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Know your plywood!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Plywood comes in many guises and is used for many different purposes. With such a huge choice of panels and the varying degree of quality available on the UK market choosing the correct product can often be a confusing job. Just over a year after CE marking for construction product became mandatory, we look at the role and responsibility of the merchant in making sure the right product is being sold for the intended purpose or end use and the importance of the contractor installing a suitable, fit for purpose plywood.

Historically some plywood products coming into the UK market and sold for structural use have not been up to scratch, which is why the CE marking regime for timber and panel products was made mandatory  last year.

In order to choose the correct product for the job at hand, you need to think about many factors, such as the structural capabilities of the plywood, the quality of the veneers and where the material actually comes from.

Structural Standards for Plywood

There’s a wide choice of plywood products available in the UK so it is vital you select the right one. The photographs below are examples of poor quality hardwood plywood available on the UK market and show issues with core gaps, veneer overlap and general poor construction of the panel which could cause delamination or the panel to fail.

When you need a structurally-rated panel you must ensure that the material used for construction meets CE marking requirements. This is a recognised standard (under the Construction Products Regulation) introduced by the European Commission to make it easier to trade construction products across different member states by ensuring they meet necessary technical standards.

A product carrying the CE mark has met all appropriate European legislation. You should be looking for a product which has undergone a strict assessment and verification to prove the consistency of its performance. Therefore for structural requirements you need a product which has been assessed using system CE 2+, meaning the manufacturer’s factory control has been independently verified and meets necessary requirements.

While the CE 2+ marking is the main structural criteria to look for, it is also very important to ensure the product has been tested for a specific end use application. For example, if you are using plywood for a flat roof and you opted for rated Finnish Spruce plywood from a reputable supplier which provided test data, you would be safe in the knowledge that you are buying a fully structural and tested panel that can prove its structural credentials. You should ask your merchant to provide relevant test data for the material you are buying. They should have it available, or be able to access it quickly from their suppler, but if it’s not available then it may not exist.

The CPR requires manufacturers to make available information about the essential performance characteristics of their products which are on the market. This is in the form of a Declaration of Performance (DoP), which Beaumont can make available so customers can check where the product comes from and what certification it has. This will show if the product’s factory production control has been independently verified under system 2+, which is the rating you are looking for.

Further to the structural rating of panels, we need to be sure that the product is legally imported into the UK. The European Union Timber Regulation (EUTR), which came into effect in March 2013, ensures this. It bans illegally harvested timber and plywood products from being sold in the UK market. The one area to focus on is imported hardwood.  Importers take responsibility for the quality and origin of all their products, but it is still up to contractors working on local authority, government and private developments to ensure the material they use has the right legal certification. Again, if you are unsure speak to your supplier. They should be able to provide you with all the necessary details to prove the products meet EUTR requirements.

Selecting the Right Plywood for The Job

Selecting the right quality of plywood is naturally important. We see many examples where end users have chosen the wrong product. However, with greater awareness and a little more information the correct material would have been selected, which would have been more suitable for the job.

One example we have seen recently was when a tradesman, who wanted to do a very professional job, selected hardwood plywood to install a large flat roof at a junior school. By paying more for the hardwood plywood option, he wrongly presumed it must be a better product. It was more expensive and, he felt, looked better than the softwood plywood alternative. However, the hardwood plywood used didn’t have the correct test data to prove its structural capabilities. The consequence being that the builder had to remove the plywood and re-install with the correct structural plywood at his own expense.

The important message here is don’t go by appearance alone. Many hardwood plywoods with attractive face veneers contain poor quality core veneers. Look for veneer overlap and irregularity of thickness. On the other hand, softwood plywood that is not as attractive will probably be far more capable in terms of its structural capabilities and will more often lead to saving money on costs. The majority of hardwood plywood distributed in the UK does meet CE2+ requirements however it is not tested for specific uses. You need to ask for the test data! 

The regulations may look daunting but if you ensure you are selecting the appropriate quality plywood then you have nothing to worry about. At Beaumont we believe that all plywood used in construction must be structural, certified and sustainable, fit for purpose and supported by a performance datasheet. To help you select the correct product for your application why not check out our comprehensive Plywood brochure.