What Is Luan Plywood: 10 Uses For Homes, Boats, & Recreation

I remember seeing dollhouses and wall hangers made of luan plywood in some homes that I inspected. But aside from decorations, are there other uses of luan plywood?

Luan plywood surprisingly has countless uses. You can even build a home complete with basic needs by using luan plywood as a material. From flooring to countertop replacements, luan plywood can serve useful.

Luan plywood comes from tropical trees. It is sturdy and has excellent bend resistance. Yet, not all luan is equal. Luan is a general term for a family of luan mahogany plywoods. Builders have to distinguish the best grade per project. 

The Wood Database writes that there are many varieties of luan because of the different tree species used to make it. Each of these varieties has its work and strength values. It also looks different, which helps when you need to distinguish visually between the kinds. 

The general meranti luan has four shades: light red, dark red, white, and yellow. Balau is a fifth luan variety. 

Even though luan is sometimes called Philippine mahogany, it has no relation to standard mahogany. This type of mahogany comes from Swietenia and Khaya trees. Luan comes from a tropical tree called the Shorea genus is found in the rainforest. 

10 Uses Of Luan Wood 

As the debate keeps the conversation about luan going, builders and DIYers reveal the projects where they used luan. Ten projects topped popular lists. At the same time, they sparked more debate. 

1. As Underlayment For Vinyl Flooring

Possibly the most common suggested use for luan plywood, builders argue over luan underlayment. Some say to use it as a substrate piece when putting down vinyl flooring. 

Homebuilders’ guidelines give mixed opinions about using it for this purpose. Homebuilders also argue that there are better material alternatives, with some even saying to avoid luan entirely. It can be confusing for the first-time home builder. How do you know when to use luan plywood as underlayment and when not to? 

The key is to be aware of different luan grades. If you are going to use this wood, you should check for the water-resistant variety. Interior luan wood gets disqualified for outdoor flooring underlayment, such as flooring projects in home-adjacent mudrooms. Non-water resistant luan will have a high warp rate when exposed to water. 

You can stop luan warping with a few simple tricks. Ring shank nails can prevent warp. To add a new vinyl roll on top of old vinyl, use luan as a subfloor layer. Apply luan subfloors with ring shank nails. 

Note that builders say this will depend on your project. 

Vinyl Floor Underlayment Prep

Prep your vinyl floor for luan wood underlayment. Scrub the floor to remove debris. This technique comes from the best luan blog. Our friendly builder says to apply a fine layer of cement after this. 

Lay the luan sheets on the foam pad underlayment. You can staple it in place.

2. For Small Woodworking Projects 

Most people who use luan for woodworking crafts do so because it is easy to cut. Luan is cheap, which makes it the go-to craft wood for the habitual DIYer. 

Luan is the perfect plywood for dollhouses and toys. This plywood is also an ideal cabinet-making material. 

Kerfing 

Builders recommend using luan for kerfing techniques. The kerfing method uses a table saw to make parallel cuts along with the plywood that will allow it to bend in a curve. You can use this curve to wrap the luan wood around an area of a small woodworking project. Bend the wood with kerfing and fasten it in place for projects that require wood wrapping structural support

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Steaming 

Luan works well with steaming techniques. For this, you use a steam box to heat and moisturize the wood. Once the wood is pliable, place it on a mold and clamp it in place. After this, you will allow it to cool and dry. 

The hot water wood molding technique builds wood instruments and mannequins. Steaming is harder than kerfing, requiring a specialized process.

Safety note: Pliability comes with a small price. Luan wood is thin, which adds some difficulty to trimming it. Use safety guidelines when cutting this wood with die-cut tools. Be aware that there are times when the wood splinters when you use an intricate tool to shape it. Supervise children while doing luan woodwork crafts with hand tools.

3. For Parts On Small Boats 

Luan is famously resilient. Woodworkers love to use this wood for small boats such as kayaks or canoes. Boat-builders also use it for decking.

Luan also famously warps with water pressures. If you apply the tricks for warp prevention, you should be out of the woods for the most part. Still, depending on your project, you may want to seek an alternative for your boat. 

Check Your Grade 

There are varying grades of luan to consider for these types of projects. Look for luan wood that is of an outdoor or water-resistant luan.

Grabbing non-water-resistant grade luan for your boat project guarantees the boat a short lifespan.  

4. As Finishing Wood In Humid Areas

Features that make this wood a choice for boats also see it selected for the humidity-exposed house project. Use luan wood as a finishing wood for parts of your home where humidity hits the hardest. 

You will, of course, use the same rules for boat-building here. Look for luan that is water-resistant as this will live longer under humid conditions. Exterior-grade luan is the best choice for this purpose. Remember that not all grades of exterior luan are equal. Best practices ensure that you do pre-buying homework with your project area in mind. 

5. Interior Door Layering

We see lots of homebuilders recommending luan for interior door support. Builders have described luan wood as better for indoor use because of those grades that do not respond well to prolonged water exposure.

