Why Is Baltic Birch Plywood So Expensive?
Baltic birch plywood is notoriously expensive and is often the go-to material for high-end furniture and professional interior design projects.
Some of the most common questions surrounding baltic birch are, understandably, why it costs so much and whether it’s a worthwhile investment.
Baltic birch plywood is so expensive because it’s an imported product. It’s also stronger and has a cleaner appearance in higher grades and fewer internal defects than cheaper plywoods due to using premium materials. A premium B/BB baltic birch sheet can be twice as expensive as a result ($125+).
So, before you go and spend your hard-earned cash on one of the most expensive types of plywood out there, we’ll show you why it’s so expensive and help you figure out if you can justify the price.
Also, stick around to the end of the article as we’ll give you a couple of tips for reducing the cost of baltic birch for your next project.
Why Is Baltic Birch Plywood So Expensive?
Here a few reasons why baltic birch tends to be more expensive than other types of plywood:
1. It’s Imported
Unlike alternative US-manufactured types of plywood, baltic birch plywood is not a domestic product and so needs to be imported.
It’s manufactured in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, mainly in Russia and Finland, and so it needs to be imported into the United States (or wherever else you happen to be buying it).
While this might not sound particularly complex (it isn’t a potentially dangerous chemical, for example), the size and weight of baltic birch plywood can restrict how much of it is transported and imported at a time.
The obvious additional costs for you include transportation and import duties and taxes, and these push up the price per sheet versus more locally manufactured types of plywood.
It’s also important to factor in the effects of supply and demand, though.
Quite simply, the less baltic birch plywood that is available (for example, from reduced quantities being shipped in, or from more people buying it thanks to its growing popularity), the more you’ll end up paying for it versus other types of plywood that are easier to source.
2. It’s Stronger and More Stable Than Other Types of Plywood
It’s important to remember that baltic birch plywood is a premium-quality product using premium-quality materials.
Baltic birch boasts greater strength and stability versus not just standard birch plywood, but against most other types of plywood too.
Here are a few reasons why baltic birch plywood excels in terms of improved strength and stability, and why it’s increased cost is probably justified:
- It Uses Premium Materials Throughout
- It Has Thicker Face Veneers
- It Has Fewer Voids
- It Provides Better Resistance to Warping
No cheaper secondary woods are used as filler in baltic birch.
Baltic birch plywood typically also uses about twice the number of layers versus standard birch plywood.
Because of this, there is a greater surface area for the glue both between the various layers of the sheet, and between two cut surfaces in a project to adhere to, making it stronger.
This allows plywood to be better cope with low-level moisture changes, which is due to the movement in the wood’s alternating grain patterns effectively cancelling each other out.
Baltic birch takes this one step further, though.
While standard birch plywood can consist of two or more types of wood (usually outer birch layers and cheaper internal layers), these can absorb moisture and dry out at different rates, causing greater stresses and potentially more warping.
Baltic birch, however, only features birch wood and so experiences more uniform absorption and drying rates to better resist warping.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that using premium-quality materials in greater quantities and with fewer defects overall pushes up the price of baltic birch plywood by quite a bit versus other types of plywood.
3. It Looks Better (in Higher Grades)
You can buy baltic birch plywood in various grades ranging from B/BB (highest quality) to WG (lowest quality).
An ‘A’ grade of baltic birch plywood used to be available, characterised by an almost flawless face appearance. ‘A’ is no longer available commercially, though.
B/BB is now the highest quality and most expensive grade of baltic birch that you can buy.
The designation B/BB is actually two gradings in one, with the first ‘B’ referring to the main face that will be on-show, whereas the ‘BB’ covers the back of the sheet.
Unlike the now unavailable and pretty much flawless ‘A’ grade, the ‘B’ grade represents an almost perfect appearance, with only minor surface defects like tiny knots being present.
The rear of the sheet, graded ‘BB’, can feature large knots and color-matched patches because of its lower grade.
The ‘B’ side of a B/BB sheet provides the ideal surface for clear finishing, for example, via a clear lacquer or urethane; particularly handy where you want the natural grain of the wood to shine through.
Generally, the higher the grade, the less finishing required, and so the more expensive the sheet will be. Higher-grade sheets are also widely used ‘as is’, with their clean, uniform, and attractive appearance forming a design feature.
Lower-grade sheets, however, may require an element of ‘covering up’ to hide surface-level defects, for example, knots and voids, that aren’t particularly attractive.
4. It’s Better at Holding Screws
Look at the edge of any piece of cheap plywood, and the chances are, you’ll see plenty of voids and imperfections.
Baltic birch plywood, on the other hand, tends to be pretty much void-free, and there are a few reasons for this.
Firstly, the layers making up baltic birch are a lot more uniform in terms of depth, which, when combined with high-quality glues and significant care and attention during their application, results in fewer voids and air gaps in the finished product.
Clearly, a screw will have a much better chance of biting in plywood where the layers are fully intact, as any voids will cause parts of the screw’s thread to be effectively useless.
When it comes to the gripping strength of screws in baltic birch, the use of birch layers throughout (as opposed to the softer, cheaper secondary woods in some types of plywood) and thicker face veneers also play a part in providing a more solid platform for screws to bite into.
Because of this, baltic birch is excellent in projects where screws are preferred over glue, for example, where disassembly and reassembly are required later, or where you’d like to use screws in addition to glue for added strength or to reduce the time needed in clamps.
5. It Makes It Easier to Create High-Quality Joints
Aside from increasing overall strength and increasing the gripping power of fixings like screws, the use of thicker face veneers, higher-quality birch layers throughout, and the inherent lack of voids help to improve the quality of cuts and joints possible in baltic birch plywood.
