OSB and plywood are two common materials that are used for a variety of things such as woodworking projects and construction.

Today we’re going to dive into a debate that has been ongoing for quite some time now – the age-old question of whether Oriented Strand Board (OSB) or plywood reigns supreme for projects. 

Both materials have their pros and cons that make it tough to decide which one is the better choice for your project. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. 

In this OSB Vs Plywood comparison, we’ll break down everything you need to know about OSB and plywood, from their manufacturing process to their durability, cost, and their suitability for various woodworking applications.

By the end of this article, you’ll be a pro at picking the right material for your next woodworking project.

What is OSB?


Oriented Strand Board (OSB) is a type of engineered wood panel made from thin, rectangular wood strands that are oriented in specific directions and then bonded together with resin under heat and pressure. It’s similar to particle board but made with longer pieces of wood strands. 

This process creates a strong, durable panel that is often used in construction for sheathing, flooring, and wall systems.

OSB Manufacturing Process

The manufacturing process of OSB (Oriented Strand Board) is a complex process that starts with wood chips and shavings being harvested from various species of trees like aspen poplar tree which are then sorted and screened for quality.

The wood is then broken down into small strands and dried. These strands are then treated with a resin adhesive, oriented in specific directions, and placed into a press, where heat and pressure are applied to bond them together into a solid panel. 

With adjustments in layer thickness, a strong and resistant sheet is produced. The end product is indispensable for construction and furniture projects alike. It provides a high-performance output that lasts longer than average engineered wood products.

Pros & Cons of Oriented Strand Board (OSB)

Commonly used as a substitute for plywood in building construction, OSB has the following advantages and disadvantages:

Eco-friendly.The presence of formaldehyde may cause health issues.
Cost-effective.Vulnerable to swelling when exposed to moisture.
Durable and sturdy due to its density.It has no polished or refined look.
Multi-functional with various applications.OSB is not suitable for flooring purposes.

What is Plywood?

Plywood stacked

Plywood is so-called because it is composed of multiple ‘plies’. It is a type of engineered wood panel created using multiple layers of thin sheets of wood veneer that are glued together with the grain of each layer perpendicular to the one before it.

The plies are joined together through a hot pressing process using glue. This cross-layering provides plywood with added strength and stability. 

The wood can be made from many trees such as blackbutt, walnut, Douglas fir, and oak. It is one of the most popular building wood types used in construction and furniture-making today due to its affordability.

Its versatility also makes it an ideal choice for many projects, both large and small.

Plywood Manufacturing Process

Plywood production involves a few critical processes, beginning with the storage of logs. Proper log storing is essential for a high-end plywood product. This is followed by debarking and bucking to size before moving on to further processing.

Logs are initially heated to facilitate the peeling process of veneers, making them smoother and easier. After peeling, the veneers are then dried to reduce the moisture content.

After the dried veneers are put together, they are then combined to form a single plywood panel. Following this, it is placed in a hot press and goes through compression.

The final steps of the process involve precisely cutting the panel to its desired size and then sanding it down in order to give it a smooth, refined finish.

This ensures a strong and durable plywood panel that can be used both in construction as well as furniture making with outstanding results.

Pros & Cons of Plywood

Plywood is a go-to building material for many construction projects due to its versatility, lightweight, and affordability. Its uses range from furniture making to roofing and flooring installation.

Despite its many advantages, there are some drawbacks associated with the use of plywood which should be considered before making any decisions. Some benefits and drawbacks of plywood are:

Formaldehyde-free options are availableMore costly compared to OSB
Strong and durableMore susceptible to decay
Suitable for use as underlayment for flooringLimited size options
Can be used for various construction and furniture projectsCould be less eco-friendly, depending on the production process

Comparison of Their Features

An informed decision to make the right choice typically necessitates thorough knowledge regarding certain features.

This includes knowing the strengths, durability, cost, and moisture resistance of the wood materials. Doing so makes it easier to determine which one is suited to your needs.

