How to Stain Birch Plywood

How to Stain Birch Plywood

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Birch plywood has become extremely popular over the last decade. When finished properly, it is sleek, minimal, and strong. It is used in a lot of different situations, from furniture, to internal cladding and beyond.

Despite how popular this type of plywood is, sometimes, we want to adjust the color and tone. This goal leads us to the question: can you stain birch plywood? The short answer is yes. This article will dive deeper into the topic including whether it’s the best option and how to do it.

Is Staining the Best Way to Finish Birch Plywood?

The best finish for your birch plywood will depend on two main factors: protection and aesthetics. These criteria will change depending on what the plywood is used for and what you like to look at.

How well does stain protect plywood? In short: it doesn’t. Traditionally staining isn’t a finish for a wood, it is a way to alter the appearance and tone of the wood. However, the stain doesn’t actually provide protection like an oil, lacquer, varnish, or wax does. In the past, a stain then has finishing coats applied above it.

So with this in mind, a stain on its own is not the best way to finish plywood. However, it can help to get the best finish. This is because a stain is mainly to do with aesthetics and altering the wood to look how you want. However, some people argue dyes are better at penetrating birch plywood than stains.

There are a lot of modern finishes that combine a stain or pigment into the finish. This has the benefit of skipping out a step, instead of staining and then finishing, you can do them both at the same time.

Is Birch a Good Type of Plywood for Staining?

Birch is a great plywood for staining because of its light tone. With dark or bold colored timber, staining is difficult because it’s hard to combat the strong tone of the original wood. If you want specific colors, it’s easier to work with a blank birch ply canvas and stain it.

What Type of Stain Should You Use for Birch Plywood?

Stains come in different colors, thicknesses, gloss levels, and base materials. With these variations in mind, let’s answer the question: what type of stain should you use for birch plywood?

With so many stains available, you really need to do some research to find one that is suited to what you want. For example, the color you choose depends on where the plywood is going and what it is surrounded by.

A lot of people suggest using a water-based stain on plywood because it smells less, is less harsh, and some people think it applies more evenly. But again, sometimes oil-based is better. If the plywood could come into contact with water every once in a while, avoiding water-based stain might be better.

What Colors of Stain Look Good on Birch Plywood?

This is a really subjective question. Over the last decade, one of the most popular stains for a birch plywood has been white. The already light wood, made whiter by the stain, creates a clean finish that people use for minimalist designs.

You could also experiment with bolder colors, like greens, yellows, oranges and reds. A stain is not like a paint, the grain of the wood still shows through, this will have an interesting effect if done correctly. Make sure to test a small patch before staining a whole board.

Will Staining Birch Plywood Make It Waterproof?

On its own, staining won’t make birch plywood waterproof. If combined with another finish then it could be waterproof, however that other finish is what makes it waterproof.

Is It Hard to Stain Birch Plywood?

In small areas, staining birch plywood isn’t too difficult. However it’s not as straightforward as some other timbers that readily absorb stain without too much blotching. If you plan on staining a whole board, or large area, that is more difficult.

If you follow a clear process and practice, you can stain plywood without too much difficulty.

Are There Any Differences Between Staining Baltic Birch and Other Birch Plywood?

If you start researching this on the internet, you’ll find a classic woodworking problem. Twenty people say they have the best answer and each of them contradicts the other.

In general, people consider baltic birch harder to stain because it blotches. If you struggle to get a good coat with a stain, consider a dye.

Again, you should test the process before jumping to any of these conclusions. Some people can finish baltic birch plywood and other birch plywood with a stain and it’s not blotchy, some will get terrible results.

How to Stain Birch Plywood Without Blotches

Below are the steps for how we stain birch plywood without blotches.

Step 1: Collect Tools

Assemble the tools and equipment you’ll need for this job. These should be gloves, sandpaper, clean rags, paintbrush, vacuum, the stain, and a test piece of material.

Step 2: Test

Before you commit to staining your entire project, you need to test the stain on an offcut. The purpose of this is twofold. Firstly, you can see if the stain comes out at the actual color you want. Secondly, you can practice your technique.

Divide your test piece into four equal areas and try different ways of applying the stain. For instance on two sections put the stain on with a rag, on the other two use a paintbrush. Then out of these pairs, leave one to dry normally and on the other wipe the stain off after a minute.

Look at the different effects these techniques have had, which one is least blotchy? What will improve the application over a larger area? Take these learnings and apply them to the actual project.

Step 3: Sand

Evenly sand the plywood, first going across the grain and then finish with the grain. Go lightly as you don’t want to dip the surface but make sure any marks or blemishes are removed.

Step 4: Clean the Surface

Vacuum the surface to remove the dust from sanding. Then use a clean cloth to wipe the remaining dust off the surface.

Step 5: Apply the Stain

Following on from your test, use either a clean rag or a paintbrush to apply the stain.

If using a paintbrush, apply liberally so no area of the wood is starved. First work the stain across the grain. Then dry the brush and finish by brushing lightly with the grain.

If ragging the stain on, apply liberally and work in circles until there’s complete coverage.

Step 6: Wipe the Excess Off (If Necessary)

Depending on the results of your test piece, after one minute, wipe the excess stain off the surface.

For a more detailed explanation of all the steps, make sure to read my detailed guide on how to stain plywood in general.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

Below are some common mistakes that are easily done as well as some tips that can save the day.

1. Not Evenly Sanding

It’s important to evenly sand the surface you are staining. If the sanding is patchy, the stain will take differently in the different areas, which creates blotchy patches.

2. Not Enough Stain

To get an even coverage, you need to make sure there is enough stain over the surface so the entire area can absorb the same amount of stain. However, this is easier said than done. A common mistake is that people try to make too little stain go too far.

3. Always Finish With the Grain

This is especially important when sanding and when using a paint brush. Your final passes must always go with the grain.

4. Sometimes You Can Save It

If the stain looks horrible, there are ways to try and save it. These fixes don’t always work, but if you have no other choice, it’s worth a go. Lightly sand the stain back, but remember not to go through the top layer of veneer. Following the sanding, reapply the stain.


Staining birch plywood can be tricky if you don’t approach the process with respect. However, if you follow clear processes and test your stain before applying to the entire project, you will have the best chance possible of avoiding blotches.