Isolated cases of improper grading stamps appearing on plywood panels have spurred Tacoma, Wash.–based APA–The Engineered Wood Association to alert North American builders and building materials suppliers that supply, specify, or install plywood, OSB, or other engineered wood panels. “There have been outright cases of counterfeit marks, and there have been cases where a portion of the grading stamp does not correspond with the product,” says Jack Merry, director of communications for APA. “If you're selling, using, or specifying panels, we encourage you to be mindful of having a grading stamp that certifies the product meets the standards that are going to be applied by local building codes to accept or reject the product.”

In one instance, APA was consulting for a demolition/rebuild at Pennsylvania State University where workers were complaining about weak ¾-inch Plyform panels. After one panel snapped under the weight of a worker, it was discovered that the panels did not bear APA trademarks, making it impossible to verify veneer grade, certification, or country of origin. In another case, chief building inspector Bill Bryant for Anne Arundel County in Maryland was forced to demand a builder remove plywood panels used as wall and roof sheathing because the panels had incomplete information on certification, span rating, thickness, and bond classification.

According to APA, the best time to check grading stamps is when product bundles are cut for inventory or for use on the jobsite. Grading agencies in the United States—including APA—have clearly defined stamps, which include the following information: certification agency trademark, panel grade, span rating and thickness, exposure classification, mill number, and product and/or performance standard.

APA suspects that hot demand and high prices in the North American panel market may be encouraging the import of substandard products. “We're talking about a small percentage of the imported volume—there is a lot of good product produced all over the world, and we don't want to make an indictment of all imported panels,” Merry says, adding that imported panels are projected to account for 1.5 billion square feet of the North American market in 2004,compared to the approximately 41 billion that U.S. and Canadian suppliers will generate.