Plywood manufacturing history surprisingly interesting

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I love the part where the subtitles say “The basic process of manufacturing plywood has not changed since the 19th century.” And then proceed to show a process that requires ~90% fewer humans.


Plywood comes in almost infinite variety, from cheap and nasty stuff with holes and splits up to full hardwood rot and boilproof resorcinol glued marine ply, which is an amazing material. I’m currently doing a project with some 2.5mm aircraft grade okoume marine ply - which means no repairs even - it cuts like cardboard yet weight for weight it’s as strong as most steels and can tolerate permanent immersion in water - though in this case its fate is going to be to be clad in aramid epoxy to make an extraordinarily strong composite. Douglas fir and birch too make very strong and light plies.
The first stealth bomber, the Mosquito, was made of ply. People have made ocean-going boats out of it. The energy input to make it is really quite low. If it was invented now, it would be a wonder material.

Which is good, because the jobs in 1954 were hard and dirty manual labour in a hot and wet environment.
And probably nowadays more people are employed in making and using ply together than in 1954.


Tom Sachs’ love letter to plywood is delightful. (10 minutes)


Plywood: Nothing But Disappointment :

“I won’t pretend we’re not disappointed, but we’re moving forward.”

Plywood is AWESOME!


They built autos out of plywood too.

And, on the other hand, you still have a couple of humans employed just to “tap here, slide a little bit there…”

In all fairness, at least in the trainer you can go in it and see what life inside the shuttle was like (way more cramped than you might think) where the real shuttle exhibits (while cool) only let you see it from the outside.


I would gladly swap my house for a plywood space shuttle.


Indeed. I’d gladly have a Marcos to park outside my wooden space shuttle.


90% fewer humans who are not maimed or crushed to death.

Apart from speed and quality, safety is a huge part of automation.


africar flopped

my late father steamed plywood in a moulding for a ten inch newtonian
it was a pity the stepping motors were not really designed for the job then…
gave me the jitters


I’ve often wondered about pre-1970s plywood (or what my Korean fellow students used to call “pry ood”). You don’t see much of it preserved in furniture or interiors, so unlike with solid wood, it’s hard to know how something you make from pry ood today will look and perform in 50 or 100 years. And I don’t even know if it’s really the same product, as the glue is surely different, and modern pry ood generally has more and thinner pries.

My main takeaway from this video was the waste in the 50s process, which seemed to take 200-year-old trees and throw two thirds of them in the trash. It’s like watching Don Draper shaking off the picnic blanket.


Yeah, I watched the Canadian half just mentally ticking off the oc health and safety violations…


California is taking a keen interest in plywood safety by adding their own certifications on top of EPA’s certs.

“In most cases, the two certifications are one and the same,” Mr. Winchester said, but “if a certifier has applied to the EPA and not CARB you couldn’t sell stuff certified by them in California.”

Mmmmm formaldehyde. It’s what keeps the hurricanes away.

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I noticed the guys not wearing gloves while handling the boards - while I am still picking out splinters from the plywood I handled this weekend (of course my hands are the hands of a software architect, not a Canadian mill worker).

Despite the fact that those were undoubtedly hard, hot, potentially dangerous jobs, I couldn’t help feel that they were probably unionized jobs that were able to support a whole family in the middle class. Perhaps I’m romanticizing, but was Douglas Fir plywood really so much more expensive back in those days? (because I just bought Finnish birch marine ply and that’s not cheap at all).


Both Marcos and Royal Enfield (and Moulton for that matter) are/were based quite near where I live.

When people make remarks about ooh-aah rustics in Somerset and Wiltshire I like to mention that our economy is actually rather dependent on advanced manufacturing.


Real Douglas Fir in a good grade hasn’t ever been cheap. “Construction grade” however…strong but you don’t want to be able to see it.

I don’t know what they use in California, but the only construction grade rot and boil proof waterproof glue for plywood I’m aware of is still resorcinol or a derived form. Most glues are not construction grade (i.e. they creep) and that includes epoxy and PVA - resorcinol and PU are construction grade but PU is messy. If the glue line is dark brown, reddish or even purple - it’s likely to be resorcinol.
Unfortunately it’s horrible stuff to use (as is PU) which is why I prefer low solvent epoxy or Titebond III with a few fasteners in the right places.


Just in from Major Tom - Would much prefer house to Space Shuttle - ENDS