1. Structure

To figure out which material is most suitable for your woodworking project, it’s crucial to understand the structure of OSB and plywood. Both are engineered wood products but there are key differences in their structure that set them apart.

The parallel alignment of the outer layers in Oriented Strand Board provides added stability and strength while the cross-layered structure of plywood gives it added durability and a natural wood grain appearance.

2. OSB Vs Plywood: Strength

Contrary to popular belief, both plywood and OSB (Oriented Strand Board) are actually on an equal footing when it comes to strength.

Indeed, the appearance of OSB can be deceiving which is why many woodworkers are surprised to learn of its strength equivalence to plywood. 

OSB’s construction of larger wood strands may seem less sturdy but its engineered design actually provides a strong, uniform structure. OSB is an in-demand material because of its strength.

When comparing the tensile strength of plywood and OSB, plywood has a higher range, from 1,500 to 4,000 psi, while OSB falls in the range of 1,000 to 1,500 psi.

However, these numbers are just rough averages and actual tensile strength can vary depending on the type of wood, the manufacturing process, and other factors.

3. Durability

When considering the longevity of a material, OSB and plywood offer outstanding performance and durability. The real difference in durability comes from their resistance to moisture. 

Plywood with its thin sheets of veneer is considered more moisture-resistant, hence it is a better choice for outdoor or high-moisture applications. On the other hand, OSB may not be as moisture-resistant.

Additionally, OSB provides better consistency in quality compared to plywood and there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, the manufacturing process of an Oriented Strand Board results in a uniform and consistent structure, with no core voids, which can compromise the strength and durability of the material.

Additionally, there is less likelihood of delamination, a process wherein the layers of material detach from each other, weakening its sturdiness and longevity.

This consistent quality makes OSB a popular choice for woodworkers because they can rely on its uniform strength and stability throughout the entire panel.

While plywood also offers good quality material, it is more prone to voids and delamination making it a less durable option.

4. Moisture Resistance & Expansion/Contraction

There are both benefits and drawbacks when it comes to the moisture resistance of an Oriented Strand Board and plywood.

OSB is advantageous in less humid environments because it has a slow rate of uptake. Unfortunately, once it does absorb water, it can take ages to dry out and the panels may warp or swell and become almost impossible to restore to their initial state.

In comparison, plywood has the propensity to take in moisture quickly, but also dry much faster. After it has dried, it is expected to retain its original form. 

Also, plywood is more susceptible to delamination when exposed to moisture due to its construction of thin layers of wood veneer.

OSB is more resistant to delamination in wet conditions. So, if you’re working on a project in a low moisture area, OSB may be a better choice.

But if you’re dealing with frequent exposure to moisture, plywood may be the way to go.

5. Appearance

Plywood has a visual advantage that gives it an edge over other OSB. With its smooth surface and natural wood grain pattern, it can bring warmth and beauty to any project. It can be painted or stained to match any design style and the veneer surface allows for a uniform finish. 

On the other hand, OSB has a more rugged look due to its construction from smaller pieces of wood and the lack of a top veneer. It has a textured surface that can be difficult to paint or finish evenly, so it is less desirable for projects where appearance is a top priority.

However, if your project is going to be hidden behind drywall or covered by other materials, OSB’s rougher look may not be a cause for concern.

6. Popularity

OSB and plywood have both gained popularity in the woodworking industry for their unique properties.

OSB’s affordability and strength have made it a popular choice for construction projects, especially for projects where appearance is not a top priority. The low cost of the wood allows contractors and DIYers to stick to their budget while still achieving a durable end result. 

On the other hand, plywood remains a classic choice for woodworkers and craftsmen due to its natural beauty, versatility, and superior finish. The smooth surface and uniform grain pattern of plywood make it an ideal choice for high-end furniture, cabinetry, and other projects where appearance is important.

Nonetheless, due to its affordability, durability, and strength, OSB is becoming increasingly popular and replacing plywood in many applications despite its lower level of aesthetic appeal.

7. Cost Efficiency

Both OSB and plywood offer cost-effective building solutions, but with a notable difference. 

