March 27, 2003

Plywood sheets get new stripes

  • Louisiana company prints measurements on plywood
    Special to the Journal

    grid markings
    Photo courtesy of Martco
    For about $1 extra, grids can be printed on 4x8 plywood sheets. Pre-marking the wood is expected to save time and money, as well as improve nailing accuracy.

    It’s apparently an idea whose time has come — grid-marked plywood sheets for faster, easier cutting and nailing.

    An Alexandria, La., company now has the North American rights to market the patented system, which simply prints a pre-measured, inch-by-inch grid on each plywood sheet so that builders don’t have to measure and snap a guide line each time they want to cut a sheet or nail one to a roof or sidewall.

    “Builders love it because it saves money and time, provides a better quality construction project and enables even workers with minimum experience to install the sheets,” said John Rogalski, president of ROMEX World Trade Co., the marketing and sales division of Roy O. Martin Lumber Management and the general partner in Martco Limited Partnership LLC.

    In a telephone interview, Rogalski explained that the grid-patterned sheets help workers complete projects faster, with fewer mistakes.

    “Take a residential house crew with one guy sawing, one passing the sheets to the roof and two workers placing and nailing them. They call down for a 27-inch-wide sheet and the cutter measures, snaps a chalk line and then cuts. With the grid, the cutting time is shorter, the grid lines help the roof crew line up the sheets and nail straighter. In fact, the roof has more integrity because the grid makes it easy to hit all the trusses,” Rogalski said.

    Examinations of roof work by crews nailing with the help of the grid have shown no “shiners” (exposed nails that have missed the truss, often a problem for builders), he said, with the work being completed faster and more accurately than usual.

    “The National Home Builders Association conducted a time-motion study and found a 22 percent savings in the labor cost (for doing a roof) and a 10 percent savings in materials, since a call for something like a 14-inch-wide panel often means a crew member will grab a new sheet for the cut rather than rummage in the scrap pile,” he said.

    Martco conducted its own field research and determined that the Grid Panel system provided some builders with time savings of 20 to 30 percent.

    Also, because there has been so much turnover in workers in the past decade, many crews have less experienced people, Rogalski said, so the grid takes the guesswork out of the cutting and nailing, saving time and money.

    Rogalski, whose forest products experience includes working for Weyerhaeuser and Simpson Timber Co., said his company has made no sales in the Pacific Northwest yet, although he’s open to both sales and sub-leases to other companies for reproducing the grid pattern on their mills’ plywood sheets.

    Martco installed a special piece of equipment in its plywood mill so panels could be fed in, printing the grid on each sheet as they passed through.

    “We’re shipping rail car loads of the grid product to Phoenix, Las Vegas, Chicago and nearby in Texas, our first four major markets,” Rogalski said. “We’re in a couple discussions with producers around the country for licenses. We don’t have the capacity to serve the whole North American market with our plant and even if we did, there are many areas where freight costs would make it illogical.”

    In Seattle, Ralph Duncan, a construction superintendent for W. G. Clark Construction, said he hadn’t seen the product but thought it might have cost-saving applications.

    “It’d be nice to have a grid pattern, more than the 16- and-24-inch spacing lines already found on many plywood sheets, particularly for nailing. I don’t know how much it would help in cutting if there were fractions of an inch needed in a lot of places,” Duncan said.

    Rogalski said comments from builders at a recent trade show were positive, noting that a $1 per sheet premium for builders completing anywhere from two to three custom homes to 100 standard-plan homes a year — with 150 to 300 sheets of plywood per roof — showed a positive return-on-investment for builders who tried the firm’s computerized ROI program.

    “They pretty much agreed that if we can save them money on their construction, they’re willing to share a small part of that profit with us,” he said.

    More information can be found on the company’s Web site:


    Terry Stephens is a freelance writer based in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at

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