How To Stain Plywood

Staining plywood can enhance its appearance, highlighting its wood grain and giving it a warm, rich color.

It’s a popular technique used in woodworking to achieve a custom look and protect the wood.

However, staining plywood requires a meticulous approach, considering its layered structure and often uneven surface.

Key Takeaways:

  • Surface Preparation: Proper sanding is crucial to ensure even absorption of the stain.
  • Stain Selection: Choose the right type of stain based on the desired color and finish.
  • Application Technique: Apply the stain evenly and wipe off the excess to avoid blotchiness.
  • Sealing: Finish with a top coat to protect the stained plywood from damage and enhance its durability.

Preparing the Plywood Surface


To achieve a smooth and even stain on plywood, proper sanding is essential. Start with a coarse-grit sandpaper and progressively move to finer grits, ensuring all scratches and imperfections are removed.

  • Start with 80-grit sandpaper: Removes major imperfections.
  • Progress to 120-grit and 180-grit: Achieves a smoother surface.


After sanding, cleaning the plywood surface is crucial to remove any residual dust and debris. Use a tack cloth or a soft brush to clean the surface thoroughly.

Choosing the Right Stain

Types of Stains

There are various types of stains available, each offering different colors and finishes. Choose the one that suits your project and desired aesthetic.

  • Oil-Based Stain: Provides a rich color and is durable.
  • Water-Based Stain: Offers a quicker drying time and easy cleanup.
  • Gel Stain: Ideal for plywood with an uneven surface as it doesn’t run.

Color Selection

Selecting the right color is crucial to achieve the desired look. Test the stain on a scrap piece of plywood to ensure it meets your expectations.

Applying the Stain

Even Application

Apply the stain evenly using a brush or a cloth, following the wood grain. Work in manageable sections to avoid overlapping marks.

  • Use a natural bristle brush for oil-based stains.
  • Use a synthetic bristle brush for water-based stains.

Wiping Off Excess Stain

After applying the stain, wait for a few minutes, then wipe off any excess stain with a clean cloth. This step is crucial to avoid a blotchy appearance.

Sealing the Stained Plywood

Choosing the Right Sealer

After staining, sealing the plywood is essential to protect it from damage and enhance its durability. Choose a sealer that complements the type of stain used.

  • Use oil-based polyurethane for oil-based stains.
  • Use water-based polyurethane for water-based stains.

Application of Sealer

Apply the sealer evenly using a brush, and allow it to dry completely. Sand lightly between coats for a smooth finish.

Advanced Staining Techniques

Layering Stains

Layering different colors of stains can create a unique and customized look. Apply a base color, allow it to dry, and then apply a second color, wiping off the excess to reveal the base color beneath.

Creating Patterns

Using stencils or tape, you can create beautiful patterns and designs on the plywood. Apply the stain over the stencil or tape and remove them once the stain is dry to reveal the design.

Safety Precautions


When staining plywood, work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling fumes from the stain and sealer, which can be harmful.

Protective Gear

Wear protective gear such as gloves and safety glasses to protect your skin and eyes from contact with the stain.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Blotchy Appearance

If the stain appears blotchy, it may be due to uneven absorption. Applying a wood conditioner before staining can help achieve a more even appearance.

Stain Not Drying

If the stain is not drying, it may be due to over-application. Wipe off the excess stain and allow more time for drying.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I stain plywood without sanding?

Sanding is crucial for even stain absorption. Without sanding, the stain may appear uneven and blotchy.

How long should I wait between applying stain and sealer?

Wait until the stain is completely dry before applying the sealer. Refer to the stain manufacturer’s instructions for the recommended drying time.

Can I use household items to stain plywood?

Household items like coffee and tea can be used as natural stains, but they may not be as durable or vibrant as commercial stains.

Relevant URLs from internal links

  1. Woodworking Tools & Techniques
  2. CNC Machines & Software
  3. Jigsaws & Saws

Additional Resources

For more insights and detailed guides on staining plywood, refer to the following resources:

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