I'm planning on building a wall of book shelves using lumber, but someone told me that plywood would be less likely to warp. Is that true? Is there a particular wood product that is best suited for shelves?
Plywood is definitely a better choice than particle board, which when used for shelving will often sag, especially if you are placing a heavy load on it such as books.
The construction of the shelves is a consideration as well. If you are using wall uprights and shelf brackets, plywood is definitely a better choice. The number of shelf brackets used is a critical factor.
If your constructing an actual bookcase, veneered particle board will work well and is less expensive than plywood. When built in to a piece of furniture such as a book case and well supported, particleboard is less likely to sag or warp.
Many years ago I built two free standing bookcases using veneered plywood, I am proud to say they stand tall and looks as good today as when I built them 20 years ago.
Plywood is always my first choice for shelving or furniture making.
Thanks for the response. I hadn't even considered particle board. Just to be clear, you think that plywood is better than solid wood? Is it less likely to warp?
Plywood will warp less, however solid wood is more attractive and easier to finish.
What you need is the Sagulator. It's an online program that calculates shelf deflection based on material, size, span, load etc. Plug in your design parameters, anticipated load, and play around with materials.
Solid wood can get very expensive, very quickly and you need the tools to work with it. A better idea might be plywood shelves with a 1 x 2 "apron" at the front to stiffen things. If you do a rabbet in the apron then you eliminate the need to band that edge too.
There are many variations on particle board and plywood. The furniture grade plywoods, which will have hardwood veneers and up to 13 plies in a 3/4 inch thick panel, are usually better found at "hardwood" lumberyards, that fine woodworkers tend to seek out. Most larger urban areas will have such lumberyards. It is the number of plies and type of wood used that give plywood its strength and stability.
There are also wide variations in the quality of composition boards such as MDF. There is the far denser, stronger HDF (high density) used by european furniture makers. These too are available with hardwood veneers on them. And of course, they can be pricey. Again, these can be found at the specialty "hardwood" lumberyards. A Google search will probably locate one.
Obviously, woods can be strengthened by simply increasing their thickness. Two layers 3/4 inch common plywood are going to be twice as strong as single layer.
Last I looked, "furniture grade" plain sawn red oak plywood was about $75 per sheet. That was a few years ago. I think I paid $110 for a sheet of quarter sawn white oak. But you can't find that a Home Depot...and if you need it...
One of the problems with going to places that really cater to the cabinet shops is that you usually pay a premium for a sheet or two.
You're from Chicago. Have you ever checked out Owl Hardwood Lumber in downtown Des Plaines? Also in Lombard and Oak Lawn now. It is where I went when I needed specialty lumber. When I refaced my doors in the house, they had good prices on oak door skins. They also have a millwork shop and would cut stuff to size for you.
They weren't cheap, but they had what you wanted! I see they carry a "shelf grade" plywood. Obviously, I haven't been there in ages since I have been here in Portland for 9 years. They have grown considerably since I dealt with them.