We, as a customer, prefer products that are high quality. Phenolic plywood is a popular and most trusted material used for cabinet-making as well as building other furniture and even fixtures in European countries.

Phenolic board is an engineered material that, unlike typical plywood, uses synthetic resin as its veneers. Contractors and builders use it usually for residential and commercial construction. It is used to build kitchen and bathroom cabinets as well as for flooring.

But is it truly better than other types of plywood?

Read the rest of the article. The article covers everything you need to know about phenolic plywood, including its perks, drawbacks, shelf life, and value.

What Is Phenolic Plywood?

Phenolic plywood is a wooden board commonly used in commercial and residential construction. It is an engineered material which means that they are created by combining and binding pieces of scrap wood, sawdust or wood fibers, as well as genuine wood using adhesives.

Essentially, phenolic plywood is a fusion of two different wood parts. Its main section or the “core” is made by piling a large number of thin planks of birchwood— often 13 to 15 layers for a ¾ sheet—and is combined by applying a high amount of pressure.

The core is then covered using a veneer which is the outer section. It is either made of birch and other types of wood or thick paper. However, unlike the material’s core, its veneers are soaked and coated in a synthetic resin called phenolic. The resin acts as a coat and, at the same time, as an adhesive which makes it superior compared to modern plastics.

Thus, it is named phenolic plywood.

What Is It Used For?

Phenolic-faced plywood has a wide range of uses. It is, however, commonly used in building fixtures, kitchen and bedroom cabinets, countertops, and other furniture. 

The tabs below cover a few phenolic plywood uses.

Phenolic faced plywood is a popular material used for building house furniture such as cabinets. Its smooth, neat-looking, and repellent surface makes it a great material, particularly for cabinets that are placed in moisture-prone areas like the kitchen and the bathroom. And because of its high moisture resistance, it became a popular material for countertops as well.

The material is used to build store and laboratory furniture too. In laboratories, the plywood’s smooth and water repellent surface makes it easier to clean spilt chemicals or liquid. And because it repels liquid, it does not stain easily too. The same goes for stores, specifically restaurants and food shops.

The material is also used as a flooring material. Some manufacturers offer specialized phenolic boards with anti-slip material as covering, making it a viable material to use as flooring, particularly in areas that are prone to water and moisture. Specialized phenolic plywood is often seen in environments that are slip prone such as warehouses and scaffolding. 

Although rare, phenolic boards can be used in construction works as well. Some contractors use it to create cement forms. It may not be the best material, but its smooth surfaces prevent the cement from sticking to it and works just right. 

Advantages and Disadvantages

Phenolic plywood also has pros and cons. Here are a few to take note of.

Durability. Phenolic boards are highly resistant to cracks, scratches, and splitting thanks to their synthetic coating. It is fire-resistant too and is not prone to rotting, which makes it better than plywood. 
Repels water. The material is also highly resistant to moisture and any type of liquid thanks, again, to its coating which is a phenolic resin. And because it is non-porous unlike plywood, it is not prone to rotting and molds. 
Safe to use. Phenolic resin plywood is a great material too if you prioritize safety in your home or workplace. The boards are built as a non-microbial and non-absorbent material, which can naturally repel bacteria, fungi, and even mildew buildup.
Natural coloration. Phenolic boards are also available in a wide range of colors. And since its tint is natural, it can last for years as long as you properly take care of it. 
May still absorb water. While the material is proven to be highly resistant to water and moisture, it does not mean it is waterproof. As explained above, the veneers of the boards are the only parts that are coated in phenolic resin, leaving the edges open and unprotected.
Cannot be painted. Using phenolic boards may want you to ditch the chance to paint it with colors you like. Regular paints do not bond well with their smooth surface. And although special paints may work, they will not last long as the paint usually peels off on its own eventually.

Cost and Shelf Life of Phenolic Plywood

There are several factors that could affect its life. But on average, phenolic plywood can last for at least 20 years—or more if properly maintained. When it comes to pricing, its value depends largely on the type of board. Although a standard phenolic panel costs the same as high quality hardwood and marine-grade wood.

