The incorporation of the modified starch (MS) in urea-formaldehyde resins at different stage of the synthesis was studied in this article. The synthesized resins were characterized by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, indicating that the ester bond can be introduced into the UF structure after the addition of MS. The curing reactions were examined with differential scanning calorimetry and it reveals that curing temperature of UF resin are slightly shifted to higher temperatures. To study the bonding strength and formaldehyde emission of the bonded plywood, the addition method and amount of MS are systematically investigated. The performance of the UF resins is remarkably improved by the addition of MS around 15% (weight percentage of the total resin) in the second stage. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J. Appl. Polym. Sci. 2014, 131, 40202.