from multiple layers of wood veneer bonded together under high pressure.
Each ply layer sandwiches together at up to 90 degrees with the next. This gives the material amazing strength across all directions, minimises expansion and contraction and reduces the chances of splitting when screwed or nailed.
Plywood usually has an uneven number of layers to maintain balance within the sheet and reduce warp. You’ll commonly hear the terms, 3-ply, 5-ply when referring to ply. This relates specifically to the number of layers in the ply. The higher the number, the thicker and stronger the ply.
As an “engineered” wood, plywood falls into the manufactured board’s category including other sheet materials such as Valchromat (engineered coloured wood board), MDF (medium-density fibreboard), OSB (one strand board) and particleboard (chipboard).

 

Plywood – why we use it

plywood kitchen cupboard doors As a material, plywood is an inherently modern one. A sleek combination of aesthetics and quality, perfectly suited to our modernist style. When compared to the look of a traditional solid wood kitchen, a plywood kitchen offers clean lines and simplicity. And with its strength as sheet material, plywood also offers a contemporary quality alternative to using solid wood construction. Plywood is flexible and beautiful as a raw material in its own right. Most sheet materials cannot be used raw. Plywood is one of few who can and is often used naked, it’s honest about itself, we like that. But, its benefits don’t stop there, as a renewable resource product, plywood could be considered as one of the more eco-friendly decorative options available on the market and although the processing of plywood is intensive, its construction minimises lumbar waste overall. We source our plywood from responsibly managed sources, so it’s a sustainable commodity. For us, using plywood is a no brainer in our mission to make less waste.

 

Plywood kitchen cabinets vs particleboard

plywood kitchen cabinet
If at any point you’ve had a leak in your kitchen, you’ll know that particleboard (chipboard) absorbs water like Weetabix and this damage can’t be reversed. Plywood due to its bonded construction uses an adhesive which makes the material inherently resistant to moisture. That basically means a burst pipe won’t ruin your investment.
Then there are screw fixings. You’ll be familiar with those pieces of flat pack furniture that are a bit wobbly now, that’s because, over time, chipboard flakes away. Once the material degrades it’s pretty much fit for nothing. However, chipboard is used extensively in the market due to its low-cost advantages and that’s fine. Everyone has different reasons and budget constraints for their interior projects.

 

Our plywood specification

plywood kitchen carcass
There are various species of plywood available, specifically, we manufacture using birch plywood. We produce 24mm plywood kitchen worktops (laminated), 18mm birch plywood kitchen cabinets and 15mm plywood drawer boxes. Birch commonly grows throughout Europe and as far as east Russia. It is a quick growing tree that seeds and colonises profusely. Birch is a pale yellowish coloured species with short dense fibres. Our birch plywood kitchens are manufactured from eastern Europe and Russian sources, purchased in accordance with the responsible purchasing policy set out by the Timber Trade Federation.
There are four face grades of birch plywood, C face, CP face, BB face and B face (also known as S+ grade). At Wood & Wire, we only use the two highest grades of material BB face and S+ for all our cabinetry, drawers and doors. For all the unseen faces of our plywood for kitchen cabinets we use BB face grade. For this grade, knots and veneer splits are repaired or plugged. Repairs per square meter are limited to eight. All visible surfaces of our plywood kitchen cabinets employ the use of B face which is the highest quality of Birch plywood available. This grade has no defects or repairs and is suitable for a naked wax finish.
The plywood for the kitchen we use, all conforms/compliant to:
EN636-2. Our ply is suitable for use in humid conditions and is capable of resisting short periods of weather exposure so you can be sure that every plywood kitchen unit we produce is up to the job.
EN13986 stipulating the characteristics of wood-based panels used in construction.
EN314-2 Class 3. Our plywood uses exterior grade glue for greater protection against burst water pipes or leaks.
EN717-2 Class E1. Wood & Wire plywood kitchen carcasses are made using material which meets the highest class and lowest levels of formaldehyde release.
EUTR. European Timber Regulation Status.
FSC/ PEFC. All of the material we buy for our plywood kitchen units is from managed FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification certified) sources.

