Staining Birch Plywood: How to Stain Birch Plywood in 7 Easy Steps

Last Updated on August 23, 2022 by Ernest Godia

Birch plywood is one of the most common wood products you’ll encounter. It’s a popular choice of wood for interior furniture like kitchen cabinets, cupboards, bookshelves, and office desks due to its affordable yet strong and durable nature.

However, staining birch plywood can be challenging since it’s extremely absorbent and sucks in stain quickly and unevenly. Staining it without care is likely to leave you with some unexpected blotchiness. 

This article guides you on how to stain birch plywood and suggests the best stains for your project, so you don’t end up with an unpleasantly blotchy finish.

Can You Stain Birch Plywood?

Yes, you can certainly stain birch plywood, even though the process is trickier than staining other types of wood. This wood product does not evenly take stains since it has large pores between its layers, which sap the stain and cause splotching.

It takes some additional steps, and you’ll need more time and attention to achieve the best results when staining birch.

Is Birch Plywood Hard to Stain?

Birch plywood can be hard to stain and requires following specific steps and tactics to achieve a desirable look. When staining, you’ll also notice that stain dries off the surface faster than it does with most normal wood. This can lead to uneven staining since excess stains dry out before you have time to wipe. 

To stain birch plywood appropriately, you must prepare its surface well to improve its chances of absorbing stain evenly. The best way to prepare the surface is to sand it and apply a pre-stain conditioner before applying your stain on the birch plywood.

Summary of How to Stain Birch Plywood

To stain birch plywood, test your stain first on a scrap piece of birchwood, and choose the staining style you’ll use. Then, prepare your workspace and gather all the necessary tools and materials. 

Clean the plywood surface, then lightly sand it before applying the pre-stain conditioner. Let the conditioner dry before applying your stain of choice. Let it sit for a few minutes before wiping off the excess stain and leaving it to dry. 

Finally, apply a coat of sealant to lock in the color and prevent wear and tear.

Best Stain Colors for Staining Birch Plywood

When appropriately stained, birch plywood looks elegant in a variety of colors. Some of the best colors you can use to stain your plywood furniture include:

  • Classic Gray: This stain color will give your interior furniture a refined and stylish look and make your home radiate with warmth.
  • Antique white: This is a superior light-white colored stain that will enhance the natural beauty of your interior birch plywood surfaces and make them look more beautiful than ever.
  • Briarsmoke: This stain color does an excellent job highlighting the wood grain and bringing out its natural beauty.
  • Dark walnut: Staining your birch plywood with this stain color will provide a rich dark appearance resembling more expensive wood types like mahogany.
  • Weathered oak: Like Briarsmoke, the weathered oak stain color highlights the natural wood grain and gives your plywood a sophisticated look with just one coat of stain.

What’s Birchwood, and What Are Its Characteristics? 

Birchwood is a light hardwood commonly used as a veneer for kitchen cabinets and hardwood floors. Many home improvement stores prefer using birchwood since it makes superior plywood that’s durable, stable, and less expensive. 

Birchwood is extremely strong and top-rated alongside hard-rock maples on a hardness scale. It’s, therefore, often utilized in making structures that require absolute strength, such as hydraulic presses.

There are two common species of birchwood: White birch and yellow birch. They both have fine grain with beautiful pale colors that give cabinets and wooden floors a versatile and stylish look. 

You can give your birchwood furniture the finishing you want by staining, painting, bleaching, embossing, or scoring according to your preferences. Despite its strength and durability, this is one of the least expensive woods you’ll find on the market. 

Characteristics of Birchwood

Some unique characteristics of birchwood that make it an interesting product to work with include:

  • It comes in various colors that you can mix and match to produce a beautiful effect for your interior furniture. The colors range from light cream to shades of golden brown, which give a perfect look to your floors, cabinets, and counters.
  • It’s less expensive and more affordable to most woodworkers and homeowners. However, the prices of birch plywood and veneers vary with the grade of birchwood used.
  • Birchwood is strong and makes highly durable furniture. Its strength is above average and in the same bracket as hardwoods like maple.
  • It’s lighter than other popular hardwoods and, therefore, makes furniture that is less bulky and easy to move around.
  • It’s malleable, so it can easily be manipulated into different shapes. That’s why you can find birchwood in different forms, including plywood, saw timber, peeled wood, and veneer. 
  • Even though it’s a hardwood, birch is less dense than other famous softwoods like Pine and Redwood.

