About the only times I buy material at a big box home center are when I need something in a hurry for the house, or I’m working on an “I Can Do That” project for the magazine. For the June 2011 issue I built some simple bookcases and used 1/4″ thick plywood for the backs. I didn’t pay much attention to the actual thickness, I set the rabbet cutter on my router a little deeper than the thickness of the plywood without measuring. This week I’ve been making drawers for a project that’s been on the back burner for a while and when it came time to put in the bottoms I decided to use the leftover plywood. I thought it would be a good idea to measure the thickness of the plywood so I could size the grooves accordingly. What I found surprised me. It was like seeing a flock of passenger pigeons flying by, or a British car that doesn’t leak oil. I found a piece of quarter-inch plywood that not only was 1/4″ thick, it was actually over sized. After cleaning my glasses and zeroing out my calipers to be certain, I showed my find to Glen and Chris. Neither of them could remember ever seeing such a thing.
Plywood is an excellent example of a product that has been turned into a commodity and value-engineered to the point of worthlessness. No, it isn’t because they’re selling metric sizes now or any other excuses you might hear. Making the stuff thinner costs less and making it overseas out of anything with leaves has been the trend for the last several years. Somehow, in the midst of this, at least one sheet of plywood was recently made the thickness stated on the label. The outer veneers were relatively thick, and the sheet as a whole was flat.
I’ve done almost every task imaginable in 30-plus years of woodworking, but today I did something I don’t remember ever doing; I planed a piece of 1/4″ plywood so it would fit in a 1/4″ groove. Of course I only had enough to do a few of the drawers, so I headed back to the big box store, where they didn’t have a trace of this magical plywood. I’m thinking of framing some of the little pieces I have left over. I’ll also hang on to a couple just to prove that this really happened.