Should I Stain Birch Plywood?

Birch plywood is a great wood to use in a variety of applications. It looks great in its native state, but perhaps you’re thinking of staining it to give it a different aesthetic. But should you stain birch plywood?

Birch plywood can be stained with no issues as long as the current preparation is done to it. By first sanding and then applying pre-stain, you should be able to stain birch plywood evenly in order to make it look great.

We’ll look at the various steps to take to stain birch plywood successfully, as well as products to get. We’ll also consider some dos and don’ts so you can both prepare and finish your birch plywood so that it comes out looking like a professional did the wood staining.

How To Stain Wood Successfully

Some woods willingly accept stains and create a perfectly even result. 

Birch is often not as receptive to staining as other types of wood. However, this is not because it is impossible to do so, but due to properties of birch plywood requiring in-depth preparation, it is easy to not have the staining process go as planned.

If you’ve found that you’ve tried to stain birch plywood in the past to less than satisfactory results, follow the below steps and tips in order not to repeat the same mistakes and to get a perfectly even and clean wood finish.

Preparing Birch Plywood For Staining

You should try sanding and preparing the birch plywood surface with a pre-stain wood conditioner to get the best results from your staining process.

It is also important to carefully inspect the wood to see which is the better side, which should be on the visible part of the furniture or use case.


You should start by lightly sanding the plywood where all of the fibers of the wood are smooth.

Wetting the wood lightly before the sanding can help the wood fibers swell slightly and separate as well as loosening any clumped fibers. This helps produce a better and smoother surface.

Plywoods, especially hardwood plywoods, generally should take 180 grit sandpaper for the initial sanding. Take note when purchasing your birch plywood, as softer woods or fillers may be used in the middle.

Birch is generally known as a hardwood and can come in many varieties owing to the many different types of birch trees. However, despite what kind of birch plywood you get, it will be relatively hardwood if 100% birch.

A small amount of water applied to wood will help to bring out features of the grain, particularly for a darker wood, of which birch plywood is one. This will also help even out the finish by preventing certain clotting or accumulation of the stain when eventually applied.

Pre-Staining the Birch Plywood

Another excellent preparation step is to use a pre-stain conditioner. A product like Minwax’s Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner helps the stain to penetrate into the wood deeply.

Should I Stain Birch Plywood?

Effectively utilizing a pre-stain wood conditioner will also help uniform acceptance into the wood surface of any oil-based wood stain. Minwax’s product is specifically designed to help eliminate problems like streaking that come up during the staining process.

As the pre-stain seeps into the wood fibers, they tend to even more evenly accept the stain afterwoods. Pre-stain is specifically designed not to change the color of the wood and so will not impact your overall stained product’s look by making it lighter or darker.

A pre-stain like this generally dries in about 15 minutes and is easily applied with a clean rag or brush. This means you can apply it just before the staining process and clean up any excess easily with mineral spirits.

If you’re unable to find some pre-stain at your local big box hardware store or don’t want to shop online, a DIY pre-stain can be made by combining linseed oil and mineral spirits in equal parts.

Use an old, clean plastic container like an empty food jar and cut off the top. Mix the linseed oil and mineral spirits in the container and mix well with a wooden or plastic stirrer. Cover when not in use to avoid excess evaporation.

Choosing A Staining Style

If you’re trying to use staining to imitate different types of woods, you have to consider the style of staining needed to produce characteristics of that wood.

It’s worth practicing your staining techniques on offcuts and leaving for a month or two to see how your chosen stain and pre-stain interacts with the birch plywood.

Should I Stain Birch Plywood?

For example, if you’re looking at a wood like mahogany, you need to use pre-stain before staining. This is due to mahogany being open-pored, a characteristic of wood that means the finish is not filled in, covered, or smoothed.

For a true open-pore wood look, you will need to feel the grain of the wood, and it should have a natural, unvarnished, or non-veneered look. The single layer of pre-stain will also help bring out the shape and define the pores better.

Otherwise, the other primary expensive wood look is the closed-pore type. This requires more treatment before staining, including at least two coats of pre-stain. This will need one coat to be applied, fully dried, and then the second coat. 

While 15 minutes will be enough time for it to dry completely, you should leave it at least one hour in a well-ventilated area to get the best results before applying the second.

Done properly, the final look should be smooth and consistent without any pores showing on the surface of the wood. Certain woods have distinctive pore patterns that the keen eye can spot, so closing off pores via this method can help hide what type of wood it is.

