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Staining plywood (first time)

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[OP]
Deal Guru
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May 6, 2005
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Squamish

Staining plywood (first time)

Looking to stain an entire 4x8 board (but will be pre-cut into 2x 8x2)

I've never used stain in my life. This isn't a furniture critical display piece, but I still want to make sure I do it right! Thinking of probably doing a walnut stain, and it will be covered by a bunch of non-stained plywood (so at least some imperfections won't scream at ya)

I *think* what I'm most afraid of is a big blotchy mess. Any fool-proof guidance for staining such a large surface, for the first time, to get somewhat decent results?
29 replies
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Oct 6, 2007
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Staining is easy. You lay it down with a brush or rag and wipe it in the direction of the grain with a clean rag. Wear gloves and use a good cotton rag that doesn't shed lint. If by chance you wipe too much off, just put another coat on once it's dry. If you're nervous, do the back side first.
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Oct 13, 2008
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Kaitlyn wrote: Looking to stain an entire 4x8 board (but will be pre-cut into 2x 8x2)

I've never used stain in my life. This isn't a furniture critical display piece, but I still want to make sure I do it right! Thinking of probably doing a walnut stain, and it will be covered by a bunch of non-stained plywood (so at least some imperfections won't scream at ya)

I *think* what I'm most afraid of is a big blotchy mess. Any fool-proof guidance for staining such a large surface, for the first time, to get somewhat decent results?
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Deal Addict
Dec 24, 2007
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Toronto
A good sanding is always key!

This prevents rough patches and ensures an even finish.

Sand in the direction of the grains, I use a cheese cloth and try to stain the whole width avoiding any stoppage as the stain can soak up more at that point

Cheers and good luck.
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Deal Addict
Nov 17, 2012
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The real key is what sort of plywood are you staining?
Deal Addict
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Dec 10, 2008
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Staining is easy. Applying a protective finish (like poly) is hard.

My advice, use a pre-conditioner and stay away from oil-based products. I like water-based wipe on products. Faster, easier to apply, and less smell.
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Deal Expert
May 30, 2005
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torontotim wrote: The real key is what sort of plywood are you staining?
This. Staining builder quality plywood and veneer plywood make a big difference. I would not suggest staining the former.

Anything you build that you would stain, I would expect, show be enough of a show piece that you'd like it to look nice, in which case, you should be using at least B grade (A in my opinion, but B is acceptable) Baltic Birch or hardwood veneer plywood. Anything less than that, and it's basically shop furniture, or you should use paint instead.
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Apr 10, 2019
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Ottawa
torontotim wrote: The real key is what sort of plywood are you staining?
Jon Lai wrote:
This. Staining builder quality plywood and veneer plywood make a big difference. I would not suggest staining the former.

Anything you build that you would stain, I would expect, show be enough of a show piece that you'd like it to look nice, in which case, you should be using at least B grade (A in my opinion, but B is acceptable) Baltic Birch or hardwood veneer plywood. Anything less than that, and it's basically shop furniture, or you should use paint instead.
This x2.

At the very least get plywood "finished 1-side". There are so many types (construction grade, finished 1 side, finished both sides, plywood veneer, furniture grade plywood, I'm probably missing a few), that said I wouldn't even attempt to put stain on construction grade roof or floor sheathing and sanding that stuff to save a few bucks is stupid.
Deal Expert
Jan 27, 2006
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Vancouver, BC
Just follow any of the many instructions available for staining pine. NOTE> Don't expect great results compared to some other woods especially with a dark stain like Walnut. Pine takes stain unevenly due to the uneven density of pine which makes for blotches (dark spots) or things called grain reversal (the wood in that area ends up a lot lighter than the surrounding wood). Ideally, use a light coloured stain OR danish oil as it will be easier to get a good result.

Here's a good article on staining pine - https://www.popularwoodworking.com/tech ... ning-pine/
[OP]
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May 6, 2005
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craftsman wrote: Just follow any of the many instructions available for staining pine. NOTE> Don't expect great results compared to some other woods especially with a dark stain like Walnut. Pine takes stain unevenly due to the uneven density of pine which makes for blotches (dark spots) or things called grain reversal (the wood in that area ends up a lot lighter than the surrounding wood). Ideally, use a light coloured stain OR danish oil as it will be easier to get a good result.

Here's a good article on staining pine - https://www.popularwoodworking.com/tech ... ning-pine/
Would the aspen/2nd option do measurably better here? No clue about aspen wood, and if the cost difference is aspen, or "purebond" or what. I only need to stain 1 board, so ~$6 difference isn't gonna be a huge deal either way
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Kaitlyn wrote: Would the aspen/2nd option do measurably better here? No clue about aspen wood, and if the cost difference is aspen, or "purebond" or what. I only need to stain 1 board, so ~$6 difference isn't gonna be a huge deal either way
As for aspen, very similar to pine in regards to possible blotchiness. The big question really is - does it have to be walnut? If you go with a lighter finish, things would be a lot easier for pine/aspen.