If you’ve ever tried to cut or join cheaper types of plywood, the chances are you will have been frustrated with the amount of chipping and splintering left behind.
The fact is, the likes of dadoes, rabbets, fingers, miters, or even just simple crosscuts are much cleaner in baltic birch plywood thanks to its ability to resist chipping and splintering.
It’s for this reason that you’ll find baltic birch used in situations where clean lines and perfect joints are left on show, for example, in premium-grade furniture and decorative wall and ceiling panelling.
How Much More Does Baltic Birch Plywood Cost?
It’s no secret that baltic birch plywood is expensive, but just how expensive is it relative to other popular sheet materials?
Here’s a comparison of the average cost of several different types of sheet material, all of which are 3/4 in thickness and 4′ x 8′ in size to allow a direct comparison:
|Approximate Cost (3/4", 4' x 8' Sheet)|
|Baltic Birch Plywood:||$125|
|Hardwood Plywood (White Oak):||$90|
|Standard Birch Plywood:||$75|
|Hardwood Plywood (Red Oak):||$65|
As you can see, baltic birch plywood isn’t just slightly more expensive; the cost difference is considerable.
In most cases, we’d recommend working out whether the strength and aesthetic qualities of baltic birch plywood are critical for your project.
If you can sacrifice quality in favour of affordability, for example, using the likes of standard birch plywood (40% cheaper on average) or MDF (60% cheaper on average) instead could provide considerable cost savings.
If, however, you’re not able to sacrifice strength or quality and baltic birch plywood is the only option, let’s look at a few ways to reduce the overall price.
Baltic Birch Plywood – Reducing the Cost
Aside from obvious things like shopping around or using a coupon, let’s look at a few ways you can reduce the price of baltic birch plywood for your next project.
The price you end up paying will depend on several factors, including:
1. Sheet Size
Given that it comes from the Baltic region of Northern Europe, baltic birch plywood typically comes in 5′ x 5′ (1525mm x 1525mm) sheets sized for the European market.
It’s usually imported into the United States in this 5′ x 5′ size.
Other sizes of baltic birch are available, though, including 4′ x 8′ and a frankly ridiculous 5′ x 10′.
It gets interesting, though, in that larger sheet sizes don’t always equal better value for money.
Let’s look at an example:
|Approximate Cost||Square Footage of Sheet||Cost per Square Foot|
|Baltic Birch Plywood|
(4' x 8' Sheet):
|Baltic Birch Plywood|
(5' x 5' Sheet):
As you can see, the 5′ x 5′ sheet works out at $3.60 per square foot on average, whereas the 4′ x 8′ sheet is more expensive at $3.90 per square foot.
This is probably due to the 5′ x 5′ size being the most popular given how much it’s used in Europe, and hence the most widely produced which reduces the sheet price on a per-foot basis.
So, if you can make do with smaller sheet sizes, you could reduce the overall cost of your project.
2. Sheet Thickness
Like other types of hardwood plywood, baltic birch is available in a range of thicknesses from 1/8″ (3mm) to 1″ (25mm) across most of its sheet sizes.
Clearly, the thicker the sheet, the more expensive it will be, as shown in this table:
|Baltic Birch Plywood - Approximate Cost (4' x 8' Sheet)|
It’s worth figuring out how much strength you’ll need from your baltic birch.
For example, a premium cabinet (we’ve written an article about how baltic birch plywood is ideal for cabinets) may require a thicker sheet (for example, 3/4″ or 18mm) for the carcass versus a 1/2″ or 12mm sheet used for decorative panelling.
Over-engineering whatever you’re building will only cause the price to increase, so it’s worth seeing if you can reduce the sheet thickness for your project to reduce costs.
3. Sheet Grade
The grade of baltic birch plywood sheet you’re planning on using will have a massive impact on cost.
As we mentioned above, the grade can range from premium B/BB with very few minor surface imperfections on one face to ‘WG’, which features visible defects such as large knots.
You’ll pay considerably more for a grade B/BB sheet versus a grade BB/BB sheet.
For example, while a 3/4″, 4′ x 8′ baltic birch plywood sheet of B/BB grade would cost around $125, the same size of sheet with a BB/BB grade could be quite a bit lower at $85.
That’s over 30% cheaper!
Now, clearly, lower grades will only suit applications where the quality of the face is not overly critical, for example, where it won’t be on display. These lower grades probably won’t be the best option if you want to keep the grain showing by applying a light stain only, for example.
That’s why, if the price is an essential factor, it’s worth considering your specific application in detail.
Is it possible, for example, to swap out some of the sheets you need with lower-grade alternatives where people won’t see them while keeping higher-grade B/BB sheets for areas on display?
It’s worthwhile considering just how important the quality of the face is for each sheet, as there are considerable savings to be made if you can sacrifice a bit on quality on even a few sheets.
We hope you found this article helpful and that you now understand what makes baltic birch plywood so expensive.
The fact is, there aren’t many other sheet materials that can mirror baltic birch’s combination of superior strength, attractive appearance, and quality.
There’s no shortage of professionals using baltic birch for everything from cabinets to high-end furniture, and that should be testament enough to both its quality and versatility.
Provided your budget can stretch, we’d have no hesitation recommending baltic birch for your next project.
Having said that, if cost does turn out to be a major issue, we hope we’ve shown you that you can reduce it provided you’re willing to accept a few minor sacrifices.
If you have any particular questions or queries that you can’t find an answer to above, drop us a comment below, and we’ll do our best to get back to you as quickly as possible.
Thanks, and good luck with your project.