How to Stain Plywood

How to Stain Plywood

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If you have plywood and you want to darken the color of it a bit, while also helping make it more resistant to moisture, then something you may want to consider doing is staining it. Doing so will bring many benefits to the table and help to increase the overall lifespan of the wood.

Today, we are here to teach you how to stain plywood, as well as to discuss various other important factors to consider about this process.

Can You Stain Plywood?

Yes, it is possible to stain plywood. In fact, staining plywood is one of the best ways to seal it. Staining plywood can be done with nothing more than some regular wood stain, a paintbrush, and an old rag.

Staining is a good thing to do if you want to darken the wood a little bit, as well as to increase its overall moisture and pest resistance. That said, not all types of plywood are created equal. Some plywood has a very dense grain pattern, which might mean it won’t take on stain that well. This type of plywood, such as maple, can end up looking a bit blotchy and uneven once stained.

However, other types of plywood, such as oak, which has a much looser grain pattern, tend to take on stain in a more even manner, therefore producing a uniform result that looks very nice.

At the end of the day, hardwood takes on stain better than softwood.

Pros and Cons of Staining Plywood: Should You Do It?

Staining plywood definitely has its notable advantages, and yet there are also some drawbacks to consider, so let’s take a look.

Pro #1: It Preserves the Natural Wood Grain

One reason that many people choose to stain plywood rather than paint it is because it helps to preserve the appearance of the natural wood grain. Stain is available in many transparent and semi-transparent types, which means that you can darken it or slightly alter the color without totally covering its natural look.

Pro #2: There Are Many Options To Choose From

Another benefit that you get from staining plywood is that there are many different options to choose from. Although there are many types of stain designed to help preserve the natural appearance of the wood underneath, there are also solid options to consider, ones that will hide the natural appearance of the wood if desired. Moreover, as far as color options go, stain comes in dozens, if not hundreds of different colors, mainly shades of brown.

Pro #3: Stain Doesn’t Peel

Yet another benefit that you get from staining plywood, rather than doing something like painting, is that it won’t peel. If not done properly, or just as it ages, paint will start to peel off. Once that happens, the plywood underneath will no longer be properly protected. Then, you have to sand away all of the old paint and repaint the plywood. This is not something that will happen with stain. Yes, stain will start to fade over time, and it will look like the plywood was never stained in the first place. That said, all you have to do when the original stain starts to fade is re-stain the plywood, meaning you don’t have to do any sanding.

Pro #4: It Protects the Plywood

The other benefit that comes with staining your plywood, perhaps the biggest benefit of all, is that it allows for added protection. That layer of stain is going to protect the plywood from UV damage. Stain is also designed to be waterproof, which means that staining plywood will help increase its resistance to water. No, stain will not make your plywood 100% waterproof, but pretty close nonetheless. It, therefore, also helps to protect plywood from mold, pests, and the elements.

Con #1: Stain Can Be Difficult to Apply

One of the drawbacks of staining plywood or any other type of wood is that wood stain is somewhat unpredictable. If you are not using the right type of applicator or the right type of stain for the wood in question, the result can be less than ideal. You might end up causing the stain to look blotchy or uneven.

On that same note, not all types of plywood will take on stain in the same way, with some being worse for this than others. As mentioned earlier, plywood that has a very tight and dense grain pattern may not take on stain evenly and result in blotchiness. However, plywood with a looser wood grain pattern will take on stain much better.

Con #2: Stain Doesn’t Last That Long

The other main disadvantage that you get from staining plywood is that stain just doesn’t last all that long. If done properly, even the highest quality of wood stains will only last for around four to six years at the very most. However, as mentioned earlier, instead of peeling, stain will just fade, which means that reapplying a new layer is not too difficult.

What Type of Stain Should You Use for Plywood?

Wood Stain What type of stain you use for plywood really depends on the plywood in question. Of course, the color is one thing, because which color you choose really just depends on personal preference. There are hundreds of colors of stain to choose from.

In terms of the type of stain, or what the base is, you have three options to choose from. These include oil-based, water-based, and gel-based stain. If we are talking about plywood that has a very dense wood grain pattern, then you are better off using either water-based or gel wood stain. These types of wood stain tend to sit more on the surface of the wood rather than absorbing deep into it.

