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Market conditions for high-end plywood and sheet goods haven’t improved much, particularly for the two similar species of imported Baltic and Russian birches, according to suppliers interviewed by Woodshop News. These birches, considered top rate by many cabinetmakers, have skyrocketed in price and are in short supply.

“Pricing for sheet goods and plywoods in past year-and-half have gone nuts,” says Josh Nozick at Freehold Timbers in Timonium, Md. “Lumber’s gone up, but the sheet goods, it’s insane what’s happened with those. Particularly Baltic birch plywood. It’s a multi-ply with more plies per given thickness and birch all the way through, essentially void free, much stronger than cabinet-grade plywood, and very stable. For years, we were retailing 3/4” thick 5’ x 5’ Baltic birch for $61 a sheet. Today it’s $145. It’s crazy.”

Scott Roberts of Roberts Plywood in Deer Park, N.Y., says wood market prices, in general, are constantly changing. “Pricing’s been variable. Some of it’s gone up, some of it’s been going down. Veneer prices are less volatile than lumber pricing. Lumber pricing changes every two weeks, but veneer doesn’t change that much. Stuff like white oak has been going up, where something like cherry has gone down, but not much,” says Roberts.

“I do see some price changes. One item that’s really a staple product that a lot of guys use for building things in the shop is Russian birch. Well, the Russian birch has gone up because Washington put a 50 percent tariff on all Russian goods.

“Domestic plywood, it’s come down, but only a little. Lumber prices change more. The big thing was the freight costs with diesel fuel going up. You’ve got to get it here. There’s a lot we bring in by rail, but even locomotives run on diesel, so the rail pricing went up for product we buy out of the West Coast and Canada. I buy a lot out plywood out of Italy, Finland, Germany, Spain, and that’s gone up quite a bit because ocean freight costs have gone up.”

Dave Norman at Parkerville Wood Products in Manchester, Conn., say availability is affecting the plywood market for certain types and species.

“Plywood prices have gone up dramatically over the last two years, and there’s been supply issues that we’ve experience for the different MDFs, and then the Baltic birch. It has had its ups and downs,” says Norman.

“The price for Baltic has probably doubled in two years, and it’s been very scarce obviously with what’s coming out of Ukraine and the war. So, about a month and a half ago, most of our vendors were telling us they couldn’t get it anymore. The reason being is the tariffs from our government, [which] was around 50 percent. Then when you figure out what the cost of the containers were. Pre-Covid, the containers were $3,000, and then we were hearing the containers were going all the way up to $20,000 and $30,000, just for the container. All of that is driving the prices up, plus the supply and demand.”

Norman adds he’s heard stories about people seeking substitutes for Baltic birch only to find the quality is subpar or that there are other political issues with transporting it. He calls it one of the best plywoods out there for cabinet [which] was around 50 percent. Then when you figure out what the cost of the containers were. Pre-Covid, the containers were $3,000, and then we were hearing the containers were going all the way up to $20,000 and $30,000, just for the container. All of that is driving the prices up, plus the supply and demand.”

Norman adds he’s heard stories about people seeking substitutes for Baltic birch only to find the quality is subpar or that there are other political issues with transporting it. He calls it one of the best plywoods out there for cabinetmakers.

“Baltic birch, 3mm, is highly used in the CNC world, especially for laser carving, and there are not a lot of great substitutes. Also 5/8” is a common size for drawer boxes. The Baltic is just a beautiful product people use for so many things. I’ve got one guy that uses it for climbing walls and says there’s nothing like it with the holding strength. The price has gone up so much, it’s subduing the demand for the product. The stock we are sitting on is pricey. We’re still moving it but it’s not flying out of here because it’s so expensive.” 

This article was originally published in the January 2023 issue.

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