Is Plywood a Good Material for Making Shelves?

September 18, 2022

Building a set of wall shelf with plywood.

As you excitedly explore the different woodworking projects you can make as a beginner, you will soon ask whether plywood is perfect for your other projects like making shelves. Plywood, of course, is often used for making shelves because it is inexpensive yet strong. It also comes in various thicknesses, but the most preferred plywood for making shelves is the standard 3/4″ plywood. 

The use of plywood comes with many advantages, but it will not give you the most exquisite appearance when used for shelves. Hence, it will be best if you prime it. Besides, you need to use cabinet-grade plywood for optimum results. Moreover, it will help spruce it up with veneer trim on its front edges to hide unfinished edges and nails.

Advantages of Using Plywood for Shelves

Now that you’ve learned that plywood is a popular choice when making shelves, you might want to know why it is popular and learn its different advantages. Although plywood is an engineered wood which means it is adulterated and not pure, it still offers several advantages when used for shelves. 

Compared to melamine, for example, plywood exhibits alteration of grains in its layers. This grain alteration provides plywood with unusual toughness, making it almost impossible to shatter using a hammer. Besides, it comes in varying thicknesses, ranging from 6 mm to 32 mm, giving you a wide range of thickness options.

Plywood also takes up paints and polish quite quickly and satisfactorily. Plus, its surface is perfect for sticking veneer. It also holds screws pretty well. Furthermore, if you treat plywood properly, you can expect it to exhibit termite-proof and fireproof properties. 

You can also easily cut plywood into specific sizes, making it easy to work with. Besides, it doesn’t shrink or warp over time, nor does it crack and twist. It is also easy to assemble compared to solid wood, and it is relatively cheaper than solid wood.

Which Plywood Sizes are Perfect for Making Shelves?

As a beginner in woodworking, one easy project you can indulge in is making shelves. Shelves are not that difficult to make. But though it is easy to make, you can still hone your woodworking skills when you make it. These skills include your ability to measure and cut precisely, your use of screws, your ability to install, and your skills for finishing wood.

One factor, however, you need to consider when making shelves using plywood is the size of the plywood you will use. Your choice will impact the overall appearance of your finished shelves and the project cost. The industry standard, of course, is the 3/4″ plywood. It is inexpensive and strong. 

As you shop for plywood sheets, you will soon discover that plywood comes in varying dimensions, but most get sold in 4’x8′ sizes. The most common plywood thicknesses other than the 3/4″ are 1/4″ and 1/2″. 

Besides, as you check with your hardware, you will discover that some hardware stores now carry project panels. These project panels come in smaller dimensions like 2×4′ and 2×8.’ You will also find smaller versions of 4×4.’ If you only need a small amount of plywood, you will find the smaller versions an appealing option.

Valuable Tips When Finishing Plywood 

One factor you need to consider when finishing a plywood shelf is the location where you will install the shelf. If you mount it in a damp area like a bathroom or laundry room, it will be best to seal the plywood against moisture. 

The ideal ones to use are enamel-style or oil-based primer paints. If you want a wood-grain appearance, it will be best to use a stain to alter the color of the wood and seal it against moisture. 

You can also use a water-resistant product like an oil-based polyurethane. However, if you will install the shelf in a dry location, you can use water-based finishes away from the damaging moisture.

Additional Useful Tips

Aside from learning the abovementioned tips on how to finish your plywood shelf, it will also help to be cognizant of the following additional tips:

  • If you want to highlight the grain and color of the plywood in your design, it will be best to use oak, cherry, or maple plywood. These options, of course, can lessen the cost of making shelves compared to the use of hardwood and still offers you sterling durability. 
  • Likewise, it will be best to use similar wood species when trimming the edges. Afterward, you can spruce it up with a clear topcoat finish to protect the wood from scratches and dents without obscuring the wood grain. 
  • It will be best to use edge banding veneer or trim pieces to obscure the plywood’s layered edges without hiding the pure color and grain of the wood. You can attach veneer bandings using a hot-melt adhesive and a heat gun or iron. 
  • Set the shelf height to the perfect height, depending on the items you will store on the shelf. 
  • It will be best to refrain from keeping things that are heavier and taller than the height of the shelf. 
  • Besides, you should know the carrying capacity of your shelves, for if you stuff the shelf with a load heavier than its carrying capacity, it might cave in or collapse, especially if your design is a floating shelf. 
  • It will be best to figure out well the shelf spacing. The wider the shelf, the better it will be for you, for you can stuff the shelf with more things. This means there will be fewer clutters on the floor and more organized spaces.


The plywood is a perfect choice for making shelves. It comes with many advantages when used for shelves, but it doesn’t mean its use is not without any disadvantages. Of course, if your comparative reference is solid wood, you will find the plywood a less durable option than the solid wood. 

Furthermore, you need to treat the plywood with the necessary chemicals to provide it with sterling durability. However, plywood is not suited for use in locations exposed frequently to the harsh elements of nature. Besides, you can’t directly paint plywood without any primer. Moreover, some glues used for making plywood exhibit carcinogenic properties.

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