6. Furniture Backing

You always have that one favorite recliner that you never want to retire. Knowing luan is good furniture backing is good news. Luan wood can provide a flexible bit of furniture backing, reinforcement, or replacement for old furniture.

7. Drawer Bottoms

A strip of luan in the bottom of a dresser drawer adds some extra flexibility. You use luan here for the same reason you may use it as a substrate for vinyl floors. This wood can bend without breaking, empowering it to hold all of the junk or hoards of clothes in your dressers.  

8. Flexible Skateboard Ramps

One Houzz.com member used Luan to make a skateboard ramp. Luan works well for ramps because it has a high bend resilience. Skateboard tricks create friction, and luan is a flexible board that can hold up to it. With the exterior grade and a coat of oil-based paint, a skater can make the most of using this cheap plywood for a ramp project. 

9. Countertop Replacement Projects

Because it is affordable, Luan is a go-to wood for house projects and replacement needs. Countertops that need wooden reinforcement choose this wood because it is cheap. Countertop designs are sometimes tiled-over with vinyl. For this style, the luan plywood works as a substrate as it does for vinyl flooring projects. 

However, countertops see frequent fluid exposure. Aside from selecting a higher grade luan, you would also want to concentrate on getting veneer protection. 

10. Millwork Applications

Builders and DIYers swear that Luan is great feature material for your millwork. Millwork applications shape architecture, historically and into the present. These shape the character of the house or structure. 

Millwork applications fashion in mills. Wood goes through a series of techniques for moldings.

 Millwork comes in a variety of stock and custom designs. From door trim to door jambs, window casing, and other similar pieces are millwork applications. 

Luan is a flexible wood used in these applications. Luan wood has easy usability for woodworking techniques such as kerfing and steaming makes it a ready wood for millwork. 

Luan has universal uses for wherever there is a need for bendable thin wood. There are some downsides to using luan that you should be aware of before picking it for your next project. Some of these issues center around earth-friendliness. 

Is Luan Plywood Good?

Luan plywood is good for a project that recommends wood with bend capacity. Stiff boards will snap where luan will bend. Knowing the purpose of your project and where you plan to put on the wood will determine whether luan is the best material to use. 

But luan wood has one downside. Risks to rainforests go up to produce it. Major hardware retailer Home Depot was among hardware suppliers that got sued over rainforest conservation failure. The conservationist approach to using tropical trees is to replant as much forest as is used for material. 

But, seeking alternative wood sources may not be the straightforward answer to preserving rainforests. Alternative plywoods similar to luan are taken from temperate zone trees. An increase in wood sourcing from the temperate zone, without proper conservation, will lead to the same problems rainforest forestry faces when cutting down trees for luan plywood.

If you are concerned about forest-friendly wood use, you can seek plywood made from recycled materials. Buy wood made of recycled newspaper, woodchips, or sawdust for a better alternative. 

These materials exclude the use of a new tree. A balance between trees cut and trees planted is essential to preserving forests. 

Although, forest-friendly does not mean completely earth-friendly. Unfortunately, some wood by-products put off chemicals that create environmental concerns. Do your research when choosing aftermarket alternatives to grasp the full range the chemical footprint has.

What Can I Use Instead Of Luan?

You have now entered a whole new argument. Luan wood gets shown up by alternative products in current builder trends. These products range from environmentally friendly to woods more suited for specific projects with a similar price point. 

 Alternatives include the following: 

  • Chinese birch plywood 
  • Plywoods with NAF or ULEF or CARB Phase 2 mill stamps
  • Sustainable FSC-certified plywood
  • Acrylic panel (cheap and waterproof) 
  • Recycled newspaper plywood, an alternative to rainforest woods
  • Hardboard, which comes from recycled sawdust (may not be as flexible) 
  • High-density fiberboard (contains formaldehyde) 
  • Temperate hardwood plywood (a luan look-alike, made from beech, birch, or maple) 

These alternatives generate debate, as builders disagree over the alternative environmental efficiency. Formaldehyde-containing plywoods can present hazards to the environment. Other plywoods on this list manufacture with harsh chemicals that are not basic needs safe. 

You will run into issues such as higher costs, sacrificed flexibility, and so on. Alternatives to luan wood will come down to the scale of your project. 

Inferior Plywoods

Luan has its issues, but there are other woods that builders see as inferior in terms of the scope of applications. This inferiority depends on the project and not the standalone quality of the wood. 

Pair woods to the woodworking project. Planning a project helps cut down on costs by avoiding buying less usable products. 

For example, Apitong is similar to Luan, yet timber experts say it is not as good as finishing wood because of its coarseness. 

People make complaints, but luan has unique qualities a builder should consider. Luan could make all the difference for the builder, the experience, and the longevity of the craft in question. 

Takeaways 

You can use luan in multiple areas of the house. It can be bent to serve a useful purpose, such as making aesthetically beautiful kitchen countertops.

Luan is cheap and flexible, making it convenient for craft projects. However, if your purpose is a large scale, consider alternatives. Be mindful of the environmental issues that may arise when using luan.

Overall, luan is still one of the best options when it comes to plywood.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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