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Caring for Plywood Surfaces: Maintenance and Preservation

Tips & Guides Timber Knowledge
10 August 2023 min read

Caring for Plywood Surfaces: Maintenance and Preservation

Despite being a versatile and affordable material, plywood surfaces are not impervious to the wear and tear of daily use. 

Everyday usage can lead to pesky scratches, and accidental spills can cause water stains on your plywood surfaces, robbing them of their beauty and leaving unsightly marks.

But what if you could restore, preserve, and even enhance the beauty of your plywood surfaces? 

Our comprehensive guide will provide expert advice and proven strategies to tackle these issues head-on. From routine cleaning tips to preservation techniques and even repair suggestions, our guide is here to arm you with the knowledge to extend the life and look of your plywood surfaces.


Understanding Plywood

Before we delve into the specifics of plywood care, it's important to understand what plywood is and why it requires special attention. 

Plywood is an engineered wood product made by glueing thin layers of wood veneer, or 'plies'. 

The alternating orientation of these layers gives plywood its strength and stability. 

However, this construction also makes it susceptible to damage from moisture and humidity, which can cause the layers to separate or 'delaminate'. 


Choosing the Right Plywood

The first step in caring for plywood is choosing the right type for your project. Not all plywood is created equal, and the type you choose can significantly impact its longevity and the amount of maintenance required. 

For example, marine-grade plywood is designed to withstand harsh weather conditions and is ideal for outdoor applications. On the other hand, interior-grade plywood is best suited for indoor use, where it’s less likely to be exposed to moisture.


Preventing Damage

Prevention is always better than cure, and this is especially true when it comes to plywood. 

One of the most effective ways to prevent damage to plywood is by applying a protective finish. This enhances the wood's natural beauty and creates a barrier against moisture, dirt, and wear and tear. Moreover, several types of finishes are available, including varnish, lacquer, and paint, each with advantages.


Maintenance Tips

Regular cleaning is an essential part of plywood care. As expected, dust and dirt can scratch the surface of the wood, while spills can cause stains and water damage. So, use a soft, damp cloth to clean your plywood surfaces, and avoid using harsh chemicals that can strip the finish. 

For outdoor plywood structures, regular inspections are crucial. Most importantly, look for signs of water damage, such as warping or discolouration, and address these issues quickly to prevent further deterioration.


Preservation Techniques

Over time, even well-maintained plywood can show signs of wear and tear. When this happens, you can use several preservation techniques to restore its appearance. Sanding can remove surface scratches and prepare the wood for a fresh finish coat. But if the damage is more severe, you may need to replace the affected section of plywood.


Plywood Surface Enhancement

While plywood's natural look has charm, a splash of colour or a unique finish can sometimes transform your project. 

For example, staining is an excellent way to enhance the appearance of plywood while retaining its wood grains' visibility. Oil-based stains are popular due to their durability and wide range of colours. However, they may darken the wood over time, so select your stain carefully. 

Another option is water-based stains, which are more environmentally friendly and available in vibrant colours.


Dealing with Persistent Stains

Despite your best efforts, stains can occur. For stubborn stains, such as those caused by ink or coloured liquids, a mixture of baking soda and water can work wonders. Apply the paste to the stain, leave it for a few minutes, then wipe it off with a clean cloth. 

For oil-based stains, a gentle application of dish soap can help break down the grease. Also, remember to test any cleaning solution on a hidden plywood part to ensure it doesn't cause discolouration.


Plywood Moisture Management

Although we've touched on moisture, it's worth re-emphasising how critical it is to manage moisture levels when dealing with plywood. Depending on your location and the season, ambient humidity levels can drastically affect plywood. 

As you may know, humidity control systems or dehumidifiers can be beneficial in maintaining the right moisture balance in the environment surrounding your plywood projects, particularly for indoor pieces.


Seasonal Plywood Care

If you live in a region with distinct seasons, your plywood care approach may need to shift throughout the year. In colder months, wood tends to contract, which could result in visible gaps in plywood structures. 

Conversely, in hot and humid conditions, wood tends to expand. So, to minimise the impact of temperature fluctuations, consider using a flexible finish that allows the plywood to move without cracking.


Preserving Aged Plywood

Aged plywood carries a unique, timeless charm. However, maintaining its aesthetic appeal requires special care. So treat aged plywood with a gentle hand, avoiding aggressive cleaning methods. Moreover, regular dusting and occasional gentle washing can help maintain its character. 

Additionally, if the old finish shows signs of deterioration, consider a light reapplication of the same type, which can rejuvenate the plywood without compromising its antique vibe.


The Care of Specialty Plywood

Plywoods like Baltic Birch plywood or Okoume, typically used for precision work or high-end cabinetry, require extra attention. These plywoods often come pre-finished, requiring only minimal care such as dusting and occasional cleaning with a mild detergent. 

However, to repair scratches or wear, you may need to consult a specialist to match the original finish and maintain the plywood's quality.


Woodshop Direct: For All Your Woodworking Needs

A little effort goes a long way in maintaining the integrity and beauty of plywood, making it a worthwhile investment for any artisan. 

By equipping yourself with these tips on plywood care, you can ensure your plywood surfaces look their best. Moreover, regular maintenance, preventative measures, and timely repairs can significantly extend your plywood's lifespan.

At Woodshop Direct, we understand the importance of quality materials and proper care. We offer a wide range of plywood products and expert advice on all aspects of woodworking.