Luan plywood – made from trees found almost exclusively in the Philippines – is an incredibly popular building material, but might not be the best thing in the world to use in outdoor applications.
As any builder and contractor with years of experience will tell you, Luan plywood is generally not suitable for outdoor projects due to its lack of water resistance and durability.
We dig a little deeper into Luan plywood, what it is and how it’s made, and whether not you should be using it in outdoor projects below!
What is Luana Plywood?
Luan plywood is a type of thin plywood made from the wood of the Lauan tree, also known as the Philippine mahogany. It is often used for decorative purposes and is not intended for outdoor use. It is not water-resistant and is prone to rot and decay when exposed to the elements.
Luan plywood is made by peeling thin layers or “plies” of wood from the trunk of the Lauan tree. The plies are then glued together with the grain of each ply running in opposite directions, which gives the plywood added strength and stability.
The plies are typically about 1/8 inch thick and are arranged in alternating layers, with the grain of each layer running perpendicular to the one beneath it. This cross-graining technique helps to reduce the plywood’s tendency to warp or split and makes it more resistant to cracking and splitting.
Once the plies have been glued together, the resulting panel is typically pressed under high heat and pressure to ensure that the glue bonds are strong and the panel is flat and smooth. The panel is then cut to size and sanded to remove any rough edges or imperfections.
Luan plywood is generally not as strong or durable as other types of plywood, such as oak or birch plywood, and is not suitable for structural use. Even sealed, stained, or painted Luan plywood is still likely going to disappoint you (big time) if you are using it in projects where it will be exposed to the elements.
Properties of Luan Plywood
While Luan plywood might not be the best material for structural purposes or outdoor applications, there’s a bunch of reasons builders love to use this material.
Here’s a quick rundown of the most beneficial properties of Luan plywood:
- Lightweight: One of the main benefits of Luan plywood is that it is very lightweight, making it easy to handle and transport. This makes it a good choice for projects where weight is a concern, such as in the construction of lightweight furniture or craft projects.
- Easy to work with: Luan plywood is relatively soft and easy to cut, drill, and shape, making it suitable for projects where precision and fine detail are important. It is also easy to paint or finish, which makes it a popular choice for decorative projects.
- Affordable: Luan plywood is generally less expensive than other types of plywood, which makes it a cost-effective choice for many projects. It is widely available and can often be purchased in large quantities at a discounted price.
Luan Plywood’s Suitability for Outdoor Use
One of the main reasons why Luan plywood is not suitable for outdoor use is that it is not water-resistant. It is made from the wood of the Lauan tree, which is not naturally resistant to moisture and can easily absorb water.
When exposed to water or high humidity, Luan plywood can become swollen, warped, and weakened, which can compromise the integrity of the structure.
Additionally, Luan plywood is not very durable and is prone to rot and decay when exposed to the elements. It is not as strong or dense as other types of plywood, such as oak or birch plywood, and is not suitable for structural use. It is also more prone to splitting and cracking when subjected to changes in temperature and humidity.
Overall, while Luan plywood may be suitable for some indoor projects or in covered outdoor areas where it is protected from the elements, it is generally not a good choice for outdoor projects due to its lack of water resistance and durability.
Alternatives to Luan Plywood for Outdoor Applications
There are several alternative building materials that are more suitable for outdoor projects than Luan plywood. Some options include:
- Pressure-treated plywood: Pressure-treated plywood is treated with chemicals to protect against rot and decay, making it more suitable for outdoor use. It is also resistant to insects and is more durable than Luan plywood.
- Marine-grade plywood: Marine-grade plywood is designed for use in wet or humid environments and is highly resistant to water and moisture. It is also treated with chemicals to protect against rot and decay, making it a good choice for outdoor projects.
- Composite lumber: Composite lumber is a type of wood-plastic hybrid material that is made from recycled plastic and wood fibers. It is resistant to rot, insects, and moisture and is a good alternative to wood for outdoor projects.
- PVC: PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is a synthetic plastic material that is highly resistant to water, rot, and insects. It is a good alternative to wood for outdoor projects and is often used to make decking and other outdoor structures.
- Aluminum: Aluminum is a lightweight, corrosion-resistant metal that is a good alternative to wood for outdoor projects. It is strong and durable and is often used to make outdoor structures, such as decks and patio covers.
Tips for Protecting Plywood from the Elements
If you absolutely need to use Luan plywood for an outdoor project, you should take steps to protect it from the elements in order to extend its lifespan and prevent it from rotting or decaying. Some options for protecting Luan plywood from the outdoor elements might include:
- Use a sealant: Applying a clear sealant to the surface of the Luan plywood can help to protect it from water and moisture. This is especially important if the plywood will be exposed to rain or other forms of precipitation.
- Use a protective coating: Applying a protective coating, such as a paint or stain, can help to protect the Luan plywood from the sun’s UV rays and other weathering effects. This is especially important if the plywood will be exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods of time.
- Use a roof or other form of overhead protection: Providing overhead protection, such as a roof or awning, can help to keep the Luan plywood dry and protected from the elements. This is especially important if the plywood will be exposed to rain or other forms of precipitation.
- Use a vapor barrier: Installing a vapor barrier, such as a layer of plastic sheeting, under the Luan plywood can help to prevent moisture from accumulating and causing rot or decay. This is especially important if the plywood will be used in a damp or humid environment.
When you get right down to it, there’s a ton of different projects that can be made with Luan as the main building material – but almost none of them should be left outdoors exposed to the wind, weather, and humidity.
This just isn’t a material made for that kind of “heavy lifting”, so to speak.
If you do have to use Luan – for one reason or another – take steps to shield and protect that material as much as possible from Mother Nature. Even then you should know that your project is being built on borrowed time, though.