How to Stain Birch Plywood in 7 Easy Steps

The versatile nature of birchwood makes it valuable for a variety of wood-related projects. Birch plywood is one of its products that makes some stylish and durable wood furniture for your home interior.

However, you’ll need to do some staining to achieve the best look that makes your furniture more elegant. Read on to learn how to stain your birch plywood in seven easy steps and some tricks you can use to get the best results.

What You’ll Need for Staining Birch Plywood

Here are the tools and materials you’ll need to stain your birch plywood furniture appropriately:

  • A wood stain of your choice
  • Wood conditioner
  • Wood sealer/finish (e.g., varnish or polyurethane)
  • Sandpaper (180 grit)
  • Natural bristle staining brushes
  • Sanding sponge
  • Tarp or plastic sheeting 
  • Lint-free cotton rags
  • Protective gear (rubber gloves and dust mask)
  • Painter’s tape

Steps for Staining Birch Plywood 

Staining birch plywood shouldn’t be a headache if you have the necessary materials and follow the correct procedures. 

Follow this step-by-step guide to help you stain your furniture the right way and achieve that attractive look you desire.

Step 1: Prepare your workstation.

Before you start staining your birch plywood, you want to begin by preparing your workstation and gathering all the tools and materials at the station. 

Collect everything you need and put them in your workspace to minimize movement once you start working and to save you time. 

Since you’ll be working with chemicals that release toxic fumes, it’s best to work outdoors if your furniture is portable. However, if your furniture is fixed and immovable (e.g., kitchen cabinets), ensure the room is well ventilated by keeping the windows open and turning up the A.C.

Lay down a tarp or newspapers to protect the floor from stain pillages. Also, put on your protective gear, including the dust mask to protect you from breathing in sawdust and rubber gloves to protect your hands from stains.

Step 2: Test your stain and choose a staining style

Before you start working on your actual project, test your stain on a scrap piece of birch plywood to see what to expect in the end. Water-based stains tend to produce the best results with this wood product, but if you have an oil-based or gel stain, you can still use it. 

Test the stain on the exact type of plywood you’ll be staining so you won’t be disappointed by the outcome. Testing the stain will also help you decide on the staining style you’ll use on your project. 

For instance, you’ll know how many stain coats you’ll need to apply to achieve your desired shade, how much wiping you’ll need to do, and how long you’ll need to wait before wiping off.

If you want your furniture to come out with a darker shade, you’ll need to apply more than one coat of stain and wait a little longer before wiping it off. However, remember that staining too dark may dull the wood grain depending on the stain you are using.

Step 3: Clean the Plywood Surface

After testing your stain and choosing a staining style, clean the surface of your furniture to remove any extraneous debris. 

Damp a piece of lint-free cotton cloth in water and squeeze out the excess. Next, use the damp cotton cloth to wipe the plywood surface for staining. Wiping not only makes the surface clean but also wets it to loosen wood fiber.

Step 4: Sand the surface

Once you clean the surface, your birch plywood is ready for sanding. This step is critical in preparing your furniture for staining to achieve the best results.

Sanding helps raise the wood grain and open the pores to take the stain more effortlessly. It also loosens clumped fibers and gives the product a smoother surface before staining. 

Since you made the surface damp in step 4 above, let it dry first before sanding. Once it’s completely dry, sand the entire surface lightly and gently with 180-grit sandpaper. 

You can use hand sandpaper if your surface is small and manageable. However, an orbital sander will be handy if you’re working on a larger project.

Step 5: Apply pre-stain conditioner

After sanding, use your natural bristle paint brush to apply an even coat of pre-stain conditioner on the entire surface. 

Since birchwood absorbs stain quicker than normal wood, you may be disappointed by the resultant blotchiness if you don’t apply a pre-stain conditioner. The furniture is likely to be unevenly stained and will look a little messy.

