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Plywood: Curb Appeal

To “ply” is to work at diligently, or to apply something repeatedly. Imported plywood made from species such as Baltic birch (Betula spp.), meranti/lauan (Shorea spp.), and other tropical species are workhorse materials that perform consistently across a broad range of applications. Generally available from 3-ply thickness up to 13-ply, they are used extensively as framing, interiors and core materials. For people who design and build, exotic plywood is easy to love. It is strong, lightweight, flexible, has a very smooth surface for laminating and is dimensionally stable.

Curb Appeal


In some applications, exotic plywood has both aesthetic and functional value. John Southard works in marketing and product development for Northwest Door, a garage door manufacturer based in Tacoma, Washington. He has been in the garage door industry since 1976. Garage doors have to be able to perform in both indoor and outdoor environments. “We use meranti and lauan plywood because doors have to look good, and we don’t want to use materials that are not going to hold up,” says Southard.

According to Southard, about thirteen years ago carriage-style swing doors that open like conventional garage doors were introduced to the marketplace. They were immediately in demand, and the only way to achieve the attractive design was with exotic plywood. “Steel products were really popular with consumers for awhile,” says Southard. “But to get that classic, upscale look of the carriage doors, you have to use wood. You can make it look like anything, which is not true with sheet metal. It is also very workable.”

There are several versions of carriage-style garage doors, but the basic design involves a framework of stiles and rails, a wood panel face and a ¼ inch lauan plywood back panel. “Most plywood that is ¼ inch doesn’t have an exterior glue line, but the lauan does,” says Southard. “Lauan plywood is the industry standard. The logs are rotary cut, pulling off big beautiful layers, so we can get large sheets that have the same grain all the way across. That gives the interior side a smooth regular face with a nice, clean appearance.”

The door fronts are generally 5/8-inch meranti, redwood or western red cedar panels. “All three species perform really well. The difference comes in finishing. Western red cedar has a lot of resin, and both the cedar and the redwood have tannins. So if you paint them instead of finishing them naturally, it tends to bleed through,” says Southard. “The meranti is more of a dual purpose material, it looks nice when it is finished naturally, but it also looks very good painted.” Meranti’s characteristic grain structure means the material is less likely to cup or bow. “When you cut it straight, it stays straight.”

Northwest Door distributes high-quality garage doors exclusively through installation dealers in the United States. Although their carriage-style swing doors typically adorn beautiful higher-end residences, they are constructed using predictable, readily available, cost-effective imported plywood.

Copyright© 2010 by the International Wood Products Association. Published by Bedford Falls Communications, Inc. and circulated to an audience of 20,000 architects, designers, distributors, manufacturers, and users of imported wood products in North America.

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