Plywood comes in a huge array of different types and grades, so choosing a type for your specific project can get confusing. Pine and birch are two common materials used to manufacture plywood, and due to the differing properties of the wood, they generally have different uses.
If you’re working on a project and need to pick out a plywood type, then you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the differences between these two varieties. Let’s take a closer look at pine vs. birch plywood, and help you choose the right one for your project.
Differences between Pine vs. Birch Plywood
Hardwood vs. Softwood
One of the key differences between pine and birch plywood is that pine is a softwood while birch is a hardwood. This means that they come from different types of trees. Hardwoods are angiosperms, which are flowering plants, while softwoods come from gymnosperms, which are non-flowering plants with unenclosed seeds.
Hardwoods tend to grow slower than softwoods, have a higher density, and cost more as a result.
This difference is the main factor that influences all the other differences between pine and birch, and you can extrapolate most of these differences to other species of hardwood and softwood.
Hardness is an indicator of how difficult it is to how hard a wood species is to saw, nail, or machine. It will also give you a good indication of the wood’s ability to withstand denting and general wear and tear.
If you take a look at this handy chart here, you can see a complete breakdown of the Janka side hardness test for various wood species. This test measures the force required to press an 11.28mm (0.444 inch) steel ball to half its diameter cross-grain into a block of wood.
Birch varies between 800 and 1460 depending on the specific type of birch you’re dealing with. Pine, on the other hand, varies between 400 and about 1000. This is a significant difference and results in birch plywood that’s significantly harder to dent or damage than pine.
When it comes to rot resistance, Pine will actually outperform Birch. Birch will rot quite easily should come into prolonged contact with moisture. Birch is also more prone to insect infiltration than Pine is.
Pine is naturally rot resistant to a degree, but it to will rot if exposed to moisture for too long of a period.
Neither plywood type is suitable for outdoor projects unless covered or coated with some form of sealant or protective layer.
While the cost of different plywood types is constantly fluctuating, Pine will be cheaper than Birch in almost every instance. A sheet of ¾”-thick 4’ x 8’ pine plywood will run you about $50 at the time of this article, whereas a sheet of birch ply of the same dimensions will run you about $80.
If you’re talking about Baltic Birch plywood, which is a higher-end product used for making furniture, shelving, cabinetry, and the like, the cost will be even higher. Baltic birch is made from solid layers of birch plies, unlike other plywood has no softwood or filler plies sandwiched in the middle.
As mentioned previously, because birch is a hardwood, it is denser and therefore heavier. This can either be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the features you’re looking for in plywood.
Obviously, working with heavier sheets of Birch plywood will require more physical effort than working with lightweight Pine. However, the added weight of Birch ply will add heft and durability to your project.
When it comes to aesthetic appeal, you can make an argument for either one, so it mostly comes down to personal preference. Pine plywood tends to have a lot of knots and a prominent grain to it, while birch is very neutral and clean looking.
If you’re looking for something with more of a rustic cabin look to it, where the wood grain really pops, then you’ll probably want to go with pine over birch. Think of doing something like creating a burnt plywood floor.
On the other hand, if you want really clean wood without much grain showing, then Birch is the way to go. You can also stain either one to achieve the desired look and color your looking for, so don’t feel like you’re stuck with just one look.
Flexibility is an often-overlooked aspect of plywood, but it can be a factor when using plywood in locations where it may shift over time. It can also come into play when you’re installing sheathing or subflooring that’s not completely even and will shift over time.
Birch is the more rigid of the two plywood types, so pine is preferable when you need flexibility. Also, if you consider building something like a curved column, arch, or piece of furniture, then look into flexible plywood. This is plywood that’s designed to be bent without breaking into pieces or delaminating.
When to Use Pine Plywood vs. Birch
There’s a lot to consider when choosing a plywood type, including cost, durability, hardness, weight, and more.
Generally speaking, pine plywood is used for all types of structural uses like sheathing, subfloors, roof decking, and the like. It’s less popular as a material for furniture, cabinetry, and other finished construction due to it being a softwood and lacking the hardness and durability of hardwoods.
Birch plywood is commonly used for furniture, cabinets, desks, and for general home improvement projects. It possesses the properties necessary for finer work, but it comes at a significant cost premium over similar pine plywood.
The choice of which plywood to use for your project obviously comes down to your own preferences and budget.
If you have the funds for it, then I’d recommend using Birch for any type of project where the wood will be exposed. On the other hand, pine plywood will work fine for most jobs where it will be covered or painted at the final stage.