Perhaps even more foreboding than lumber pricing and grading in general, are those key issues as they relate to plywood. While it’s completely possible to save money on high-quality solid lumber by carefully choosing unpopular sizes, there’s really no shortcut when it comes to quality plywood: If you want the good stuff, you’ll have to pay for it.
What’s the Deal with Plywood Pricing?
Considering the fact that plywood is an engineered material, the grading system is pretty close to being completely pointless. Not only do general market fluctuations come into play, but artificial influences on the market are possible, as well.
More often, though, low plywood prices point to problematic production. Basically, important steps have been skipped, and the result is sub-par plywood. The most frustrating part of the equation is that the way plywood is graded, you can’t count on the grading to truly communicate quality; you’re better off relying on price, realizing that it’s a pretty sure bet that you’ll get what you pay for — not that poor-quality plywood won’t be overpriced, but at least realizing that high-quality plywood won’t be underpriced.
What’s Up with Plywood Grading?
Plywood does have its own grading system, so you’d think it would take into account all the major factors that affect its quality. Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case. The HPVA (Hardwood Plywood Veneer Association) uses an alphanumeric designation to describe the front face and the back face (with A-1 used for top quality). There is no way, within the current plywood grading system, to describe the core or the manufacturing process — never mind specialty details such as color – or grain-matching. Of course, all of those elements will take added work & more expensive resources to produce which will necessarily be reflected in the price. Especially since a solid core is such an important ingredient in quality plywood, and specific jobs and builders often require Fir, Poplar, or MFD, the limitations of the grading system are significant.
How in the World Do I Place my Plywood Order?
Because of the clear limitations of plywood grading, it’s especially important that you communicate the details of your project when you place your order for premium plywood. In many ways, you’re better off shopping for a lumber supplier than shopping around for quotes every time you have an individual lumber order to place. But either way, you can help eliminate suppliers that aren’t worthwhile by giving them a little test: Ask for a price quote without offering any details about your project. If the representative from the lumber supplier is willing to give you a quote without asking for details about how you plan to use the lumber, don’t even write down the dollar amount; hang up and don’t call back. If you don’t have a time-tested supplier already in mind, feel free to collect a handful of quotes, but if any are far lower than the rest, toss that one, too. You can be sure you won’t be getting the same quality the others are offering.