Stain Plywood to Look Like Hardwood

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Plywood has many advantages for use in woodworking projects, cabinetry, and as a building material. It is easy to cut and shape and extremely tough thanks to the multiple layers of glued veneer. Depending on how the material was processed, you get water-resistant, fire-resistant, and termite-resistant plywood.

However, a significant drawback of using plywood is that on its own, it does not look that great. It neither has a grain structure nor does it have a pleasant texture. The usual practice to enhance the surface of plywood is to stick veneers of different types of wood or laminates on the outer surface. But another great way of making your plywood surfaces out is to apply a stain. In this post, we discuss the way you can stain plywood to look like hardwood.

How to Stain Plywood to Look Like Hardwood

Painting bare wood

Using plywood saves you a whole lot of money given that it comes as a cheap alternative to hardwood. But by saying “cheap,” you wouldn’t want your woodwork project to look cheap as well. If you stain the plywood surface, you can make it look like the real thing, and, what’s more, you have quite a few alternatives as we shall see. But first, let’s consider the easy option – painting:

Painting Plywood

House painter using a paint roller

The method you adopt will differ according to the result that you want. You don’t need to be as thorough with lower-grade plywood (B and C) as you have to be with higher-grade material. Lower-grade plywood is rough and contains aberrances which makes it easy to paint and you don’t need to spend much time prepping the surface of the plywood.

The type of paint you use depends on the final location of the plywood and the best paint you can use is water-based latex paint. If you use such paint, then you can use the plywood both indoors and outdoors.

Staining Plywood

stack of plywood

You may find staining plywood more complicated than using paint, because plywood soaks up stain in different places to varying extents, making the surface look blotchy. If you want the best results, you should use pre-staining and post-staining products, which will cost you a bit more but it’s worth the added expense.

Choosing the Best Stain

You get both oil-based and water-based stains. An oil-based stain combined with a pre-stain conditioner helps to prevent blotchiness and imparts an overall better look to the finished product. If you want to improve your finish even further, you can use a gel-based stain.

How to Prep the Wood

Paint brush duct tape and protective gloves on wood board constr

For prepping the wood, you will need a paintbrush, rubber gloves for applying the stain, and a lint-free cloth. Use sandpaper to sand down the surface of the plywood and then wipe the dry powder from the surface.

Next, using a rag soaked in mineral spirits, wipe down the surface of the plywood thoroughly. You would do well to follow the instructions on the packaging for best results. After the wood is dry, then you can apply stain conditioner with another lint-free cloth.

Applying the Stain

After the stain conditioner is completely dry, you can apply the stain with either a rag or a brush. Before you apply the stain, check one last time to ensure that there are no blemishes or dust particles on the surface of the plywood. The more stain you apply on the wood, the darker the color of the wood will be.

After 15 to 20 seconds, you can wipe off any excess stain. The applied stain should dry in about 12 hours, but it is always better to verify correct use and drying time by reading the manufacturer’s instructions.

Adding Finishing Touches

After the stain dries, you need to add some sort of protective coatings like polyurethane or lacquer to ensure that the stain doesn’t rub off. You can get these coatings in convenient spray cans, but they are also available for applying by brush. They come in a variety of sheens and textures. Add at least three coats for best results. The entire operation should be carried out in a well-ventilated area for safety and adequate drying.

Best Practices to Maintain Plywood Furniture

Plywood is fragile and tough at the same time. It is practically impossible to split plywood. On the other hand, the layers can easily come apart from excessive exposure to moisture or sunlight. Hence, it is imperative to follow procedures to look after and maintain plywood correctly. Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction:

The Effect of Sunlight

Never leave furniture exposed to direct sunlight for prolonged periods. The ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun will have a bleaching effect on the surface of the plywood. Using a UV timber finish to plywood furniture helps to prolong the life of plywood in case it gets regularly exposed to direct sunlight.

Protection from Moisture

Ensure that plywood isn’t exposed to moisture and the elements. When you store plywood, make sure that it is stored in a cool, dry place. Certain grades of plywood are meant for outdoor use, so you can use those if your projects will be located outdoors. But even outdoor grade plywood needs proper protective treatment.

Keep Away from Oils and Foodstuffs

Ensure that plywood does not have direct exposure to foods, oils, and chemicals that will stain the plywood and damage it in the long run. Handle plywood with care in places where liquids are present (like in a washroom or a kitchen). Be quick to wipe up spills.

Clean Plywood with Care

Plywood needs minimal cleaning and wiping with a dry cloth is usually sufficient to do the job. You can use mild detergents in extreme cases of staining, but ensure to rinse clean water and wipe the surface thoroughly with a dry cloth to remove the excess moisture.

Regular Maintenance

It is a good practice to maintain plywood surfaces at least once every two years. If there are any gouges or scratches, those need to be rubbed down with fine-grit sandpaper first. Regular maintenance of your plywood furniture and flooring will extend its life.


Plywood is a viable option to solid wood which you can get at a fraction of the price. The main drawback of this type of wood is that on its own, it does not have the classy looks of solid wood. But you can remedy this shortcoming by applying an appropriate stain. If you stain plywood properly, you can choose any type of wood or wood grain and create a masterpiece in your woodworking projects.