How do I finish birch?

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Forum topic by Purrmaster posted 05-21-2016 11:19 AM 505 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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914 posts in 1514 days

05-21-2016 11:19 AM

Topic tags/keywords: birch solid birch finish stain dye blotching

Greetings and salutations.

I’m using birch for the first time. It didn’t seem very exciting but I wanted to try something new. This is solid birch, not birch plywood.

But I don’t know the best way to about staining/finishing it. The stuff itself is kind of boring so I am considering staining.

But I’ve read that birch blotches badly (is it just me or does the list of woods that don’t blotch shorter than the ones that do?) so I’m not sure stain is a great idea.

The grain on parts of my birch are kind of curly so I’d like to make that stand out a bit, if possible.

It’s going to be a table so I don’t think my old standby of shellac will be tough enough.



11 replies so far

View tool_junkie's profile


289 posts in 1950 days

#1 posted 05-21-2016 12:03 PM


I don’t have experience in staining solid Birch, but I do have experience with Birch Plywood. I don’t think that staining solid would be any different than staining ply. Here’s a copy paste of the process I explained in a comment on my project page. Hopefully this will help:

“Here’s the summary of how I applied stain to Birch ply. First I sanded with 120 grit sandpaper. Then I applied a layer of sealer (50/50 ratio of de-waxed Shellac and denatured alcohol). I let the sealer dry completely. Then I applied 3 coats of a 50/50 mix of General Finishes Georgian Cherry and Java Gel stains, waiting over night between the coats. After the final stain coat was completely dry, I applied three coats of Arm-R-Seal. “

View OSU55's profile


1039 posts in 1410 days

#2 posted 05-21-2016 12:24 PM

Blotch control. If you want to highlight the grain, use a dark dye, sand back, then a lighter dye. Can use pigmented stain instead of dye.

View jdh122's profile


878 posts in 2238 days

#3 posted 05-21-2016 02:47 PM

I use yellow birch a lot and really like it. It has grain very similar to cherry (though not that same great color unfortunately, unless you get heartwood, usually sold as red birch), is stronger but softer and so more forgiving than hard maple. As you’re on the west coast it may be another type of birch, but that would only affect the strength of the wood, not the way it finishes.
I never stain it. I think it looks nice with just tung oil, but I get the best results with a coat of BLO followed by amber shellac (2-3 coats padded on) and then wax. For a table, though, you’re right that this finish might not be durable enough, but a coat of water-based varnish (preferably General Finishes) would seal it all in and provide good protection.

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

View alittleoff's profile


288 posts in 697 days

#4 posted 05-21-2016 03:11 PM

I would check out Charles Neil’s formula for blotch control. Everything I’ve heard about it is good. Also check out his web site and utube. Lots of info. And he really knows wood.

View Ger21's profile


1047 posts in 2552 days

#5 posted 05-21-2016 03:31 PM

I use water soluble aniline dyes. no blotching at all.
My entire kitchen is birch, and everything was dyed. Pictures in my projects:

-- Gerry,

View Dabcan's profile


250 posts in 2092 days

#6 posted 05-22-2016 01:22 AM

I like my birch to keep a really light colour after finish, no yellowing at all if possible. I either use a water base poly, or livos oil (white version), this gives it almost a bleached look.

-- @craftcollectif ,,

View waho6o9's profile


7119 posts in 1998 days

#7 posted 05-22-2016 01:42 AM

Beautiful work Gerry:

View Dvalery20's profile


5 posts in 2050 days

#8 posted 05-22-2016 01:49 AM

Staining ply is always different than staining solid wood. Get yourself a simple spray bottle, fill it with some water and pre raise the grain by spraying down the surface, the sand it back doe to knock down the fibers. This should help, not 100% but will minimize the “blotching”

View Woodchuck2010's profile


465 posts in 279 days

#9 posted 05-22-2016 01:57 AM

I asked the same question a month or two ago. Wow, did that open a can of worms. I used Charles Neal blotch control and it worked for me.

-- Chuck, Michigan,

View Purrmaster's profile


914 posts in 1514 days

#10 posted 05-22-2016 10:18 AM

Thanks for the suggestions!

I do have some aniline dyes. ColorFX (the same as Transtint). I would like to emphasize the slightly curly grain, though that’s not a requirement.

I am on the west coast but I don’t know where the wood was sourced from. Crosscut hardwoods simply had it labeled as “birch.” It’s almost as white as hard maple, if that helps.

For the top coat I’m thinking I’ll do poly. I’m not crazy about the look of poly but it is tough and a tabletop needs to be pretty tough.

I am considering just leaving it unstained, as it’s not a bad color (I almost never stain hard maple) but it is just boring enough for me to want to put some color into it.

Does anyone know how stable birch is? The stuff I bought was S3S but none of sides was straight, which to me suggests wood movement.

View jdh122's profile


878 posts in 2238 days

#11 posted 05-23-2016 01:24 PM

According to my lumber supplier, birch does tend to warp a decent amount as it dries. Its peculiarity is that there is little difference between tangential and radial shrinkage, which means its radial shrinkage is higher than many other domestic hardwoods. It’s often a bit non-straight when I buy it (especially along the sides). This means a bit more wastage than with some other woods, but I haven’t really noticed that it moves that much more than other woods once dry (and the wood database gives yellow birch a tangential shrinkage rate that is virtually identical to that of hard maple).

-- Jeremy, in the Acadian forests

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