Baltic Birch Panels for <'72 Westfalia Interior

by Type2 List Members

Roland Wilhelmy writes:

Need 3/32" plywood, 3 ply birch? try Aircraft Spruce and Specialty Co. They have the right stuff. in various sizes and thicknesses, in various woods. tough enough to survive boiling water for three hours without delaminating. but it isn't cheap. Full sheets must be cut in half for UPS, otherwise shipped by truck.

Aircraft Spruce and Specialty Company
(Orange County, California)
fax: 714-871-7289 {note, the 714 prefix may have split recently}
customer service: 714-870-7315
order hotline (best if you have their catalog first) 800-824-1930
open 6 am to 6 pm monday-friday
6 am to 2:30 pm Saturday

also in the UK at
8 Cam Centre
Wilbury Way
Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England

Another list member writes:

Be careful of birch plywood. Almost all of it in the USA is interior plywood. The glue is not water proof or water resistant. Luan underlayment usually is. A quick test is to cut a small piece and boil it for 15 minutes. If it doesn't come apart it is OK.

As I understand it there is some birch plywood made in Finland that is exterior.

I wouldn't put interior plywood in a vehicle too much chance of a leak.

Another list member writes:

The best/only way to replace the westy ceiling is by using BALTIC BIRCH. This is imported wood and thus comes not on the 4 foot by 8 foot domestic size but the european standard (about 5 feet). You must have this width to properly replace a headliner. It is available in varing thicknesses (measured in mm). It should be available from larger lumber suppliers. The price is about twice that of US wood. But this is not a huge difference. It is the original wood used for headliners. It is imported from Russia and so is not hugely popular due to less than reliable shipping practices. Treatment of the wood is just sealing or a polyurethane coating. One could stain it to whatever shade of course.

Another list member writes:

Any shop that sells to cabinet shops should have Baltic Birch, it is becoming very popular for cabinet backs and drawer sides. It is first class stuff with no voids tight patchs and usually 7 plys, approx $20 a sheet. It is in metric sizes but most places refer to it in standard 1/8, 1/2, Etc. I believe the thin stuff specs at 3mm and is a direct replacement for factory westy stuff. It is flexible along the grain but rigid against, making it very strong. I would recommend using a polyester or urethane sealer on both sides of the panel (good and bad side) to prevent the grain from lifting if exposed to moisture.

Another list member writes:

After combing the local lumber yards for 1/8 inch anything ("I didn't even know they made it that thin") I finally found a place conversant in thin plywood. A marine lumber store. I just about dropped dead when I asked the guy over the phone if they sold 1/8 and he said, without that dreadful silence we VW restorers come to know and love, "sure."

And it's Baltic Birch to boot. $14 for a 5X5 sheet. Cheeeep. The only other place I found that sold thin stuff was a guy who said he had "aircraft" grade birch for the princely sum of $65 a sheet. Know, I now my '70's gonna flat out fly when it's finally running again, what with that balanced and bored powerplant out back and flames painted on the side and all :0, but I don't think I'll ever leave the ground. No need for aircraft quality.

Clay writes:

One point that most non-detail-carpentry-types will forget or ignore is the fact that all plywood has a tendency towards chipping.

When cutting the 1/8" or 3mm Birch sheets, trace your line, then put a strip of masking tape over the line. When you cut, the tape will minimize the chipping.

Also, try to get a good jigsaw, like a Bosch. Yep, same company... The Bosch allows you to zero out the eccentricity of the bit, so that it cuts straight up and down rather than pitching forward as it cuts. Works well for thin materials.

H. Steven Dolan writes:

Very true, if you have a router (and I do, and the way Clay describes is how I would do it) *BUT* if you don't have a router (which I didn't for many years), there are other ways to keep plywood from splintering during a cut:

OK, so you have it marked (on both sides of the target piece), and you are about to jigsaw it along the line.

  1. Be sure that you have the *bad* side up and marked... that way even if it splinters, you don't care as much. Jigsaws cut on the up stroke and are much more prone to splintering on the top of the cut piece.
  2. Apply a strip of masking tape along the good (bottom) side lapping the cut line to hold it together, in case.
  3. Before you make that cut, take a utility knife with a sharp (new) blade and cut just inside the marked line (like a 32nd of an inch (or 1mm if you live in an advanced country (damned English measurment system!!!))). The depth of the cut should aim to sever the fibers in the top layer of the plywood. Then, any chipping that *does* occur will be confined to that 1mm wide strip
  4. Remember that to cut smoothly, there should be at least 3 teeth in the work piece at all times. For 3mm plywood you should have a maximum tooth spacing of 1mm. Despite the recommendations on the package, this will often be a sheet metal blade. This will cut slower, but smoother.

(when I am not repairing VW's, I am doing woodworking :-)

Jim Ellis writes:

"I also noticed that the coloration of the "Golden Oak" stain differed between the real Baltic Birch (that I used in most spots including the headliners)and the paper thin veneer crap (that I used on the driverside long wall). The veneer ended up looking browner. I barely wiped any stain on the rest of the wood and it came out fine."

Steve Lashley responds:

It is always a good idea to put a sealer coat on any soft or very thin wood before you stain it. There are several ways to do this, you can buy sealer made for this, or MinWax makes a sealer/stain combo. I take the varnish or polyurethane and cut it down by 50%, and lightly rub it on with a rag. After this dries, you can apply the stain.

You may want to test this on a scrap piece of baltic birch first, because I don't think you will need it here, but I would seal any veneer, or luan products before staining it.

You can also purchase non-yellowing varnish. Even clear varnish products may yellow, so make sure the label says it is non-yellowing.

I would also stay away from water based polyurethane unless you want a totally clear finish with no darkening. These products will make the wood look exactly like it does before you apply the finish. Most oil based varnishes will darken the wood a little. When I refinish furniture I count on the final coat giving the wood a deep color to it, where it highlights the grain. If you decide to use the water based poly, keep in mind that you need to stain or seal it first to get the look you want before you apply the top coat.

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