Can You Stain Plywood? (Different Types)

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Reviewed by
Eral Kadrija

Tony Adams

Plywood is an engineered wood made by gluing thin layers or veneers of wood and pressed together in a crisscross pattern. Its artificial structure and porosity make you wonder whether you can stain it. So, can you?

You can stain plywood but you must prep its surface by sanding and applying a coat of wood conditioner. The wood conditioner will prevent plywood from over-absorbing stain.

Staining hardwood plywood is easier as it has an evenly porous surface and absorbs stain evenly. Softwood doesn’t have an even texture and doesn’t absorb stain evenly, leading to a blotchy finish.

Which Types of Plywood Can You Stain?

You can stain hardwood and softwood plywood. Hardwood plywood accepts stains better and gives better finishes because it has a porous surface that is evenly textured. Because of its texture, it absorbs stain evenly so the finish comes out smooth.

Softwood doesn’t have an even texture because some parts of its surface are porous while others are sealed. Because of its texture, it doesn’t absorb stain evenly so the finish comes out uneven and blotchy.

To stain softwood plywood, you must apply wood conditioner (or sanding sealer) to prevent over-absorption.

Exterior plywood isn’t stainable because its surface is sealed with a water-resistant sealer. To stain it, remove the sealer first (by sanding) and then apply the stain.

Which Types of Wood Stain Can You Use on Plywood?

What Type Of Stain Should You Use On Plywood?

You can use water-based, oil-based, or gel-based stains on plywood. The type you use depends on the type of plywood.

For hardwood plywood, use an oil-based or water-based stain. For softwood plywood that doesn’t absorb stain evenly, use gel stain as it doesn’t penetrate the wood deeply.

Each type of wood stain has different features. For instance, oil-based stain penetrates the wood easily, gives it a deeper color shade, and semi-protects it. That’s because it contains a high amount of oils in the formula.

On the other hand, the water-based stain doesn’t penetrate wood as deeply, gives a lighter color shade, and doesn’t offer good protection.

Gel stain is a topical finish that doesn’t penetrate the surface and produces a glossy protective coating.

How To Stain Hardwood Plywood?

To stain hardwood plywood, do the following.

  1. Sand the Surface.
  2. Apply 3 Coats of Stain.
  3. Wipe the Excess.
  4. Seal the Finish.

The tools you need are listed below.

  • 180-grit sandpaper
  • A paintbrush
  • Paint mixer or turning stick
  • Rags
  • Mineral spirits
  • A power sander (for large surfaces)

1. Sand the Surface

Sand The Hardwood Plywood Surface

Sanding removes imperfections and dust and preps the surface for stain absorption by creating tiny openings (holes) on the surface. The stain will penetrate or soak into these tiny holes.

To sand plywood, use 180-grit sandpaper. For larger surfaces, use a power sander. While sanding, pay attention to the edges of the surface to avoid over-sanding. After sanding, remove the dust.

2. Apply 3 Coats of Stain

Apply Coats Of Stain

Since hardwood plywood has textured pores, you don’t need to apply a washcoat. However, if the surface is riddled with dents, spaces, or holes, you must apply a shellac-based washcoat to seal (or fill) these spaces.

Once the surface is sanded and perfect (no holes), apply the wood stain using a paintbrush. To apply gel stain, use a lint-free cloth. Apply 3 coats of stain on the plywood, but leave enough dry time between coats. On average, you must wait 2-6 hours between coats, depending on the type.

3. Wipe the Excess

Wipe Excess Stain

After 30 minutes, use a clean rag to wipe off the excess. For gel stain, damp a rag with mineral spirits and wipe the surface.

4. Seal the Finish

Seal The Finish

After it dries, you must seal the stained plywood with polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer (3 coats). This gives the finish the best durability, strength, and water resistance.

How To Stain Softwood Plywood? (Birch or Pine)

To stain softwood plywood, do the following things.

  1. Sand the Surface.
  2. Wipe off Dust.
  3. Apply Wood Conditioner.
  4. Apply the Stain.
  5. Wipe Off Excess Wood Stain.
  6. Seal the Finish.

Staining softwood plywood, such as Birch or Pine is harder because they don’t absorb stain evenly. So, you must apply a washcoat or wood conditioner to limit and prevent over-absorption.

The tools you need for this project are listed below.

  • Sandpaper (180-grit – 24-grit)
  • Wood stain
  • A sealant
  • Clean rags
  • Wood conditioner or shellac-based washcoat
  • Paintbrushes
  • Mineral spirits
  • A power sander
  • Paint mixer or turning stick

1. Sand the Surface.

Sand the surface with fine-grit sandpaper (220-grit). That’s because fine-grit sandpaper produces fine dust that can fill and clog the softwood pores. This helps to control the absorption of the stain. Also, sanding removes imperfections and bumps from the surface.

2. Wipe off Dust

After sanding, remove the dust using a lint-free rag. Don’t vacuum or wash off the dust because that will remove the fine dust particles that have clogged the wood pores. For larger surfaces, use a mop.

3. Apply Wood Conditioner

Wood conditioner is a thin coat applied over softwood to reduce the absorption of the stain. After applying it, wait 2 hours until it dries.

4. Apply the Stain

After the wood conditioner dries, apply the stain. To apply water or oil-based stain, use a paintbrush. To apply gel stain, use a lint-free rag. Apply 3 coats and wait until one coat dries before applying the next one.

5. Wipe Off Excess Wood Stain

After applying the final coat, wipe off the excess.

6. Seal the Finish

For the best durability, strength, and water resistance of the finish, seal it with polyurethane, varnish, or lacquer (3 coats).

What Are The Benefits of Staining Plywood?

The benefits of staining plywood are as follows.

  1. Makes the plywood look better.
  2. Protects the surface from moisture, water damage, scratches, and dents.
  3. Prevents it from rotting.
  4. It’s affordable.
  5. Prevent dust and debris from sticking.
  6. Highlights detail work, carving, and designs on the surface.
  7. It’s easy to apply.
  8. It can be painted over.
  9. Doesn’t peel off.
Tony Adams

Tony Adams

Woodworker, Interior and Exterior Painter, Flooring Specialist

Tony is a professional painter and an author of DIY Geeks. Tony has completed over 1,000 painting projects for his clients. It's safe to say he knows what he Is talking about.

Eral Kadrija

Eral Kadrija

Lead Editor, Home Renovator

Eral has a passion for home renovation and repair. Over the years, he has bought, renovated, and sold 7 old homes. Using his experience from different DIY projects he created DIY Geeks.

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