Refinishing birch plywood cabinets...

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Forum topic by mexicanfooddude posted 04-24-2015 01:10 PM 735 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 552 days

04-24-2015 01:10 PM

Hey everyone, new here, thanks for the help. Done some searching but can’t really find a direct answer, so figured I’d throw it out there…

I built some kitchen cabinets with birch plywood and alder face frames. We were going for a rustic, southwestern/native american scheme in the room, and my wife ended up deciding she wanted to stain them dark-ish, and they turned out like crap. No fault of her own I think, or at least not entirely, I’ve been reading that staining birch can be finicky, and often not even recommended. That without a very detailed process they can turn out really blotchy. Well, they are all blotchy.

I want to refinish them… again, trying to achieve a rustic or colorful navajo-style look. The three options I envision are either
1. Get them back to a raw birch plywood look by heavy sanding and poly em. Thinking this may not be best because I’ll be sanding through that outer ply to get through all the stain?
2. Veneers, applied over the sanded smooth by still stained plywood,
3. Or perhaps it would be best just to sand and paint them and forget about getting the raw wood look. I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts/input on the feasibility of those three options, potential issues, least time consuming, etc…

Or if anyone else has other ideas!

Thanks again, ahead of time.

5 replies so far

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4408 posts in 3384 days

#1 posted 04-24-2015 02:22 PM

What stain did ya use? Can’t it be stripped?
Sanding would be my last resort. Paint would solve this issue easily. Maybe a paint/glaze finish?


View CB_Cohick's profile


448 posts in 674 days

#2 posted 04-24-2015 02:38 PM

I think sanding plywood is problematic. If it can be stripped chemically I would go that route. I am still learning about finishing birch. The process I am currently working with is to clean with mineral spirits, apply a glue sizing, apply diluted polyurethane, repeat the dilute poly 2x.

-- Chris - Would work, but I'm too busy reading about woodwork.

View the_other_ken's profile


21 posts in 2399 days

#3 posted 04-24-2015 04:30 PM

If you haven’t put anything over that stain my try sealing it with 1 pound mix of shellac and even everything out with gel stain. Even if you don’t do the shellac you should be able to even it out with the gel stain although you might lift some of the original stain.

If you already applied a finish over the stain, you can try stripping that finish and then try the gel stain over what remains of the original stain.

Gel stain tend to sit on the surface and you can vary the “thickness” of it to even out a lot of blotchyness.

Another option is to spray on some toner coats….

View mexicanfooddude's profile


2 posts in 552 days

#4 posted 04-24-2015 07:00 PM

Thanks for the responses everyone. I haven’t done much wood finishing thus far in my exploits, I didn’t really know about stripping stain chemically… doing some reading about it now. The citrus stripping sounds appealing, as I’d prefer to stay away from some heavy duty chemicals.

theotherken, I’ll look into the shellac/gel stain idea. Sounds less time consuming than stripping and reapplying.

and of course, the least time consuming of them all is probably just painting… hmmm….

well if anything this project has reinforced the adage of doing it right the first time for future projects :)

View Dan658's profile


93 posts in 693 days

#5 posted 04-24-2015 07:02 PM

My experience using birch ply is that the top veneer is usually VERY thin which pretty much takes sanding (let alone heavy sanding) out of the equation. Writing this off as experience and going with paint is going to be the easiest route, but I don’t see why you couldn’t go with veneer if you feel like tackling that. I don’t have any experience in veneering, but veneering cabinets that are already assembled might be a bit of a chore. All that being said, it wouldn’t hurt to try stripping the finish chemically like previously mentioned. Not much to lose at this point.

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