Trade education and workforce development are two initiatives we value highly here at Dunn Lumber, so it should come as no surprise that we have close ties with Seattle Central College's Wood Technology Center (WTC). With roots dating back to the early 1900s, WTC's history intersects with ours at Dunn Lumber at various points (our very own Ed Dunn Jr. took some classes at Edison), and we're proud to be connected with such an exemplary educational institution.

Throughout the episodes in this series, we'll be speaking with Dave Borgatti, a long-time faculty member at the WTC, about the center's history, program offering, and various topics in woodworking education. Dave got his start in woodworking as a boat builder in Portland, Oregon, for Schooner Creek Boat Works, and ended up at WTC as an instructor in 1992. Since then, Dave has helped countless students—from boat builders to carpenters and cabinetmakers—learn the woodworking craft.

In today’s discussion, Dave joins me on the job site to look at one of the higher-end plywood products on the market—ApplePly®—and what makes this product so special. 

Watch our chat in the video above, or keep reading for a detailed recap. 

What is high-grade plywood?

Plywood products are graded in two different areas: structure and appearance. High-grade plywoods are typically made from hardwoods like birch, maple, or oak, which make them superior in both areas—meaning they elevate both the aesthetic and structural qualities of a project. For these reasons, high-grade plywood products are popular among furniture makers, boat builders, and interior architects.

What is Baltic birch plywood?

Named for its place of origin, Baltic birch is a type of plywood mainly imported from Latvia. Some lower-grade structural plywoods have veneer cores where the veneer runs in the same direction. What makes Baltic birch unique is the total number of veneers, and that its veneers are cross-banded, making it exceptionally stable and flat in comparison.

Because Baltic birch is manufactured in a different country, there are a couple of things to be aware of when ordering and working with it. 

The first is sizing: Because the machinery is different overseas, Baltic birch has traditionally only come in five-by-five panels (or 1 ½ square meters), instead of the four-by-eight size we’re accustomed to. This can make it challenging to transport, as most of our trucks can only accommodate four-foot-wide panels. (These days, you can find a few manufacturers making four-by-eight sheets of Baltic birch under the moniker “Russian birch,” but Dave recommends checking the country of origin to ensure it’s authentic.) The thickness of Baltic birch is also given in millimeters, as opposed to inches. 

Baltic birch is graded differently, too. The highest grade you’ll see is “B/BB,” which means the back side of the board will have a few small patches, while the front won’t have any. A step down in grade is “BB/BB,” which has patches on both sides.

What is ApplePly®?

When enthusiasm for USSR imports waned in the Cold War era, States Industries of Eugene, Oregon, set out to create a rival product to Baltic birch that was “as American as apple pie.” Cleverly named, ApplePly® was developed in 1984 as an American-made, premium plywood with an all-veneer alder core and a birch or maple face (and it came in four-by-eight sheets). 

Because of its rigidity, a high-grade plywood like ApplePly® can be used throughout the structure of a project, not just for finish work. Cabinetmakers love ApplePly® and other high-grade plywoods for this reason; they’re exceptionally flat, won’t move or twist, and hold screws and fasteners well. 

Looking for more in-depth knowledge from Dave? Check out the other posts from our introduction to the Wood Technology Series, like these covering the differences between planers and jointers and how to turn rough lumber into S4S material.