This is 9 Excellent Tips for Staining Plywood, your guide to applying a stain to plywood that you can be proud of. I’ll show you everything that you need to know, plus several tips and tricks along the way. Enjoy.
Tips for Staining Plywood
When you make things out of wood, many times in places where it really doesn’t matter as much, you’ll use plywood. You will also use plywood in areas where you need a board that is too big for nature to have created itself.
This presents an interesting challenge when applying the stain, because plywood takes a stain a little differently. Depending on the manufacturer, and the quality, there can be a drastic difference between one piece of plywood and another.
Even so, you need to have a way of reliably staining your plywood so that it matches the rest of your project. You may even just need to stain pieces of plywood as the project itself, and that’s something I’ll show you as well.
See Also: 10 Step Guide to Wood Finishing
Test Stain Your Piece First
Plywood is very inconsistent at accepting stain. For that reason, it’s very important that you do a test piece first. This is actually really easy to do, and all it involves is using a small piece of the same plywood you plan on staining.
The piece doesn’t even have to be very large. For most purposes, a piece of plywood that’s at least 6“ x 6“ is probably sufficient. This is enough to show any unevenness, and let you make a plan for correcting it.
Use the exact same stain, and the exact same process that you plan on using on your final project. Sand the surface down the same way on your test board that you would on your real board, and apply the stain the same way.
Let it dry completely, apply the same topcoat that you plan on sealing your project with, and take a look at the results. If you are happy, proceed with the exact same steps on your larger pieces. If not, I’ll show you how to fix it in the next section.
See Also: How to Prepare Wood for Staining
Decide on a Pre-Stain Conditioner
The only reason to use a pre-stain conditioner is when the application of your stain is very inconsistent, and you want a more even look. If that’s you, then you are a perfect candidate for pre-stain conditioner.
Pre-stain is actually just clear. All it does is coat the surface in something that’s a little harder for the stain to penetrate, slowing down the process. This means your stain will stay on the surface longer, and color more evenly.
After you apply your pre-stain conditioner, the wood will accept stain at a much more consistent rate across the entire board. This means your color looks a lot more even, and your results will be a lot more consistent.
Fill All Cracks and Voids With Wood Filler
Before you do any pre-stain conditioner or actual staining, you need to do some surface preparation on your plywood. Just like any other piece of wood, your finish is only going to look as good as the surface to which it is applied.
This means you need to do a whole lot of things to your piece of plywood before you start applying any stain. Staining plywood without doing these things is a waste of time, because the job look poorly done.
The first step is to fill any cracks or voids with wood filler. Once they’re filled, sand the surface back level and then proceed to the next section.
Sand the Surface to 220 Grit
As a general rule, sanding wood to about 220 grit is typically all you need for preparing a surface to accept a stain. Your plywood is no different, and when you apply or stain, it goes really well over a surface that’s been carefully sanded down to 220.
You can start with a machine, and get out the bulk of the work quickly. After that, you need to switch to a sanding block by hand and sand with the grain to hide the scratches. Once they’re all done, check one last time and send out any that need additional attention.
Don’t skip this step, and don’t speed through it. The better you prepare here, the better your piece will look.
Raise the Grain and Sand Again
Something that’s helpful to do when staining plywood is to raise the grain. This is simply a matter of adding moisture to the wood in order to swell the fibers and pop out any little bits of would that need to be removed.
When you apply stain, it can have the same affect as when you apply a little bit of water. This means your surface will suddenly be very rough and scratchy when before you applied the stain it was nice and smooth. You definitely don’t want that.
Wipe your plywood down with a wet cloth, and allow it to dry. Make sure that you evenly wipe the surface, but don’t soak it with puddles. It definitely needs to be damp though, and you’ll notice the color darken a little bit.
Allow it to completely dry, and then go back with the same grit of sandpaper and lightly knock down all of those little bumps that showed up. Don’t sand too aggressively though, because you don’t want to expose more bumps.
You won’t expose them when you’re staining, but if you go to deeply, the next layer of moisture you put on the top will pop out fresh ones.
See Also: How to Make Wood Look Weathered Gray
Watch the Edges Because They Soak Up Stain Faster
When you are applying your stain, be extra careful not to linger around the edges. Plywood is made up of several laminated pieces of wood, and the edges soak up stain like a sponge. You can end up with some drastic color differences if you don’t watch out.
Instead, glide completely off the edge of the piece with the staining rag, and don’t linger. This will apply a nice even coloring to the edges, and you won’t have to worry about excess stain soaking up in those areas.
If they do, the only way to get rid of them is to try sanding, but in most cases the veneer is so thin that you can accidentally color all the way through it. If that’s the case, then you’ll need to stain the rest of the piece a little darker to match.
See Also: Danish Oil For Adding Age to Wood
Don’t Linger With the Rag in One Place
One of the biggest issues of staining plywood is lingering too long with your rag. If you let the rag stay still in one place, it’ll deposit too much stain in that area. Then, you’re stuck with the part that looks a little bit darker than the rest.
It’s a pain in the butt to remove this, so you really need to keep that rag moving. Don’t worry, it’s not like if you stop for half a second it’s going to turn your piece black. However, the more you do stop, the more problematic it becomes.
Just practice a good habit which is to continually wipe the surface with stain until the job is done, and don’t leave any pools of stain or a stain covered rag on the plywood. Do that, and you’ll be just fine.
See Also: 7 Ways to Get Better at Finishing
Wipe Off as Much Excess as Possible
Another thing you can do if you find that your plywood is soaking up wood stain like a sponge is to wipe off as much of the excess as possible immediately. Stain works by sitting on the surface and coloring, which you can control through wiping.
Instead of allowing that stain to sit too long, begin wiping it off almost immediately after you put it on the surface. Almost act as if you’re trying to wipe it all off, like it was a mistake that you poured stain on the surface of the plywood.
When you do that, you’ll prevent the stain from penetrating very deeply. You’ll notice that the coloring is a little bit more even, and you don’t have as many really dark colored spots.
Apply a Good Top Coat
After you’re done finishing the plywood with stain, it’s time to apply a clear coat. Every stain that you’ve ever bought looks best after a clear coat, and that’s the way the manufacture intended you to see the colors.
When you apply your clear, make sure that you select a product that’s compatible with your stain, and that you apply it according to the recommendations of the manufacture. Be careful, and use every precaution when finishing.
After the clear coat dries, you’ll notice that your piece looks very good and that the stain looks closer to how it was advertised on the can. At this point, I should have a very even coloring and look great with a strong clear coat on the top.
Your Action Assignment
Now that you know all about staining plywood, it’s time to get out into the shop and take action. I recommend that you start with a test piece, and see what some of your existing wood stains look like on this type of material.
Like anything, it’s best to practice. You need to really get used to working with the products and seeing how they differ based on the different materials you use. It’s not super difficult, it just requires the time.
If you have any questions on these 9 great ways that you can take staining plywood to the next level, please post a question and I’ll be glad to answer them. Happy building.
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