 

Things to consider when buying a plywood kitchen

plywood kitchen inset door
Why do you want to use plywood in your kitchen?
Aesthetics or Structural Quality?
Do you want to use plywood because you love the material and want to make the most of its natural beauty? Or perhaps you want to use it because of the strength a plywood kitchen carcass provides? Or maybe you’re looking at plywood for both of these reasons. It’ll save you lots of time if you answer this question first.

What construction do you prefer? There are three types of common construction
Plywood kitchen cabinet doors for existing carcasses
If you’re in the aesthetics camp and want the look of plywood but not the cost then there are lots of companies who can manufacture plywood kitchen cabinet doors to fit standard chipboard carcasses. Some of those will also sell ply strips for in-between the cabinets to give the appearance of an inset construction. This can be a cost-effective option if you want the look but are on a tight budget.
Wood & Wire says: 
Shop around: Costs and quality can vary greatly.
Ask for samples: Know that not all ply or its surface finishes are equal. Some companies will use melamine or even a painted surface finish instead of laminate. Asking for samples means you can be sure of the quality before you buy.
Do the maths: Try to capture the full costs of your project. Individual costs of cabinets, doors, accessories, appliances, worktops, delivery and fitting costs all add up. In doing the exercise you might find that the cost isn’t that different to employ the expertise of a full-service vendor.
Know the trade-off: A plywood door is about 15% heavier than chipboard. Over time more pressure will apply to the kitchen carcass and its hinges.

Plywood kitchen cabinet carcasses with overlay doors
If you want to use plywood in your kitchen purely for its strength, then an overlay door (where the door covers the carcass) is the most common choice. With this option, plywood kitchen cabinet carcasses and drawer boxes replace chipboard. With plywood lasting much longer you’ll have the option to reuse your carcasses in the future. Perfect if you’ve landed in your forever home.
Wood & Wire says: 
Check the hinges: If you’re splashing out on a higher grade of the material then you’ll want to know that the hinges and drawer runners are also up to the job. Don’t be afraid to ask the showroom about details like this. High-quality hinges and runners come with long life guarantees.
Perfect your layout: Think about how you use your kitchen so you can be sure that you’ve optimised your space. If you get the perfect layout now, you won’t be tempted to change it down the line.
Think doors: With an overlay option you can choose from a wide selection of waxed or varnished solid wooden doors, high gloss vinyl wrapped doors, laminated or painted doors. Each option comes with its own merits, design, colours and maintenance requirements.

Plywood kitchen cabinets with inset doors
If you love plywood for all its qualities then an inset door will give you the best of both worlds. Here you’ll get the beautiful edge detail of the plywood layers as well as its inherent structural strength. With this option, plywood will be used for the carcasses, drawers and doors. Sometimes Valchromat is used on doors too. Inset doors are less common and those who do manufacture in this method are usually specialised suppliers.
Wood & Wire says: 
Check the specification: You’ll want to know the full specification of the materials your supplier is using, especially if you’re comparing quotes. Ask about the guarantees that come with the hinges, runners and carcasses so that you can be sure of the protection on your investment.
Future proof: Inset doors come laminated, veneered, painted plywood or Valchromat. In all cases ask your supplier about the guarantees that come with the finishes/materials. Painted surfaces are prone to chips, marks and scuffs, veneers to light, water and oil stains. Laminates can edge chip if hit with hard or sharp objects. As an inset birch plywood kitchen is more specialised than an overlay one, its useful to know if the company offer a replacement door service should you ever want to update.

No matter what your budget or style, a kitchen project is always going to be a big investment for you so it will always pay dividends in the long run if you do your research upfront.
At Wood & Wire, we produce bespoke plywood kitchens tailored to each of our client’s needs. So if it’s a modern plywood kitchen you’re looking for, we’re sure that we can help.

We cover – London – North East – North West – South West – South East – Yorkshire & Humber – West Midlands

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