Different Types of Phenolic Plywood 

There are several kinds of phenolic plywood on the market today. Aside from it having a distinct natural coloration, manufacturers also began to develop boards that cater to specific functions or purposes.  

To give you an overview, phenolic boards come in seven different colors. You will find boards in yellow, red, dark brown, light brown, natural wood brown, green, and black. Although take note that some stores offer two kinds of colors only—mostly brown and black. 

When it comes to specialized phenolic plywood, the boards are developed differently. Some are made of fine and high-quality wood while others were integrated with modern technologies to fit specific functions. A few examples are phenolic film faced plywood and phenolic faced birch. 

Here’s how they differ.

Phenolic film-faced plywood is specialized plywood developed to be used for concrete shuttering. Its surface is covered with impregnated paper made from natural wood pulp and cotton linter—a high-quality veneer with superior water absorption and liquid-retaining properties—rather than phenolic resin. The material also makes the panel highly resistant to water, chemicals, and moisture.

The veneers are hot-pressed onto each surface of the board to make the material smooth as well as non-absorbent. The edges are also sealed, which standard phenolic plywood typically doesn’t have.

Unlike film-faced plywood, which is designed for a particular purpose, phenolic-faced birch is standard phenolic plywood but with a core that is made from high-grade birch wood. Its edges are sealed as well with acrylic paint to prevent water and moisture from penetrating the insides of the material.

Phenolic Plywood Alternatives 

Phenolic plywood is quite expensive and difficult to find in the U.S. If you want the same quality but at a different price and is accessible, consider the following alternatives.

Medium-density Fiberboard (MDF)

Another engineered wood plank, medium-density fiberboard or MDF is a material created by combining wood fibers using high-grade adhesive. It is way cheaper than a phenolic-coated ply and is environmentally friendly. It is not prone to termite infestation as well since the material is manufactured with chemicals that can repel insects. 

The only disadvantage is that MDF is not as durable as phenolic resin plywood. How tough and reliable the product is also dependent on the adhesive that was used. Thus, expect MDF products with different physical properties and durability. 

Polyurethane Board

Polyurethane plank is another great alternative for phenolic boards as both products provide almost the same quality and characteristics. Marine-grade and high-quality hardwood are recognized as the closest product that is similar to phenolic boards. However, they are not as cheap as polyurethane boards.

Polyurethane board is a material made of polyurethane—a synthetic material also known as plastic. It is a lightweight and fairly durable type of plank. It is the closest product similar to phenolic plywood because it repels water and moisture effectively thanks to polyurethane.

And because it is a non-porous material, the chance for it to rot or split is low.

The only difference is that polyurethane plywood is budget-friendly. It may not be as durable as phenolic boards but adding fiberglass as its veneers may add toughness to it. 

Particle Board

Particle board is the cheapest alternative you can substitute for phenolic plywood. The board is made of wood particles and is essentially a recycled material. The particle board may be cheap. But it is not that reliable durability-wise. It is, in fact, commonly used for design and aesthetics rather than structural work.

Phenolic Plywood Suppliers

Phenolic boards are mostly manufactured by Scandinavian companies as the birchwood used for the material is out of Scandinavian birch. It is popular in European countries but has since gaining popularity in the U.S. for the past few years.

There are now several manufacturers of phenolic plywood across the U.S. Some provide metric sizes while others follow the country’s standard sizing. Custom cut boards are available as well. 


Editorial Contributors
avatar for Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield is an experienced writer specializing in home improvement topics. He has a passion for educating and empowering homeowners to make informed decisions about their properties. Matt's writing focuses on a range of topics, including windows, flooring, HVAC, and construction materials. With a background in construction and home renovation, Matt is well-versed in the latest trends and techniques in the industry. His articles offer practical advice and expert insights that help readers tackle their home improvement projects with confidence. Whether you're a DIY enthusiast or a seasoned professional, Matt's writing is sure to provide valuable guidance and inspiration.

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