Are you going to protect the finish with a poly or varnish afterwards?
[OP]
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May 6, 2005
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craftsman wrote: As for aspen, very similar to pine in regards to possible blotchiness. The big question really is - does it have to be walnut? If you go with a lighter finish, things would be a lot easier for pine/aspen.

Are you going to protect the finish with a poly or varnish afterwards?
I was thinking of just staining. It will be for garage shelving, so it's not Uber critical - would the poly just provide added durability - and would that even actually be needed? Or other reasons?

I'm cool with non-walnut but just wanted a darker backing+lighter front - but (although not experienced!) I'd think it would look a bit weird if the stain was too subtle and ended up with two shades that are too similar
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Jan 27, 2006
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Kaitlyn wrote: I was thinking of just staining. It will be for garage shelving, so it's not Uber critical - would the poly just provide added durability - and would that even actually be needed? Or other reasons?

I'm cool with non-walnut but just wanted a darker backing+lighter front - but (although not experienced!) I'd think it would look a bit weird if the stain was too subtle and ended up with two shades that are too similar
Poly is nice as yes, it adds to durability, but it also prevents the wood from shedding small splinters into anything that happens to rub on the finish. The only thing staining will do is to darken the wood but splinter will still happen. Note> you won't be able to get pine smooth even if you sand the surface perfectly smooth prior to staining or a coat of poly as the pine will absorb the finish and the grain will raise up in some places unevenly causing a rougher surface than what most people expect so wet sanding the finish is in order to get that raised grain flat again.

Here's a picture of what a dark walnut finish may look like on pine in comparison to other woods -

Image

If you are OKAY with that, then just own the effect and say that's what you wanted in the first place!
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Jan 25, 2007
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Kaitlyn wrote: I was thinking of just staining. It will be for garage shelving, so it's not Uber critical - would the poly just provide added durability - and would that even actually be needed? Or other reasons?

I'm cool with non-walnut but just wanted a darker backing+lighter front - but (although not experienced!) I'd think it would look a bit weird if the stain was too subtle and ended up with two shades that are too similar
I would 100% paint garage shelving vs stain it. Paint will colour it and put on a nice coating for durability. Your best bet for garage shelving is actually melamine that is cheaper than ply (in general) and comes with a wash ready surface.
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Jan 2, 2012
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Kaitlyn wrote: I was thinking of just staining. It will be for garage shelving, so it's not Uber critical - would the poly just provide added durability - and would that even actually be needed? Or other reasons?

I'm cool with non-walnut but just wanted a darker backing+lighter front - but (although not experienced!) I'd think it would look a bit weird if the stain was too subtle and ended up with two shades that are too similar
LOL. Are you inviting guests in to view your woodworking prowess here? I don't want to poke fun, but I can assure you no one will ever even notice that you stained shelves in your garage, let alone if you had a blotchy application. Don't over think it. Use this as a trial run for future projects where it matters.
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Nov 2, 2005
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MrFrugal1 wrote: LOL. Are you inviting guests in to view your woodworking prowess here? I don't want to poke fun, but I can assure you no one will ever even notice that you stained shelves in your garage, let alone if you had a blotchy application. Don't over think it. Use this as a trial run for future projects where it matters.
Maybe op is aiming for a show garage rather than something functional?
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Nov 17, 2012
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Must be a nice garage. I used the cheapest 3/4" plywood I could get for my garage shelving and it's 'stained' alright - with 20 years of oil, dirt, grease, brake fluid, gasoline and who knows what else.
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May 10, 2005
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As already mentioned, the quality and types of surfaces on plywood can make a big difference to the stain and finish. I learned from a carpenter friend that if staining plywood, to always use a sealer on it first. This equalizes/normalizes the surface to accept the stain evenly.
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May 30, 2005
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MrFrugal1 wrote: LOL. Are you inviting guests in to view your woodworking prowess here? I don't want to poke fun, but I can assure you no one will ever even notice that you stained shelves in your garage, let alone if you had a blotchy application. Don't over think it. Use this as a trial run for future projects where it matters.
I agree. Typically garage shelving is not stained or finished in any way, and therefore, OP, the grade of plywood you picked is appropriate.

If you are building out a nice garage, then typically people will use baltic birch. It's a bit more expensive, but it's a lot nicer. Typically $99/sheet at the mills. Even then, many people do not stain baltic birch because it's already so nice on its own (if you are using it as garage shelving).

What's your motivation to stain it?

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