It seems like old furniture is usually built using nice solid wood but recently (from my perspective) there has been a huge surge of plywood use even in handmade furniture. When did this start happening? When did technology become available to make plywood?

Here is an example of this trend Plywood Table

  • 2
    Related and interesting, but not meant to be an answer: apawood.org/apas-history
    – JPhi1618
    Dec 7, 2015 at 16:31
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    I see much more use of veneered chipboard than of plywood in furniture. Dec 7, 2015 at 16:50
  • Like @RedGrittyBrick and Graphus say... Just look at almost everything IKEA makes these days.
    – Matt
    Dec 8, 2015 at 1:42
  • I should include that in my post. Or just "manufactured" wood.
    – Programmer
    Dec 8, 2015 at 1:44
  • @Matt: Ironically, IKEA actually uses solid wood (spruce) for the majority of things, since that's cheaper than chipboard. They'll only use chipboard where the additional manufacturing cost dominates -- say, a 1.5 meter diameter melamin-coated round table top... it's much cheaper to press that into circular form right away. Legs will still be made of massive spruce. Wish I could buy my wood where they buy it. If you want spruce (I usually don't, but assume you do) it's cheaper to buy a "block" table at IKEA and sand the coating off..
    – Damon
    Dec 8, 2015 at 11:25

2 Answers 2


When did technology become available to make plywood?

Plywood in the sense of cross-grained veneers glued together is actually very old, for example various sources claim the Egyptians and ancient Chinese used materials that are basically plywood although it wasn't made in quite the same way as the modern stuff is with whole logs steamed and then peeled apart by a giant knife!

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Rotary-cut method, also referred to as peeling.

Plywood in the modern sense is a 19th century thing, but I believe the actual commercial production of it didn't get going until the early 20th. Sources vary somewhat on this, but it is the case that early in the 20th century plywood as we would understand it today starts to be seen used for things like cupboard backs, drawer bottoms and, quite quickly, found its way to major parts of furniture like the main field of a cupboard door (where it would have a good-quality veneer on at least the outside face, sometimes on both faces).

Much modern mass-produced furniture no longer uses plywood by the way, for the major boards it is now most common to see various grades of chipboard/particleboard, or MDF, with various laminates on the surface. These laminates are mostly melamine-coated paper but occasionally real wood veneers are used, obviously this is on higher-end stuff.


Just to add to Graphus' insights:

Patents for plywood show up at the beginning of the 19th century and plywood as we know it (with thin sheets of wood) show up around 1850s. In furniture history, John Henry Belter (active in New York from 1845 to 1865) is the person most associated with the use of plywood. He used rosewood plywood to build heavily carved pieces (which would fall apart otherwise). couch by Belter

A good book discussing this and other changes in furniture making is Victorian Furniture: Technology and Design (Studies in Design and Material Culture) by Clive D. Edwards.




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