Staining Birch Plywood?

  • Advertise with us

« back to Finishing forum

Forum topic by tool_junkie posted 09-15-2011 04:51 PM 27092 views 4 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View tool_junkie's profile


326 posts in 2584 days

09-15-2011 04:51 PM


I am ready to start applying stain to a TV cabinet I recently built using Birch Plywood from Menards. I have a few questions and will highly appreciate any help I can get, so here we go:

1- I am thinking of using Gel Stain (darker color), so do I need to use a Pre-Stain conditioner?

2- If I don’t use the pre-stain conditioner, is there going to be a noticeable amount of blotchiness and streaking with Gel stain?

3- I have heard and read good reviews for General Finishes brand stain, but I can’t find it locally. Are Minwax and Varathane brand gel stains comparable to General Finishes?

Thanks for all your help!

17 replies so far

View ajosephg's profile


1880 posts in 3616 days

#1 posted 09-15-2011 05:18 PM

Shouldn’t have any problems with blotchiness or streaking on birch plywood.

I’ve never used gel stains, so can’t help you with that.

-- Joe

View CharlieM1958's profile


16276 posts in 4273 days

#2 posted 09-15-2011 05:42 PM

I agree with Joe that blotching should not be an issue.

I’ve never used General Finishes stain, so I can’t help you with a comparison.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3124 days

#3 posted 09-15-2011 06:03 PM

Minwax is usually pretty good. IIRC, the instructions on the can will say whether a conditioner is needed. As always, experiment on some scrap before you commit yourself.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View dpop24's profile


115 posts in 2624 days

#4 posted 09-15-2011 06:18 PM

Please excuse the silly newbie question, but if regular birch hardwood blotches and needs conditioner, how come birch plywood doesn’t have the same propensity for blotchiness. I’m glad this came up, I would have assumed the same properties and wasted time with conditioning.

-- If it ain't broke, take it apart and find out why

View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3124 days

#5 posted 09-15-2011 06:29 PM

Not a silly question at all, dpop. IME, birch can and does blotch with some stains. The OP, however, plans to use a gel-stain.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View Jonathan's profile


2608 posts in 3106 days

#6 posted 09-15-2011 07:41 PM

If you are going to use a gel stain, it shouldn’t be as big of a deal. You may still have some sort of issue though. I think a larger issue that has not yet been mentioned, and a question I have: Are you only using birch plywood? I’m assuming there is some sort of hardwood trim somewhere here? If so, are you going to stain it the same color, or a different color?

If you want the finish to be the same, and are using both plywood and hardwood together, if it were me, I think I’d use some sort of blotch control/pre-conditioner, just to keep the color the same across both wood types. From my experience, it’s not as big of a deal when using gel stain, but others have said, experiment on some scrap first.

I’ll be applying a yet-to-be-decided-upon finish to some bookcases sometime later this year that will be made out of both plywood and hardwood. I’ll be using Charles Neil Blotch Control so that the colors match as closely as possible. The main advantage I see to using a pre-conditioner, besides helping to eliminate blotching issues, is to provide an even base so that the color is nice and uniform.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3214 days

#7 posted 09-15-2011 09:17 PM

Birch plywood, IME, blotches quite a bit…even if you apply a gel stain, there could be some issues, IME. I’d use the conditioner.

-- jay,

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3214 days

#8 posted 09-15-2011 09:25 PM

BTW, I really don’t like the look of birch plywood finished with any type of stain. I’d use a dye, preferrably used to tint a de-waxed shellac.

Use a test board with whatever method you choose.

-- jay,

View ralmand's profile


162 posts in 3358 days

#9 posted 09-15-2011 09:40 PM

I stained some Birch plywood awhile back. I used the pre-conditioner and had no problem. I used the General Brand also

-- Randy, Allen Texas

View James Clapperton's profile

James Clapperton

35 posts in 2510 days

#10 posted 09-16-2011 06:00 PM

Cosmicsniper is right. I use birch ply for all of my guitar cabinets. It’s very prone to blotchyness. Use a wash coat of dewaxed shellac 1:1 with alcohol or a pre stain conditioner. The GF gel stain is WAY less likely to give you problems than almost any other product. Take your time and only do one side before wiping it off. Don’t wrap over the corners onto the other sides or I promise you’ll get some nasty lap marks, especially if you’re using a dark color like the java. Take your time, don’t slop it on and it will be a breeze. The GF gel is my go to stain for a natural color palette. It’s great stuff.

View Earlextech's profile


1162 posts in 2746 days

#11 posted 09-19-2011 08:43 PM

I use a 2lb cut of dewaxed shellac. Birch anything will and can be blotchy, don’t take any chances. It’s much harder to fix after the fact. I always seal coat before stain. The idea of putting some stain into the shellac works great.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

View Carbide's profile


210 posts in 2501 days

#12 posted 09-19-2011 10:20 PM

Be cautious about using plywood from Menards. I built 2 cabinets with Menards oak plywood and the oak laminate was so thin that the glue used to apply the laminate had bled through the grain of the wood and would not take stain at all. The cabinets were ruined….... Be nice to know where to buy some good USA made plywood.

-- When it feels like a job, it isn't a hobby anymore.

View Jonathan's profile


2608 posts in 3106 days

#13 posted 09-20-2011 07:41 PM

Carbide, That is unfortunate. I think one of the points to using a seal coat is to give you an even base to start with. Maybe you couldn’t tell the glue was there until you began applying the finish? Wiping the surface down with mineral spirits, etc. will help reveal any glue spots.

If you apply a seal coat first, your finish over the top of it will then be consistent. For instance, Sam’s suggestion above of using the dewaxed shellac will lay down and adhere over the plywood evenly, including any glue bleed through, then you can apply your finish over the top of the shellac and you should get nice even results, as long as your application of the finish istself is consistent.

-- Jonathan, Denver, CO "Constructive criticism is welcome and valued as it gives me new perspectives and helps me to advance as a woodworker."

View docnewt's profile


15 posts in 3720 days

#14 posted 09-23-2011 02:31 PM

Woodcraft and Rocker carry GF products and they really are some of the best on the market. Blotching is best controlled using Charles Neils blotch control. This is truly a sulerior product and can be previewed at hi site. google him

-- You can't fix stupid

View SixPants's profile


4 posts in 1273 days

#15 posted 01-25-2015 04:05 AM

I’m a relative novice so my comments should be taken as such:

I built a 6’ x 2’ locker with birch plywood (1/2”) from Home Depot. I used water-based Minwax with conditioner.

I sanded to 220, conditioned, very lightly sanded, then stained.

I’ve read that birch loves to swallow stain. Water-based stains already absorb fast so it’s been a pretty difficult experience. Even with the conditioner I’ll get utterly inexplicable blotches. Or one zone will just suck all the stain in. Looks like crap; however, I know that when it gets in the dining room and covered with coats and bags no one will notice.

If I had to do it over, I would consider (and have since read) that 2 coats of conditioner are advised. Oil-based isn’t an option since I’m working in the basement and my kids need to breath (apparently).

I tried brushing and rubbing. Brushing works better – the more stain you can lay on the surface the more you can control how fast it dries up. Especially on those long boards.

I hope this helps someone. It’s worth noting that I tested the same stain on a piece of non-conditioned, non-sanded oak and it applied beautifully and evenly. Even the crummy piece of poplar I tried it on took the stain well. So I think there’s a combination of user error, challenges of water-based, and mid-grade level of plywood conspiring against me here.

showing 1 through 15 of 17 replies

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics