Is Baltic Birch Hardwood or Softwood – Uses & Benefits

Is Baltic Birch hardwood

Baltic birch is considered to be hardwood because it’s entirely made of birch plies and layers (that are hardwood and not softwood).

The unique property is, unlike other plywood varieties, it does not contain any softwood or filler plies in the middle.

Also, the thickness of the plies used is very small, due to which the number of plies per unit length used is higher, which adds to the natural strength and durability of plywood.

Baltic birch plywood is popular for several good reasons, even if you may not be familiar with all of its benefits.

Many woodworkers and professionals prefer this type of plywood for their different projects not only for its sharp appearance alone but there are other reasons as well why it is widely used.

Perhaps its greatest attribute is that it is easy to work with, allowing you to create a wide variety of projects that range from creating small toys to employing large sheets for backing.

Baltic Birch Characteristics

Janka hardness: 1260 lbf (5600 N)
Grades:A, B, BB, CP, C

The Baltic Birch grading system is established by the Russian intergovernmental standard GOST 3916.1-96.

The grades usually appear in the form of two outer faces of the plywood (in the format of front/back).

For instance, baltic birch with a “B/BB” grade means it has a “B” grade front ply and a “BB” grade back ply.

The History

As the name implies, the trees originate around the Baltic Sea and the northeastern section of Europe.

Originally, this type of plywood was used for cabinetry, but its versatility has made it widely popular in other areas as well.

This is because the core of the tree, which is strong enough to be used in 1mm layers or plies which are bonded together with a strong glue, makes Baltic birch plywood amazingly strong.

Another attribute is the uniformity of the layers, which is demonstrated in the sharp appearance of the plywood itself.

Having a consistent layer means void-free plywood that is uniform and quite robust. This includes the edges which have a striped pattern which means they can be shown depending on the type of project.

Being free of voids means that the highest quality of Baltic birch plywood is quite desirable for many different projects.

Uses of Baltic Birch Plywood

Baltic birch plywood is of high enough quality that it finds its way into construction, remodeling, and many woodworking projects.

Thanks to its robust nature and versatility, those who use this type of plywood will find many attributes, some of which may not be found in other types of plywood.

Firstly, because it can hold nails and screws tightly, you can use this plywood to create dovetail finger joints.

It also works quite well in assembling cabinets or creating different types of furniture.

Further, the rigid core makes Baltic birch plywood perfect for making shells of custom trailers, speaker boxes, and even skateboards.

This is because the hardness of the core holds up to the weight and pressure while still being easy enough to cut and fashion into different shapes.

Because it resists moisture, Baltic birch plywood is also a popular choice for making cabinets, counters for the bathroom and kitchen, and furniture for laundry areas.

This plywood is also quite popular in Pyrography, which is the art of burning into the wood.

baltic birch grades and uses

Benefits of Using Baltic Birch Plywood

The first thing you notice when looking at Baltic birch plywood is its sharp, neat appearance.

While this is certainly a plus, it is arguably the least of its many attributes. However, it is not an advantage that should be overlooked.

The edges, for example, do not have a ragged appearance compared to some other types of plywood. This means you spend less time cleaning up the edges, so you can get on with your work.

The surface also allows for easy painting and staining, which allows for a wider range of projects to be completed.

1- Thicker Veneer Dimensions

Most traditional plywood has a thin veneer face. That is not true for Baltic birch plywood, which has a thicker veneer on the front and back. This means that you have more material to create a smooth finish.

Plus, at the higher grades, you get what you pay for and more, thanks to the thicker veneer surface, which offers more options compared to thinner versions.

2- Improved Joints

You can make clean joints using Baltic birch plywood thanks to its tough core and uniform surface.

For those who want to create different types of joints, such as dadoes, dovetails, miters, and rabbits, you can do so thanks to this material. The surface also allows the glue to spread more evenly and get the coverage that is needed.

If you cut with a laser, then this type of plywood is more desirable compared to most others. This is thanks to the thicker veneer backing and face, which allows for different types of laser cuts to be created.

3- Highly Durable and Tough

The plywood can hold up well under stress and be used for many different purposes.

Creating furniture is no problem as it can bear considerable weight while still looking good.

The different layers make nails and screws stick even better compared to medium-density fiberboard. Add to this the resistance to warping and especially bowing, and you have a pretty tough piece of plywood.

Of course, there will be some warping and bowing, but the ¼” thickness is sufficient for most projects where plywood can be used.

How Much Does Baltic Birch Plywood Cost?

Due to obvious reasons and the wide range of benefits it offers, Baltic birch plywood is not a cheap product to buy.

A premium B/BB plywood sheet is among the highest quality and most expensive grades of Baltic birch, which can be twice as expensive as standard.

A sheet of 3/4 baltic birch plywood can cost anywhere from $90 to $125 or even higher, depending on the size you choose, like 5′ x 10′, 5′ x 5′, or 4′ x 8′.

When buying, keep in mind that the thicker the sheet, the more expensive it will be due to increased strength.

So, if your project doesn’t require a thicker sheet (like 18mm), you can lower your cost significantly by buying a thin sheet such as 4mm, 6mm, or 9mm.

Plus, if you can purchase smaller sheet sizes, you can reduce the overall cost of your project.

This is due to the fact that sizes like 5′ x 5′ are more popular (than 4′ x 8′ sheets) and are therefore widely produced in bulk, which reduces its per square foot cost.  

What’s the Difference between Baltic Birch and Normal Birch?

You can see the many advantages of Baltic birch plywood, which is why it should be at or near the top of your list to buy.

Its versatility, inherent strength, and thicker veneer facing and back make it ideal for many types of projects.

But are there any differences between baltic birch plywood vs. birch plywood? Or, in fact, the question should be, are they both the same or different?

Well, there are quite a few differences between Baltic birch and normal/veneer birch plywood which can be told by appearance and by comparing their other physical properties.

The key difference is Baltic birch plywood has around double the number of birch plies as normal birch plywood.

Also, in normal veneer birch plywood, the mid-section contains poplar or other hardwood types, which makes it less tough.

Baltic BirchNormal Birch
Extremely hardLower hardness
Higher in strengthLesser strength
Less prone to voidsMore prone to voids
Great for heavy-duty projectsCan be used for smaller cabinets
Approximate Cost (3/4″, 4′ x 8′ Sheet): $125+Approximate Cost (3/4″, 4′ x 8′ Sheet): $75
100% birch plies glued together with exterior grade glueBirch only on the surface and back, not in the middle

Is Baltic Birch Plywood Waterproof – Can it Be Used Outdoors?

Plywood is said to be waterproof and exterior grade when it resists moisture and humidity to a greater degree compared to other types.

This makes it the perfect choice for outdoor areas (like building benches) of the home that are prone to moisture, rainfall, and snow.

Despite using exterior grade glue between its layers or plies, Baltic Birch Plywood isn’t waterproof and should not be used outside as a standard.

This is also the case with birch plywood, even if exterior-grade glue has been used in gluing the plies.

If you use baltic birch plywood or a normal birch outside it should be properly sealed so that it does not absorb water which can lead to rot and delamination of the wood.

Plus, it is recommended that for projects in which the plywood can be seen that you use a coat of polyurethane or lacquer to get the best waterproofing results.

How to waterproof?

While marine plywood is probably the best option for the wettest applications, you can consider waterproofing the baltic birch plywood if it’s used under less extreme conditions.

To make birch plywood waterproof and suitable for outdoor applications, you can also consider finishing the wood by painting, staining, applying wood oils, or using epoxy sealing products.

Staining Baltic birch plywood with Minwax stain is probably the best option. You can then finish it with a protective coat of clear varnish if you want better environmental resistance.

Final Thoughts

When you throw in the versatility and modest price, Baltic birch plywood becomes one of the best options on the market for woodworkers and professionals on construction and renovation sites.

Plus, the toughness and durability of plywood are greater compared to most other types.

Creating dovetail and finger joints is no problem. Plus, it takes to nails, screws, and adhesives quite well.

If you are creating fixtures and jigs, this is the material for you. It does help that the surface is uniform, with edges that are cleaner than most other types of plywood. 

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