If you’re dealing with plywood scraps, you’re probably wondering, can you burn plywood? Since it’s thin and lightweight, many people think that burning plywood isn’t a harmful practice. Like medium-density fiberboard (MDF), plywood is engineered wood packed with chemicals. When burned in a fireplace, such chemicals can release fumes that could be harmful to your health.
Below, I discuss how plywood materials are made, what’s in them, and what you can do instead of burning the material.
How plywood materials are constructed
To understand the risk of burning plywood, we should first know how it’s made in the first place.
Plywood is an engineered construction material made of wood veneer layers glued on top of each other. But unlike MDF, plywood has its wood grain rotated by about 90 degrees. It’s then pressed to create a flat and durable sheet of wood.
Usually, plywood can be made of soft or hardwood, depending on where it’s going to be used. Still, the likes of redwood, cedar, and pine are the most common in the market.
There is also the so-called composite plywood, which has a particle board in the middle. Particleboards are wood chips, and glue pressed together to create a solid material.
Whatever the material is, all plywood materials are treated with a variety of adhesives. One of the widely used plywood adhesives nowadays is phenol-formaldehyde resin, which is characterized by its strong odor. It’s also used as a binder on a wide range of wood products.
Phenol-formaldehyde resin is a very strong type of adhesive, although the off-gassing is also intense. It’s also where the problem of burning plywood comes in.
The phenol-formaldehyde resin has a strong flame retardance. It means that it doesn’t combust easily. This is why plywood takes longer to burn than non-treated wood. Aside from the residual formaldehyde it emits, this adhesive will also release toxic gasses when burned.
Take note that such toxic gasses are very dangerous when the plywood is burned indoors, say your fireplace.
Other plywood materials are glued using soybean protein, but this isn’t as common as phenol-formaldehyde resin. Also, there is a plywood version with a metal, plastic, or fabric layer incorporate into its layers. It depends on the project where it’s intended for use.
Why you should avoid burning plywood
As mentioned, plywood is a concoction of wood, glue, and other artificial materials. Burning all of these will cause the production of toxic gasses. Even before burning, residual formaldehyde is already present due to the adhesive used during production. As a volatile organic compound (VOC), formaldehyde is classified as a human carcinogen.
Aside from that, many U.S. states prohibit the open burning of construction materials. Each state also has rules about which type of wood you can burn.
For example, in the state of Vermont, it’s prohibited to burn any pressure-treated wood like plywood. This is under the Vermont Air Pollution Regulations, which aim to prevent pollution and forest fires. The likes of Virginia and North Carolina also have similar rules in place.
Overall, the authorities are concerned about the low-temperature burning of pressure-treated wood like plywood. It’s because such manner of combustion can result in the production of high levels of formaldehyde.
Aside from that, some plywood products are cured with ammonium chloride. This substance helps speeds up the curing of the glue used during production. When burned, ammonium chloride can release dioxin, a highly toxic fume.
What can you do with plywood scraps?
If you can’t burn plywood, what else can you do to get rid of it? While throwing it to a landfill seems to be the most convenient choice, there are alternatives you can explore. Here are some of the options you can consider:
One of the easiest projects you can make out of scrap plywood is candle holders. This is a good idea if you only have small slabs of plywood left.
Basically, you’ll cut small plywood circles, much like ‘plywood cookies’, using a hole saw. A 2.5” size would be just fine.
Next, you’ll glue all the plywood circles on top of each other and clamp them for the adhesive to set. Once the glue is dry, you simply need to drill a hole in the middle using a hole saw. This is where you’re going to place the candle. After sanding and finishing, you now have a stylish candle holder.
2. Decorative boxes
If you have a lot of scrap plywood, you can turn them into storage boxes that you can place on open shelves. I suggest measuring the shelf slot to ensure that the box you’re making will fit nicely.
Once you’ve cut the sides of the box, nail all the boards together. You can use a staple gun or a manual hammer. After that, you can paint or varnish the plywood box as you wish. You can also create a matching lid if you have more materials left.
3. Corbel shelf
Another functional item you can make out of scrap plywood is Corbel shelves. All you need is a long piece of scrap plywood, and you’ll have a new shelf to add to your wall.
You’re free to choose the length and width of the shelf based on the plywood you have. A chippy piece of old plywood siding would be great. You can even retain its worn-out look for a rustic vibe. Nevertheless, you can always paint or varnish it as you wish.
4. Clipping board
Are you running a shop? You can make clipping boards out of plywood scraps. This comes in handy when taking orders or securing receipts you need later.
At home, you can make a big clipping board to hang on the wall. You can use this as a photo board or a spot to post reminders.
Aside from that, you can make picture frames out of plywood scraps. This way, you can make your family portraits more personalized.
5. Wood coasters
If you have small pieces of plywood, drink coasters are a good idea to upcycle the scraps. First, you need to cut the plywood to strips, preferably 100 mm wide and around 18 mm thick. After that, you’ll glue the strips in alternating grain for added flair.
Next, clamp it and let the adhesive set. The last step is to sand your DIY coasters to remove burrs and treat it with some linseed oil. Voila! You now have a classy drink coaster from scrap plywood.
6. DIY tray
DIY TV trays are a great way to repurpose scrap plywood sheets. You first have to sand the tray base, which size you’re free to choose. Once the plywood material is smooth, you can apply your preferred stain. You can also finish it with a sealant to prevent rot.
Lastly, you just have to install cabinet pulls on each side. And just like that, you have a stylish TV tray that you can use to bring snacks on your next movie night.
7. Plywood letters
If you’re fond of arts and crafts, you can turn plywood scraps into stylish letters. It can be your monogram or any decorative initials you want.
First, you need to create an outline for the letters, which you’ll trace on the plywood. Once you’re done tracing, start cutting using a jigsaw with a thin, sharp blade. This will let you handle curves on the lettering quite easier.
After that, you can paint the letters with the color or stain you like!
Can you use plywood for firewood?
You should never use plywood as firewood or as fuel for anything. As treated wood, plywood is packed with adhesive and curing chemicals that will emit toxic gasses when burned. It can also contaminate food if used as fuel for wood stoves.
Does plywood burn easily?
Plywood burns slowly at low temperatures, which makes it even more dangerous. Lighting up plywood manually will take it longer to fully combust since it’s treated with a flame retardant. This is why it’s highly discouraged to burn plywood materials, even in an outdoor setting.
Is it safe to burn plywood in a fire pit?
Usually, a few pieces of plywood won’t cause harm when burned in an open fire pit. However, various localities have strict rules prohibiting the burning of pressure-treated wood materials. You’re better off repurposing the plywood material than standing the risk of exposure to harmful fumes.
Does plywood make good kindling?
Plywood should never be used as kindling or fuel for any purpose. It doesn’t burn fast, and it’s treated with chemicals that will emit various gasses when burned. It’s best to use dried twigs and sticks as kindling to prevent this hazard.
Can you burn plywood? The safe answer is no. This construction material is made using artificial adhesives and curing substances that are harmful when combusted. If you have plywood scraps, it’s best to repurpose them into useful crafts, just like the ones I listed above. You can also bring them to recycling centers accepting pressure-treated wood if you don’t have the time for DIY projects.
Do you have anything to add to this post? Share your thoughts below!