This, in turn, helps to keep the stain even. However, if you are going for maximum aesthetic appeal, and you are working with plywood that has a fairly loose grain pattern, then an oil-based stain will do better. What also needs to be said is that oil-based stain does tend to last a bit longer, while also being more water resistant.

How to Stain Plywood

Staining plywood is fairly easy to do, and it can be done in a few simple steps, so let’s take a quick look.

Step 1: Sand the Plywood

The first thing that you need to do is to sand the plywood using something like 180 grit sandpaper. You do want the sandpaper to be fairly fine, as this will allow you to smoothen out the plywood and ensure that it takes on the stain evenly.

Step 2: Clean the Plywood

You never want to apply something like stain to the plywood when it is dirty. Therefore, after sanding it down, you want to blow off any wood residue using a blower or dust collection system. Once that has been done, use a damp cloth or microfiber towel to clean away any remaining debris.

Step 3: Apply the Stain

Next, you want to prop the piece of plywood up somewhere, such as on a table. Then, you want to use either a brand new fine-bristled paintbrush or a paint roller to apply the layer of stain. You do want the paintbrush to be in good condition so the layer of stain will look uniform, or else you will be able to see individual brush strokes. All you need to do now is apply an even layer of stain to the surface of the wood.

Step 4: Wipe Away Excess Stain

To prevent an uneven appearance, as well as to speed up the drying process, you now want to use a dry and old rag to wipe away as much of the excess wood stain as you can.

Step 5: Repeat If Necessary

If you aren’t happy with the appearance of the first layer of stain, you want the plywood to be darker, or you want to add another layer of waterproofing, then you can always repeat all of the above steps, starting with the sanding, to achieve the desired result.

Staining Plywood: Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s quickly answer some of the most frequently asked questions about staining plywood.

Should You Paint or Stain Your Plywood?

As we mentioned above, what it really comes down to is that stain is primarily designed to darken wood while also preserving its natural appearance, especially where the visibility of the wood grain is concerned. Stain also does a decent job at adding some weather resistance to the mix. However, staining can be difficult to do, and a good application won’t last any longer than five or six years.

Paint, on the other hand, is much easier to apply, and mostly all types of plywood take on stain quite well. Moreover, with paint, there are of course many more color options to choose from, therefore allowing you to achieve a more specific appearance. Another difference to consider is that painting plywood will not preserve its natural appearance, although paint will generally do a better job at sealing the plywood from moisture and pests.

Will Staining Plywood Make It Waterproof?

Staining your plywood will certainly help to increase its overall resistance to moisture, temperatures, and the elements. With that being said, not all types of stain are best for this. In terms of creating a waterproof layer to help protect the wood, oil-based stain is generally going to work best, better than water-based stain. However, even if you use oil-based stain, your plywood still won’t be 100% waterproof.

If you need to waterproof your plywood, check this article.

Which Plywood Is Best for Staining?

Generally speaking, any type of hardwood plywood is going to take on stain fairly well. Wood types such as oak, alder, beech, ash, and other similar variations tend to take on stain well. They have a tendency to absorb stain evenly, which results in a uniform finish.

However, if we are talking about softwood, such as pine or cedar, they won’t take on stain quite as well. This often results in a poor finish, as these woods don’t absorb stain very evenly.

In a separate article, I wrote more about the advantages and disadvantages of the different types

Should You Stain Plywood Edges?

If you plan on having the plywood last for a long time to come, then yes, you should stain the edges of it. In fact, the edges of plywood are the most susceptible to moisture absorption and damage, and should therefore be stained. Most people may even recommend doing a double layer of wood stain on your edges.

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

Let’s quickly go over some tips and tricks to help make staining plywood much easier for you.

  • Never forget to sand the plywood down before staining it. The result here depends on how smooth that plywood is.
  • The higher the grade of plywood you choose, the smoother it will be and the fewer holes and knots it will have, therefore making the staining process much easier.
  • Remember that certain colors of stain look best on specific types of plywood, so you may want to do some research on that front.


You should now have all of the most important facts that you might need to make your next plywood staining experience a success.