Additional coats of stain will go a shade darker per application, which means you can imitate certain darker woods like jarrah or cherry redwood. Darker shades will also tend to cover up the wood grain itself, giving it a smoother finish.

Staining plywood is generally best done with a water-based stain rather than an oil-based one. However, if you don’t have access to a water-based stain, it will not impact the overall look of the staining in any significant way.

Applying Stain to Birch Plywood

Once you have adequately prepared the wood surface, it’s time to apply the stain using a paintbrush to the wood. Look at the way the grain runs on the wood and use careful, even strokes to apply the stain with the grain.

Should I Stain Birch Plywood?

Try not to overload the brush with stain and wipe off any excess on the lid of the container to get an even amount on the brush. Use a cloth to dab up any excess blotches or pools that form, as this will quickly be absorbed in and create unsightly spotting.

However, even careful application may result in an imperfect result due to the nature of birch plywood. You can lower the chance of this by testing more layers of pre-stain on your offcuts or by a slower application of the various coats of stain.

Another option is the product referred to as wood toner. These can be sprayed on uneven areas of the stained surface and can help shade and blend blotched or uneven finishes. 

Wood toner boasts a unique blend of solvent and wood toners that will facilitate mild color adjustments. It will provide a very mild color coat to the stained wood.

Keep in mind that wood toner is notorious for causing excessive bubbling, so apply it slowly and with care, using a high-quality paintbrush.

Sealing Birch Plywood

The final stage is to apply an appropriate sealant. This should be done well after the wood stain has been given a chance to dry and cure fully. 

Not only does this provide an extra level of protection, but it keeps the wood in its initial stained state for longer. Sealant stops excessive moisture from getting in and swelling or otherwise affecting the wood.

If the wood is to be used as a door or other high traffic area, sealant can prevent damage that comes from constant touching. There are oils and bacteria on our hands and skin that can cause adverse reactions or damage to wood through repeated exposure.

Benefits Of Using Birch Plywood

Birch plywood is one of the most aesthetic choices for use in furniture as it has a beautiful rich sheen, although it also has much use in building projects. 

This finish gives you a lot of flexibility in how you want your final product to look. While you can stain it, it equally looks good untreated as with varnish.

Should I Stain Birch Plywood?

It is a great value choice of wood that doesn’t compromise on structural integrity with a classic look that leans into standard images of what wood should look like.

On top of its affordable nature, birchwood is known as a long-lasting wood so that your projects can last for generations. However, it does not have the very dense and heaviness of other woods, making it easy to move and handle.

Birch plywood has the bonus of being widely available both geographically and seasonally. Birchwood will always come with a nice, smooth, and even finish, setting them apart from other types of wood like pine.

Plywood, by definition, is a combination of several layers of birch. This gives added strength and stability, making it perfect for structural applications. It also tends to have a very high impact resistance, great for use in objects which might take the occasional bump.

This combination of layers also prevents the formation of knots and jagged edges and is more splinter-resistant. This is one reason why you will find so many children’s toys and furniture like cabinets made of birch plywood.

The sandwiching of the birch layers together results in a product with a solid core, not only increasing its durability but also making it more resistant to shrinkage.

On top of all the direct benefits to consumers, birch is also a renewable resource that grows natively in many areas, particularly the Baltic regions. It is abundant and grows rapidly, therefore not having issues with deforestation that other woods suffer from.

Downsides Of Using Birch Plywood

One of the downsides to doing wood staining with birch plywood is that the wood tends to absorb the staining liquid very deeply and quickly. This will result in blotching, making it seem like birch plywood is impossible to stain evenly.

Birch plywood is also not known for an intricate grain pattern, so compared to other more intricate woods, it may come across as plain or even dull compared to other more intricate woods.

Interestingly, birch plywood is not great for exterior uses despite it being classified as hardwood. It tends to do poorly around excessive moisture, even the laminated versions. If you intend to use it outdoors, keep it sheltered from excessive rainfall or snowfall.

Some success can be achieved using wood treatment, like marine varnish, but this is not a substitute for choosing a hardy outdoor wood, such as red cedar, redwood, or cypress.

Within birch plywood, there are many different varieties with different properties. For example, if it is just referred to as birch plywood, then it’s likely a veneer birch plywood that uses glue to keep the layers together, with some hardwood like poplar in the center.

There is no major issue with veneer types, but the stronger types of birch plywood will often be referred to as Baltic birch plywood. Wood referred to by this name will have 100% birch in its constitution, entirely made of birch plies.

Of course, this Baltic birch plywood product will be more expensive but brings with it more of the qualities of birch plywood in a higher quality.  

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