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OSB vs.

Plywood
by Nick Gromicko

Oriented strand board (OSB) and plywood are wood


structural panels made by compressing and gluing
pieces of wood together. While OSB and plywood
appear similar and are generally interchangeable, the
different ways that each material is manufactured
contribute to each having its own unique strengths and
weaknesses.

What are they, and how are


they made?
OSB is manufactured from heat-
cured adhesives and
rectangular- shaped wood strands that are arranged in
cross-oriented layers. Produced in large, continuous
mats, OSB is a solid-panel product of consistent quality
with few voids or gaps. The finished product is an
engineered wood panel that shares many of the
strength and performance characteristics of plywood.
Plywood is made from thin sheets of veneer (layers of
wood that are peeled from a spinning log) that are
cross-laminated and glued together with a hot press.
Throughout the thickness of the panel, the grain of each
layer is positioned perpendicular to the adjacent layer.
The finished product is made from an odd number of
layers so that a balance is
maintained around its
central access. Since it is made
from whole layers of logs rather
than small strands, plywood has
a more consistent and less rough appearance than
OSB.
A few facts about OSB and plywood:
 While OSB developed fairly recently, it became
more popular than plywood in North America by
2000. Today, nearly twice as much OSB as
plywood is produced in North America.
 Outside of North America, OSB is not commonly
used in construction. In 2005, the combined
production of OSB in Europe and Latin America
was just 3.5 billion square feet – less than seven
times as much as was produced in North America
that year.
 While both products are made from different
materials, and some builders strongly prefer one or
the other, OSB and plywood are both manufactured
according to the same performance standards.
 OSB can be made from narrower, faster growing
trees than plywood.
In favor of OSB:
 OSB can be
manufactured into
panels that are larger
than plywood.
 OSB is more
uniform, so there are
fewer soft spots, such as those that can occur in
plywood.
 OSB is less expensive than plywood. To build a
typical 2,400-square foot home, OSB may cost
$700 less than plywood.
 OSB is considered by many to be a “green”
building material because it can be made from
smaller-diameter trees, such as poplars, that are
often farmed. Plywood production, by contrast,
requires larger-diameter trees from old-growth
forests.
 Plywood has a tendency to delaminate, especially
in hot climates such as Florida.
In favor of plywood:
 While plywood and OSB both off-gas
formaldehyde, OSB off-gasses more of the
carcinogenic gas. Plywood, OSB, and other
engineered wood products that contain glue can be
stored outdoors for several weeks before
construction so that much of the dangerous gasses
are vented safely into the outdoors.
 OSB weighs more than plywood. One 23/32-inch
4x8-foot plywood piece weighs approximately
67 pounds, while a
piece of OSB of the
same dimensions
weighs
approximately
78 pounds. The
increased weight of
OSB means that it is
harder to install and it
will put more stress on the house.
 Compared to plywood, OSB swells more when it
comes into contact with water, especially at panel
edges. Swell is generally greater in OSB than in
plywood due to the release of compaction stress in
OSB created during the pressing of wood chips into
panels. Swollen plywood will return to its nominal
thickness as the wood dries, while OSB will remain
permanently swollen, to some degree. Swelling is a
nuisance because it can uplift whatever materials
lie above, such as tile or carpet.
 Plywood floors are stiffer than OSB floors by a
factor of approximately 10%. As a result, OSB
floors are more likely to:

o squeak due to floor movement;


o cause hard floor surfaces to crack (such as
tile); and
o result in soft, spongy floors.
 Nails and screws are more likely to remain in place
more firmly in plywood than in OSB.
 OSB retains water longer than plywood does,
which makes decay more likely in OSB than in
plywood. Of course, tree species plays a large role
in this determination. OSB made from aspen or
poplar is relatively susceptible to decay. In one of
the biggest consumer class-action lawsuits ever,
Louisiana-Pacific (LP), a building materials
manufacturer, was forced to pay $375 million to
75,000 homeowners who complained of decaying
OSB in their homes.
InterNACHI Note: Much of the information above that
favors plywood over OSB is summarized from a study
by Georgia-Pacific, a building materials manufacturer.
While Georgia-Pacific manufactures both materials and
thus has no obvious bias, the study does not state
whether it compared multiple brands of OSB and
plywood or merely their own.

In summary, OSB and plywood, while used for the same


purposes, perform somewhat differently.