Chairmaking is a fun craft, whether you’re making a new chair from scratch or simply repairing an old one. However, selecting the right kind of plywood for your chair seats can be a little tricky. So what is the right plywood for creating new chair seats?
To choose the right plywood for chair seats, find a sturdy plywood like Baltic Birch Plywood. A harder plywood will have more structural integrity for prolonged use, and it’s great for shaping a chair seat to your needs. Hardwood plywood is also best for exposed wood seats.
In the rest of this article, I will discuss the steps to choose the best plywood for your chair seats. I will also go over the different types of plywood you can use, so you can make the most informed lesson before selecting plywood for your chairs. So if you want to learn more about choosing the right plywood for chair seats, read on.
1. Understand the Different Types of Plywood
First, before diving into your chair project, you must understand the different plywood types. A ply refers to the layers of wood glued together to make up the sheet of plywood. The more layers of ply, the stronger the board will be. Usually, a board will have 3 or more layers of ply.
The type of plywood you need for your chair seats depends heavily on the project you’re working on. For example, some plywood sheet types are more aesthetically pleasing and, therefore, great for exposed wood seats. In contrast, other sheets will have more protrusions, making them better suited for seats with covers.
So what are the most common types of plywood paneling?
Types of Plywood Paneling for Chair Seats
There are several types of plywood paneling. However, not all are suited for aesthetic projects like chair seats. The creation process of each plywood type is essential as some are created to bear more weight or be used outdoors. Other types of plywood are better used inside under a chair cushion.
So let’s discuss the most common plywood paneling options.
Generally, hard plywood will be best for chair making, especially when constructing the seats. Hard plywood is more structurally sound because the plies are glued at right angles within the board. Additionally, this type of wood will be denser and can better withstand wear and tear.
The most common hardwood plywood include:
Birchwood is one of the more popular wood types for chair seats as it’s got great flexibility and durability. Plus, the coloration of the wood is excellent and has great aesthetics when sanded and stained.
Another good option is sanded plywood. This type of wood is created for aesthetics and is typically used where the wood will be exposed. Typically you’ll see sanded plywood on cabinets and sometimes wall paneling. It’s important to note that hardwoods can also fall under the sanded plywood category. A sanded wood is ideal when you want plywood sheets ready to go.
Another type of plywood that you will encounter is structural plywood. This type of plywood doesn’t do well exposed to the elements and should be covered up as it’s less aesthetic. Typically structural plywood is highly heavy-duty and used for framing or large-scale build projects.
However, even though this type of plywood is rougher, it is usable for chair seat construction as long as the wood is covered with something like a cushion.
The last thing you need to understand about choosing plywood for your chair seats is the different plywood grades. Within each category of wood, there are different grades of that plywood. The grade refers to the plywood’s quality and appearance.
Here are the different plywood grades:
- Grade A. This grade is the smoothest with minor imperfections and is considered the highest quality of plywood. Grade A plywood is typically used in projects where the wood will be exposed. Grade A is perfect for exposed chair seats or cabinetry.
- Grade B. This grade of plywood is similar to A. However, it’s slightly lower in quality and with minor imperfections in the wood. These imperfections are easily repairable. Grade B plywood is still considered quality wood and is used for similar projects to A. Once repaired, Grade B plywood is easily painted.
- Grade C. This plywood grade is known for having more knots in the wood and other imperfections like discoloration. The imperfections are repairable; however, some will be more severe. C grade plywood is typically used where it won’t be seen, i.e., for subflooring or other hidden projects.
- Grade D. This plywood is considered the poorest quality. Generally, Grade D plywood will have a lot of imperfections like knots, discoloration, and other defects. This plywood is the cheapest you can buy and is, therefore, best for projects where it won’t be seen.
As you can see, there are a few factors to consider when selecting a type of plywood for your chair seats. Typically you will want a Grade A hardwood that has been sanded; birch is excellent. However, if your project doesn’t require visible wood, you can get away with a lower grade of plywood, though hardwood is still recommended for best results.
2. Consider Your Chair Seat Design
Now that you understand more about the types of plywood you can use for your chair seats, it’s time to consider the seat design. As I previously stated, some plywoods are better suited for aesthetic projects, while others will look better covered up.
So if you are making a chair seat made of exposed wood, you need to go with A-C Grade plywood. These types of plywood will have fewer imperfections and look nicer when finished. However, if you’re making a chair with a cushion cover, you can use a cheaper grade C-D since the wood is covered.
Still, hardwood plywood is usually best since chairs need to be able to hold a lot of weight. Additionally, you need to decide if your chair seat design is simply replacing the old chair cushion board, or if you’re sculpting a new seat. The complexity of your chair’s seat design needs consideration.
If you’re planning to build a chair with a bit more flair, you could always go for molded plywood, which is thinner and typically much easier to bend and fashion than other types of plywood.
