Figuring out marine plywood grades in order to choose materials for stitch and glue and other methods of boatbuilding can be confusing.

Opinions range from the high and mighty: "Since you are going to spend a lot of time building, you should use the best material available no matter what the cost" to the economy version "Grab some Luan underlay, build a quick cheap boat and get out there and have some fun"

Most of us would prefer to understand the options a bit better.

Marine Plywood Grades

In order to be a Marine Grade the plywood has to conform to a certain number of criteria:

  1. The Glue MUST be waterproof
  2. Voids are to be avoided
  3. Face and inside veneers have to be good

Here is a Youtube video about making Marine Plywood.It is how one company makes it and not necessarily representative of all marine plywood but it is interesting

Plywood Glue

Any glue used for marine plywood or for that matter also used in exterior use has to conform to the a stringent test. Plywood assembled from it needs to be able to withstand boiling in water for several hours without de-laminating. This is WBP glue and stands for "Weather and Boil Proof". Glues vary in their tenacity while being boiled.

The capacity of a plywood to not de-laminate under boiling is not only dependent on the quality of the glue but also on the materials used and the care which was used in the manufacture.

My page on Marine and Exterior plywood glue and on Phenol Formaldehyde which is often used in marine plywood.

Voids in Marine grade plywood spell disaster.

Voids not only weaken the plywood but create a ready path for water infiltration. For this reason Marine Grade Ply must not have voids.

The veneers used for the manufacture of the plywood must be of high quality.

Depending on the grade, knot size and frequency is controlled. If a repair needs to be made on an inside ply there are rules for this. If a ply needs to be joined inside it can not be butted. The thickness and number of plies is also controlled.

Marine Plywood Grades

BS 1088

Although a British Standard, it is used by marine plywood manufacturers world wide. The plywood does not have to be of British Manufacture. It is an extensive document which details all characteristics of the plywood.

Lloyd's of London Certification

According to their website

"Lloyd's Register Type Approval is an impartial certification service providing independent third-party Type Approval certificates attesting to a product's conformity with specific standards or specifications, and verification of an appropriate production quality system."

In other words Lloyd's ensure that the standard in production is met. Lloyds do not continuously inspect production lines or individual plywood sheets.

Many plywood are made according to the BS 1088 marine plywood standard but they have not all gone to the trouble and expense of getting certified. On the other hand some manufacturers claim to be up to this standard but are not. As usual it boils down to you get what you pay for and it pays to go to a reputable dealer.

BS 6566

This standard is very similar to the BS 1088 with somewhat reduced quality.

It is a marine plywood standard using the same glues, but has somewhat more relaxed requirements as to the quality of the veneers. The face veneers are often of slightly lower grade and thinner. There are no voids and requirements for joins are similar.

It is generally considered an excellent material if not as pretty as the higher grade. Bright finishes are not necessarily as successful as with the BS 1088. I have used both grades and have not seen any defects in either.

Exterior Plywood

There are many exterior grades being manufactured. The glues are usually essentially the same as the marine grades. The outside veneers vary a great deal depending on the chosen grade. There is a possibility of voids. Boats have been successfully built using higher grade exterior plywood.

AS/NZS 2272

This is an Australia / New Zealand standard. Marine Plywood manufactured to AS/NZS 2272 standard, is a structural plywood intended for hulls of boats and other marine applications. It has a Type A (wbp) phenolic bond glue and is manufactured from woods based on density, bending strength, impact resistance and surface finishing characteristics.

None of the marine species are naturally durable and preservative treatment will be required. Hoop pine is often used.

The Engineered Wood Products Association of Australasia is a rich source of information and explains the standard in more detail.

The durability of the plywood wood is not always of paramount importance in modern boatbuilding

The marine plywood is rarely left unfinished. It very often has an epoxy coating, often with glass cloth as well. Okkume is a prime example of a widely used plywood wood which is not particularly resistant to rot and fungus.

You may not always need the absolute best grade of plywood. Often a high end exterior ply will do as well particularly in area that do not particularly stressed.

emails: Christine

Here is a somewhat inaccurate and simplified "How it's Made " video on Marine Plywood. Interesting to see the process though.

The Engineered Wood Association

"APA – The Engineered Wood Association is a nonprofit trade association of the United States and Canadian engineered wood products industry. They represent engineered wood manufacturers and mandate things such as quality testing, product research, and market development."

They help set standards. They set voluntary standards and many manufacturers adhere to them. Their main focus is construction. They have extensive publications that can be downloaded for free but you need to register and sign in.

This web site reflects my personal ideas and doesn't represent anyone else's point of view.

Small Print

I don't claim to be an expert. I'm not an engineer or a chemist. I make mistakes. This page is not specifically a recommendation of products, it is for information and entertainment. IF you want to build a boat make sure you use the material as instructed by the designer. Do your homework and be safe.