Applying a coat of pre-stain conditioner lets the wood fiber soak up the pre-treatment and reduces its ability to absorb the stain too quickly. Consequently, your plywood furniture will stain evenly without the blotchiness that most people encounter when working on similar projects. 

Note that the pre-stain conditioner has no color of its own and will, therefore, not impact the final color of your stained pieces. You can purchase wood conditioners from your local home improvement store or make yours by mixing mineral spirits with linseed oil in equal portions. 

Apply an even coat of conditioner on the entire surface and let it dry completely before proceeding to stain.

Step 6: Apply your stain and let it dry

Once you apply your pre-stain conditioner and let the surface dry, it’s time to stain. 

Use your natural-bristle paint brush or a foam brush to apply one coat of stain at a time, using even strokes, covering the entire surface. Stain in the direction of the grain for the best results. 

After applying the stain, let it sit on the surface for a few minutes, then use a clean cotton rag to wipe off the excess. Note that the more time you let it sit before wiping, the darker it will stain your piece of furniture. 

However, be careful not to let the stain stay too long and dry out on the plywood before wiping. If it does, it will become tacky and look messy. You might have to redo your project to fix a tacky mess and reverse the outcome.

Let the stained plywood dry completely before moving to the next step (check the product label for the recommended drying time).

Step 7: Seal it professionally

Finally, you’ll want to protect your beautifully stained furniture by covering it with a coat of sealant or finish.

Examples of sealants you can use to seal your stained birch plywood include:

  • Oil-based or water-based polyurethane (the best option)
  • Varnish
  • Lacquer
  • Shellac

Once the stain is dry, apply an even coat of sealant on the entire surface using a paintbrush and let it dry.

Sealing the surface will help lock in the color and protect your furniture from untimely wear. It also protects it from easy scratching and the effects of elements like moisture and sunshine. This makes your furniture more resilient and durable.

And hurray! Now you have your beautifully-stained birch plywood furniture with a classy look without the price tag of exotic species like mahogany!

Pros and Cons of Working with Birch Plywood

Professional woodworkers and home improvement specialists prefer working with birch plywood for many reasons. However, birch plywood is not without its share of limitations.  

Let’s look at some pros and cons of working with this engineered wood product:


Some of the advantages of working with birch plywood for your home improvement projects include:

  • Versatility: Birch plywood not only looks elegant in its original color but also blends well with various stain colors and shades. This means you can play around with it by mixing various stain colors to create a unique blend for your interior furniture.
  • Affordability: This wood is readily available in most timber yards throughout the country and goes at a lower price compared to exotic wood species like mahogany.
  • Strength and durability: Birch plywood is strong and highly durable since it’s made of several layers of birch wood. Therefore, you can trust your pieces of furniture to last many years without wear and tear.
  • Malleability: Due to its low density, this wood product is highly malleable and can be easily manipulated into various shapes and forms. It’s therefore easy to handle and work with.
  • Reliable supply: When working with birchwood, you don’t need to worry about short supply since it’s widely available in all seasons.
  • Aesthetics: Birch plywood is one wood product that will give your interior furniture and fittings a beautiful and admirable look, making your home feel warm and classy at all times.


Some setbacks of working with birch plywood include:

  • Staining is time-consuming: Unlike other types of wood, there’s a lot of preparation and care that must be taken when staining birch plywood. Failing to prepare it appropriately may produce a mess in the end.
  • Not suitable for outdoor furniture: Birch plywood is more suitable for interior furniture than exterior since it needs to be protected from the elements to remain sound for longer. 
  • No sophisticated grain pattern: The furniture surface may look plain and boring to you if you are a fan of sophisticated grain patterns, which this wood product lacks.

Correcting Splotchy Areas After Staining Birch Plywood

Despite following the recommended steps and being careful with your staining, your plywood may still have splotchy areas. These are areas that are unevenly stained and have taken too much or too little stain compared to the rest of the surface. 

However, don’t worry much since you can easily fix it. To correct the mess, purchase a wood toner from your local home improvement store and spray it carefully on the splotchy areas. The toner will help even out the imperfections and make them blend well with the rest of the surface.