Plywood tends to be the more high-priced option with prices ranging from $15 to $45 per 4×8 panel, whereas OSB usually falls in the range of $10 to $25 per panel.

The reason for this difference in price lies in their construction and labor intensiveness.

Plywood is considered more labor-intensive compared to OSB which contributes to its higher cost. The manufacturing process requires more time, effort, and skill, resulting in a price increase compared to the manufacturing process of OSB.

OSB is less labor-intensive and more streamlined, allowing for a lower cost compared to plywood.

8. Eco-Friendly

In terms of sustainability, plywood is the superior choice as it adheres to the most up-to-date environment-friendly regulations forbidding the use of formaldehyde in production.

In contrast, OSB is still produced using this chemical which raises concerns about its impact on the environment and human health.

Furthermore, plywood is made of larger trees often from old-growth forests which take longer to grow and can have a more significant impact on the environment.

While both materials offer cost efficiency, it’s worth considering the bigger picture and the long-term impact on the environment when choosing a wood type. It’s always a good idea to opt for the greener choice and ensure that the products we use are sustainable and eco-friendly.

Suitability For Woodworking Applications

The two materials are two distinct wood types with various applications and use.

Due to its rough texture, an OSB board is ideal for applications where the finished surface won’t be visible. It is usually installed as a foundational layer and then covered with a top layer such as siding to give it a smoother finish.

Oriented Strand Board is often utilized in furniture making as a base material while plywood is commonly used for cabinetry, partitions, ceilings, and flooring. 

For outdoor projects like decking, both OSB and plywood can be used, but plywood is typically preferred for its better moisture resistance. 

For roof sheathing and subflooring, both OSB and plywood are suitable options. They offer durability and convenience, making them excellent choices for these applications. OSB and plywood can provide the structural support needed to make your project a success.

Overall, the choice between the two ultimately comes down to personal preference, budget, and the specific needs of your project.

How To Properly Store and Maintain OSB and Plywood

To ensure your OSB and plywood are in the best condition possible, they should be stored and maintained carefully. Failure to do this leads to issues caused by moisture which can result in damage. Here are some tips that will help you maintain them properly.

First, store your wood in a dry and well-ventilated area; away from moisture sources such as leaky pipes or high humidity. If you’re storing the materials outside, ensure they’re covered to protect them from rain and other elements.

A moisture barrier should be employed for protection from moisture. This safeguards your project from the potentially damaging effects of excessive dampness. To extend the life of your furniture and keep it in good condition, it is highly recommended to apply a layer of varnish for protection against moisture and other environmental factors.

Finally, a consistent inspection of materials is key to making sure they are not being damaged by moisture. Look out for any signs of warping, swelling, or mold and take immediate corrective actions.

Key Takeaways

Both materials have their unique strengths and weaknesses in construction and woodworking projects. While OSB may have a more rugged appearance and is the cheaper option, plywood offers a more refined finish and is better at resisting moisture.

Factors such as cost and appearance all play a role in determining the best material to use.

In the end, both OSB and plywood are cost-effective and efficient options for builders and woodworkers alike.

So, whether you’re constructing a new home, building a piece of furniture, or taking on any other woodworking project, you can be sure that either OSB or plywood will be up to the task.

Frequently Asked Questions

OSB is more cost-efficient for anyone looking to save money on their project. While Oriented Strand Board tends to be less expensive with a more consistent appearance, the difference between both materials includes their weight and screw-holding capability.

  • OSB is heavier than plywood.
  • Plywood has better screw-holding capability compared to OSB.

The strength and stability of OSB and Plywood boards are comparable. However, OSB has the advantage of more consistent quality and structure due to the lack of core voids, and also, it hardly delaminates. It can easily become deformed if exposed to moisture. 

In comparison, plywood offers better protection against moisture and is more likely to delaminate.

Compared to Oriented Strand Board, plywood is more resilient when exposed to moisture, therefore it will not swell or become deformed easily.

This is due in part to the way the layers of plywood are constructed, with each veneer being placed perpendicular to the one before it; creating a stronger and more water-resistant structure.

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