3. Measure How Much Plywood You Will Need
Next, you need to figure out how much plywood you’ll need for your chair project. It’s best to air on the side of purchasing too much, as you can always return the wood you didn’t use or keep for later projects. If you’re making a new chair seat from plywood and not the whole chair, you will likely only need a small sheet.
If you’re creating a replacement seat for a set of chairs, measure the old seats to get the amount of wood you need. You will need to add a little extra to make room for messed-up cuts. However, if you run out of wood, it’s easy enough to run and grab some more. So use your best judgment on how much plywood your project will require.
Additionally, following a chair construction video or plan will generally state how much plywood is required for the build. So you can easily add those measurements to your shopping list before heading to your local home improvement store.
How much plywood you’ll need will also depend on your budget. If you’re looking for a cheaper plywood with a lower grade, this will need to be taken into consideration.
4. Select the Right Plywood Thickness
Plywood is popular for carpenters because of its ability to be both flexible and sturdy. Choosing the right thickness will determine how flexible it is – and the thicker the material, the less you’ll be able to shape it. So if you’re looking for something that you can meld into a specific shape, choosing a thinner plywood would be your best bet.
You may decide to have a thick base for your seat to achieve a sturdy structure. In contrast, you could always choose a thinner plywood for the seat’s back since you’ll be able to fashion it into a comfortable shape.
Once you have a measurement for how much plywood you need to complete your chair seat project, you also need to know what thickness to buy. Not all plywoods are the same thickness, which means each board will have a different number of plies.
To select the correct thickness, you need to decide how sturdy you want the chairs and what aesthetically fits into your chair seat design. For example, seats that are covered with a cushion tend to be made of thinner plywood. The thinness makes room for all the padding and cloth that wraps around it.
In contrast, exposed plywood seats are generally made of thicker plywood. Additionally, the larger the chair, the thicker the seat will usually need to be. So it’s essential to consider your seat’s overall design before selecting a thickness.
Here are the most common plywood seat thickness measurements:
- 1/4-inch (6 mm). This measurement is excellent for the platform portion of a chair seat, especially if you’re planning to add a seat cushion. The fabric will have ample room to wrap around the plywood and still have good structural integrity, though relatively thin.
- 3/8 inch (9 mm). This slightly thicker plywood is excellent if you need a stronger piece of wood that can still easily take a cushion. This measurement is generally used for the small portion of the seat placed against the chairs’ wooden supports.
- 1/2-inch (12 mm). This wood thickness is fantastic for larger chairs where the wood will be exposed. Making your chair seat slightly thicker can ensure the chair is more structurally sound and won’t easily break beneath someone when they sit.
It’s important to note that you can use whatever thickness you desire. These measurements happen to be the most commonly used ones when it comes to making a chair seat using plywood. Remember, the thicker the wood, the stronger your chair will be. Additionally, you don’t want to make a seat too thick if you plan on adding a cushion.
Chairs that will receive a lot of use require high-grade thick sheets of plywood. Using thicker pieces of wood ensures the chairs don’t break or wear out under heavy or frequent use. For example, dining room chairs need to be incredibly sturdy since they are used multiple times daily.
5. Choose the Best Plywood for Your Budget
The type of plywood you choose does matter and will significantly impact how your chair seats turn out. However, one last thing you’ll need to consider is your budget, since this will often be the difference between a sturdy chair and one that can’t take much weight.
Purchasing wood is expensive, so it’s nice to cut corners where you can. If you’re on a tight budget try using a lower grade wood like C or D, especially if you plan on adding a cushion to the seat. Lower grade plywoods are significantly cheaper than higher ones.
However, as I previously stated, hardwood plywood like birch or oak is best, and the higher the grade you can afford, the better. Higher grades like A and B have fewer imperfections and are made up of quality wood. So you really can’t grow wrong with high-grade plywood. However, a lower-grade wood that’s cheaper will work fine so long as it’s covered and you feel confident in repairing any imperfections.
Selecting the correct type of plywood for chair seats doesn’t have to be stressful or difficult. Hardwood with a high grade will work best for exposed wooden chair seats. Most chair makers prefer using birch hardwood. However, placing a cushion over the plywood can get away with lower-grade hardwood like C or D.
So select a wood that appears to be relatively good quality and fits your budget. Luckily, chairs aren’t substantial, so you can more easily purchase the plywood you need for construction without breaking the bank.
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- Home Depot: Types of Plywood
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- APA: Plywood Grades, Finish and Veneer Strength
- YouTube: Johnny Builds: DIY Modern Plywood Chair | How To Make Two Chairs From One Sheet
- Vitra: Plywood: A Materials Exploration
- Thonet: A Brief History of the Third Dimension: Thonet and Moulded Plywood