Spray slowly and carefully, and your furniture will eventually have an evenly stained look with no splotchy surfaces that make it look messy.

Tips and Tricks for Staining Birch Plywood

Here are some more tips and tricks you can utilize when staining birch plywood to make your staining job achieve a superior outcome:

  • Use water-based stains: If possible, use water-based stains on this wood product since they stain more evenly than oil-based or gel stains.
  • Make it look expensive: Though it’s a cheaper product, you can make your birch plywood furniture look like it’s made from expensive hardwoods like walnut and mahogany. Choose a darker stain and apply only one coat of pre-stain conditioner to allow the stain to darken the pores while evenly distributing the color.
  • Finish the professional way: To finish professionally, let your furniture dry for at least 48 hours before applying a coat of quality sealant like polyurethane on the entire stained surface.
  • Use hard wax oil: To provide a more durable finish, seal your plywood with hard wax oil, a natural product that doesn’t flake or crack with time as standard varnish does.

Best Stains for Birch Plywood

As mentioned, water-based stains produce the best results when staining birch. This is because it penetrates better and evenly distributes the color on your plywood. 

However, specific oil-based stains also perform well and will give your wood the stylish look it deserves. Some of the best stains for birch plywood you’ll find in the market include:

  1. Varathane Premium Briarsmoke
Staining birch plywood with Verathane

Varathane Briarsmoke Premium is one of the best stains you can use to stain your birch plywood furniture. 

This stain is made from a fast-drying oil-based formula that enables you to finish your wood project in the shortest time possible. The formula dries to touch in only one hour, and you only need to apply one coat to get elegant briarsmoke-colored plywood. 

Another unique trait is that its stain system is enhanced with nano pigment particles which spread evenly to highlight the natural wood grain and reveal its beauty. This stain is ideal for all your interior furniture, including kitchen cabinets, trim, paneling, and doors.

  1. Minwax Dark Walnut
Staining birch plywood with Minwax

The Minwax Dark Walnut stain is another quality oil-based stain on the market with a deep penetrating property.

This stain is specially formulated to give birch plywood a dark, expensive look with just one coat. It penetrates wood pores quickly and evenly distributes the colorant. Additionally, it dries faster than standard oil-based stain, helping you finish your project within one day. 

This stain will produce some of the best results with your unfinished wood furniture, doors, kitchen cabinets, accessories, and trim.

FAQs on Staining Birchwood

Is birch plywood good for staining?

Even though birch plywood is not the best wood product for staining, you can still achieve the best results by preparing the surface adequately. You’ll need to sand it lightly to raise the wood grain and apply a pre-stain wood conditioner before staining. 

This will prevent the birchwood from absorbing stain too quickly, which leads to uneven staining and blotchiness.

What color stain works best on birch?

Some of the best color stains for your birch plywood furniture include Classic Gray, Briarsmoke, Dark Walnut, Antique White, and Weathered Oak. These stain colors highlight the wood grain and enhance the natural beauty of your interior birchwood furniture.

What is the best finish for birch plywood?

The best finish for birch plywood is water-based or oil-based polyurethane. However, you can also use varnish, lacquer, or shellac to give your furniture a professional finish and protect it from untimely wear and tear.

Is it better to stain or paint birch plywood?

Staining is the better option if you want to preserve the wood grain and maintain its natural look. Prepare the surface to take stain evenly by sanding and applying pre-stain wood conditioner. 

However, if you don’t mind hiding the wood grain, you can paint the furniture with your color of choice instead of staining.

Final Thoughts on Staining Birch Plywood

Birch plywood is among the most common wood products you’ll encounter and enjoy working with as a woodworker. Despite not having the original structure of real wood, it’s extremely durable, versatile, and affordable. 

Once you understand the nitty-gritty of staining birch plywood correctly, you can give your furniture a classy and expensive look without breaking the bank.

Did you find this tutorial helpful? Let’s know what you think in the comment section.

Feel free to share this article with your fellow woodworking friends to let them know how to stain birch plywood flawless and hassle-free.

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