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Thread: Why use Baltic Birch ply over others?

  1. #1

    Why use Baltic Birch ply over others?

    This question comes from being a newbie to the WW scene, I'm still planning out all the projects I want to do over the winter and and also building a list of jigs and such I will need to complete these projects, and I've noticed that most plans/people make them with Baltic Birch plywood. Why would I use this over other type of plywood or MDF? Examples of what I will be making are box joint jig, extension table for my small bench top table saw, cross cut sled, bandsaw resaw jig, possibly a router table and maybe some adjustable in/out feed supports for longer stock.

  2. #2
    The reason I use Baltic birch on many projects is due to the quality. It is much higher than the standard cabinet grade material one can purchase. More plys, fewer if any voids, and usually one face is beautiful with the other possibly having patches.

    Only thing to adjust your thinking on is the BB I buy is 5' square, not the usual 4X8.

    Doug

  3. #3
    Join Date
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    The consitence of the layers is better in balti birch then in standard plywood(just take a glance at the edge of the sheets...see all those voids on the standard sheet....that can be bad news if it ends up right where you need to drill a hole or fasten something). I often use the birch ply you can pick up Depot or Lowes....I don't belive this is considered Baltic birch...but it works very well.

    mdf is not a bad option...it heavy, flat but I dislike the way it reacts when useing fasteners(though there are fastners specific to mdf that help).

  4. #4
    Join Date
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    Stability and strength relative to other types of plywood is the short answer. Many cheaper sheets of plywood are constructed with seven or fewer plys; baltic birch typically has 11 plys - sometimes more - which helps create a more stable sheet of plywood. Also, cheaper plies contain voids whereas baltic birch is generally void free. I've seen inexpensive chinese core poplar ply that begins to curl almost as soon as it is cut. IIRC, there is a nice article in one of the current woodworking magazines that goes over the various qualities and features of plywood. If I remember the name of the magazine, I'll post its name. MDF is heavier, creates a fine dust that is more dangerous than plywood dust (not that you should spend time breathing fine dust particles of any variety), is not as strong as plywood in certain applications, and doesn't hold screws as well, to name the disadvantages relative to ply that immediately come to my mind. That said, many woodworkers use MDF for jigs because it is very stable and easy to machine; I suspect more jigs are made out of MDF than plywood but that's just an impression based on nothing more than casual observation.

    Steve

  5. #5
    As the others have already said, BB is much nicer. Given that I am using Birch plywood an many projects and some just regular fir plywood. Key is to buy flat as possible. I bought several 2 X 2 and 2 x4 squares of birch at home depot which are cutoffs of other scrap I am sure. Once it is cut that way small it shold move any more and should be stable. I had a piece of fir curl up. I would rather use plywood than mdf for bases of jigs as it is harder on saw blades and it is a mess. You have to be carefull of mdf as well, it is easy to find bowed mdf as well.
    Corey

  6. #6

    Baltic Birch

    I stopped using Baltic Birch and switched to Apple Ply. I needed fractional dimensions on the thickness for a project I frequently build. I also like the smoother surface finish of Apple Ply. It so far has had fewer voids than I experienced with Baltic Birch.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Don Naples
    I stopped using Baltic Birch and switched to Apple Ply. I needed fractional dimensions on the thickness for a project I frequently build. I also like the smoother surface finish of Apple Ply. It so far has had fewer voids than I experienced with Baltic Birch.
    The first time I heard of apple ply was on David Mark's woodworks show. I think next time I need ply I will check on the price of each BB or apple ply

  8. #8
    Join Date
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    Ft. Thomas, KY
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    I've been using BB for years, but have watched the quality drop off dramatically in the past few years. Ten years ago, 99% of the sheets I bought were void free, warped extremley little when cut, and had high quality surface veneers. Lately, the BB I've been using has had mutiple voids, has warped pretty badly when cut (relative to the BB from ten years ago), and the surface veneer splinters far too easily. A couple differnet wood sources have told me that it's been downhill quality-wise since the breakup of the Soviet Union. In case you didn't know, BB comes from Russia.

    I'm trying to switch to apple ply (which I used years ago in CA), but have not been able to locate a local source.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Naples
    I stopped using Baltic Birch and switched to Apple Ply. I needed fractional dimensions on the thickness for a project I frequently build. I also like the smoother surface finish of Apple Ply. It so far has had fewer voids than I experienced with Baltic Birch.
    I would love to use Appleply but it is not stocked by any supplier in my area. They all offer to special order it but the minimum order is a full unit which is way too much for me.
    Steve

  10. #10
    I gave up on BB for drawers sides. The quality just isn't there anymore. Plugs, filler, warped, etc.
    I finally went with pre-finished birch drawer side material.


