A Guide to Sheet Materials

by Joe Fisher on June 11, 2024

When it comes to construction and DIY projects, choosing the right sheet material is crucial.

Here, we explore various types of sheet materials, including OSB, Magply, plywood (hardwood and softwood), flooring boards, Cemboard, and tileback. We’ll also answer some common questions to help you make informed decisions for your projects.


Types of Sheet Materials

  • OSB (Oriented Strand Board):
    • Composed of wood strands bonded with resin.
    • Used for wall sheathing, roofing, and subflooring.
  • Magply:
    • Made from magnesium oxide.
    • Fire-resistant, impact-resistant, and suitable for external and internal use.
  • Plywood (Hardwood and Softwood):
    • Hardwood: Made from deciduous trees like birch and oak; strong and durable.
    • Softwood: Made from coniferous trees like pine; lighter and less dense.
  • Flooring Board:
    • Designed specifically for flooring applications.
    • Often tongue-and-groove for easy installation and stability.
  • Cemboard:
    • Cement-bonded particle board.
    • Moisture-resistant and suitable for external cladding and internal lining.
  • Tileback:
    • Backer board used behind tiles in wet areas like bathrooms and kitchens.
    • Water-resistant and provides a stable base for tiling.


Best Sheet Material for Shelving

  • Plywood (Hardwood):
    • Offers strength and durability.
    • Can handle significant weight without sagging.

How to Work Out How Many Sheets You Need

  1. Measure the Area:
    • Determine the total square footage of the area you need to cover.
  2. Calculate Sheet Coverage:
    • Most sheet materials come in standard sizes (e.g., 4x8 feet). Calculate the coverage per sheet.
  3. Factor in Waste:
    • Add 10-15% extra to account for cuts and waste.

How to Break Down a Plywood Sheet

  • Tools Needed:
    • Circular saw, table saw, or hand saw.
  • Steps:
    1. Measure and mark the cutting lines.
    2. Use a straight edge to guide your saw.
    3. Cut slowly to avoid splintering.

Best Plywood Alternatives

  • MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard):
    • Smooth and uniform, ideal for painting.
  • Particle Board:
    • Economical, but not as strong as plywood.
  • Cemboard:
    • Great for areas exposed to moisture.

How to Prevent Sheet Materials from Warping

  • Store Flat:
    • Store sheets flat and off the ground.
  • Climate Control:
    • Keep in a dry, stable environment.
  • Seal Edges:
    • Seal the edges to prevent moisture absorption.

How to Cut Sheets

  • Tools:
    • Use a circular saw, jigsaw, or hand saw.
  • Techniques:
    • Measure and mark accurately.
    • Use a straight edge or guide to ensure straight cuts.


Sheet Material FAQs

What is the best Sheet Material for Bookshelves?

  • Plywood (Hardwood):

    • Strong, durable, and aesthetically pleasing.

Does It Need to Go on Top of Floorboards?

  • Yes:

    • It is often recommended to install sheet materials like plywood or tileback on top of existing floorboards for added stability.

How to Treat Sheet Materials Outdoors

  • Sealants and Paints:

    • Use exterior-grade sealants and paints to protect against weather.

  • Proper Installation:

    • Ensure proper installation to avoid water ingress.

What's the Shelf Life?

  • Indefinite:

    • If stored properly in a dry, controlled environment.

How Do the Grades Work?

  • Plywood Grades:

    • A-A: Highest quality, smooth surfaces, suitable for finishes.

    • A-B: One good side and one side with minor defects.

    • B-C: Lower quality, often used where one side is not visible.

  • OSB and Other Materials:

    • Graded based on structural integrity and moisture resistance.

By understanding these key aspects of sheet materials, you can select the best options for your projects and ensure successful outcomes.