  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Rowe
    I would love to use Appleply but it is not stocked by any supplier in my area. They all offer to special order it but the minimum order is a full unit which is way too much for me.
    Steve
    Their website about ApplePly is http://www.statesind.com/prod/ind_2a2.html
    You can can see where they have distribution and other products they make including some prestained and topcoated. From the looks of the website, it appears they are developing a retailer location list. For disrtibution they ask for your zip code. (No connection to them, other than using one of their products.)

  12. #12
    Join Date
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    Baltic Birch is my sheet good of choice. This stuff comes in metric thickness and in sizes about 5 feet by 5 feet. The material I get is excellent and has the quality I need to do a good job and to keep from repairing other folks mistakes which I often dont get paid to do.

    Why use BB for jigs and tooling aides? Well first of all, its very stable and flat. This is important in making something like a cross cut sled or mitre jig, etc. Second, the laminations are consistant and glued nicely. This allows one to edge detail BB which you really cannot do with most ply products. This includes using box joints or dovetails on BB drawer sides or, as in my case, cutting full bore lock mitres along the edge.

    Also, MDF cannot hold a screw if its life depended on it. That is my poltically correct way of saying this! When making jigs such as shaper jigs, you need to hold the blank into the jig. This is esp true when your freehand shaping parts on an industrial shaper with a massive 4 knife cutter head and guide bearing. Mess up here, and you may get the nickname Lefty. So to hold things inplace, the standard clamp is the DeStaco clamp and these are held to the jig with wood screws. YOU DONT WANT THESE PULLING OUT! THAT WOULD BE VERY BAD!

    The effort of making the part is partly layout and partly finish work. By making a neat jig, you do the layout once and your parts are now faster to make and massively more consistent. Certain jigs are used over and over and over again. These often get a special hook on the wall. They are also made to be permanent with varnish finish, waxed table guides and destaco clamps. Why would try to use MDF for such an item?

    Baltic birch is a multi layer birch plywood with many very thin, high quality laminations. Lately, the ex chech countries and the former USSR are getting into the market and they are selling a product called Russian Birch. What makes it a bit different is that you can get it in 4 by 8 sheets. I recently bought several sheets of it and noticed that the birch was a bit stained. For substate use, this is fine. But if you using the birch as is and just finishing it with say varnish, this staining would not be very good. Overall, its good stuff but not as fine as the true baltic birch.

    There is a US version of baltic birch as well. Its called ApplePly. This is a trade mark name and has nothing to do with using actual apple wood. Its called ApplePly because its made in the US and its as american as apply pie. This too is often available in 4 by 8 sheets.

    Right now, I purchase almost exclusively stanard 5x5 baltic birch from my supplier. The quality is high and the service great and it affects my price structure for everything else I buy. It would be nice to work with the 4x8 sheets as they are a bit nicer to work with in terms of maximizing the cut lists, but the other factors work this out in the end. If the russian ply can improve its quality control a bit more, this would be a good substitute for baltic birch. So would ApplePly but its not carried by enough end dealers to make this a viable threat.

    Hope this helps. You will truely enjoy working with baltic birch ply.
    Had the dog not stopped to go to the bathroom, he would have caught the rabbit.

  13. #13
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    Like Dev, I use BB for jigs. I rarely use plywood for any other purpose, given the styles which are my preference. In terms of cost, I find that BB is about 1/2 the cost of Appleply. Do others find this also? I have never used it myself because of this price diff.
    Alan Turner
    Philadelphia Furniture Workshop

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Don Naples
    Their website about ApplePly is http://www.statesind.com/prod/ind_2a2.html
    You can can see where they have distribution and other products they make including some prestained and topcoated. From the looks of the website, it appears they are developing a retailer location list. For disrtibution they ask for your zip code. (No connection to them, other than using one of their products.)
    Thanks for the link Don. I am somewhat cautious about believing that local retailers or distributors are actually stocking locations. Several years ago, I was looking for pre-finished maple plywood to build a number of store fixtures, the manufacturer put me in touch with a local distributor. When I pulled on this thread further, I found that the distributor only stocked a portion of what the manufacterer produced (none were pre-finished). To get it though, required a minimum order of 70 sheets, much more than the 18 sheets I needed. I have pretty much run into the same thing with Appleply. If anyone is aware of a stocking distributor for Appleply in Arkansas I would really like to know.

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