Birch plywood is a favorite choice for various applications due to its relatively low cost despite being strong and durable, among other advantages.

The wood looks great in its natural state. But if you want to match it with the rest of your décor, you may want it in a different shade. In such a case, staining birch plywood may be inevitable.

This article looks at various characteristics of birch plywood and how to stain it successfully. You will also find its pros and cons to keep in mind when choosing it for your next woodworking project.

Can You Stain Birch Plywood?

Yes, you can stain birch plywood using any type of wood stain. However, a water-based stain often gives the best results given the wood’s uniquely porous structure. And you can apply it in different ways, including brushing and wiping it onto the wood surface with a cloth. 

What is Birchwood? 

Birchwood is a deciduous hardwood tree with thin leaves. It is popular due to its superior features, making it a common sight in virtually any woodwork area.

It produces strong, durable, and classy furnishings, especially in the form of engineered woods like veneer and plywood. The wood is readily available in various places.

You will find it in nearly every state in the US despite not being native to the United States. Birchwood veneer is relatively cheap to manufacture and buy.

Birchwood veneer comes in various colors, with the prices of highly demanded colors being higher than other varieties. The wood is relatively strong, with a decent tensile strength making it more durable than most engineered woods.

Overall, Birchwood makes some of the most beautiful and versatile veneers. This makes it among the best options for any project requiring sturdy and beautiful wood boards.

Even though Birch is not the best candidate for staining, you should have no problems doing so after sanding and priming the surface properly. Birch can also be embossed, painted, bleached, and scored with great success.

Interesting Read: Staining Mahogany.

Characteristics of Birchwood

Birchwood has numerous distinct characteristics that set it apart from other wood types. Here are some of its most outstanding properties. 

  • Birchwood comes in various colors that some woodworkers often mix and match to fit specific applications. 
  • Birchwood colors range from cream to golden brown shades, perfect for flooring, tables, counters, etc. 
  • Birchwood varies in appearance depending on where you buy it.
  • Birch veneers and plywood are priced according to the grade of the specific material.
  • Strength of plywood: Birchwood boasts an above-average shear and tensile strength. It is stronger than most engineered woods out on the market. 
  • Birchwood is native to Western central Europe, Japan, and Asia. However, it is grown in various parts of America. 
  • The wood is less heavy than other popular hardwoods. 
  • It is considered soft in the hardwood classification, ranking below softwoods like Pine or Redwood in density.  
  • The wood is malleable, making it easy to work with. It’s easily available in various forms such as peeled wood, sawn timber, and veneer, for endless applications. 

Is Birch Hard to stain? 

Staining Birchwood can be challenging because it does not readily accept stains in its native state. It has large pores between its layers, sap up the wood stain leading to splotching. 

Stain tends to dry much faster on birch wood surfaces, which can be counterproductive to the normal staining process. In addition, this property can make it pretty challenging to wipe the excess stain in time to color the wood appropriately. 

So, you must always know how best to prepare the wood’s surface to improve how it accepts wood stains. First, you must sand the wood and then apply a compatible pre-stain conditioner to stain birch plywood evenly and make it look nice.

How to Stain Birch Plywood 

A picture illustration of how birch is stained

Staining Birch wood requires adequate surface preparation of the material to accept the stain evenly. How you prep the surface will directly influence the quality of your stain job.

One thing is certain: proper sanding and conditioning will give the desired results each time. 

What you will need

  • Sandpaper 
  • Power sander (optional)
  • Sanding sponge 
  • Wood stain 
  • Tarp 
  • Wood staining brushes
  • Clean lint-free rags 
  • Pre-stain conditioners
  • Wood sealer 
  • Hand gloves 
  • Dust mask 
  • Painter’s tape (optional)

Steps to follow 

The process of staining birch plywood may be slightly longer, with more elbow grease than staining woods like oak. So you will need a little patience to see it through successfully. 

That said, here is the procedure to follow to complete this project. 

Preliminary step: Prepare the workspace

You will be working with stains and other chemical products likely to stain your floor or anything around your workspace, so lay down a tarp to collect any spills.

Alternatively, you can use newspaper or plastic sheeting in place of a tarp. In any case, the size of your project should determine what you can use. 

Next, ensure everything you will need is within reach. Some woodworkers take things further by ensuring these supplies are placed on their dominant hand side near the workpiece. This step makes a ton of sense as it can help save you lots of time. 

The other crucial thing is to prepare yourself by wearing appropriate protective gear. Since you will be sanding wood, you may want to wear a dust mask to protect your lungs from inhaling the sanding dust. 

You also need protective hand gloves to keep your hand from getting stained. The same rule applies to the clothing you wear. It should be something you do not mind getting stains on. 

Step 1: Prep the plywood for staining

Before you begin working, it is essential to inspect the workpiece to ensure you have figured out the sides to stain and how you wish to stain it. 

This is the point to decide whether you will stain it dark or light. Want to stain it light? You can use a white wood stain.

Step 2: Sand your birch plywood 

Sanding is an essential part of the preparation, so take your time with it. You could sand it directly, but we recommend rubbing the surface with a damp rag to dampen it slightly for better results.

This will raise the grain slightly, loosening any clumped fibers. After this happens, sanding the wood will produce a nicer and smoother surface.

After dampening the plywood, allow it to dry fully before sanding. The entire drying process should take an hour or so, depending on the weather. Nonetheless, the more time you allow, the better.

This is one of the parts where patience comes in. Once the board is fully dry, start it off with 180-grit sandpaper, preferably on a random orbital sander for a large project.

If you are working on a small project, a sanding sponge should be sufficient. A power sander is best for larger projects because it can cover more of the surface faster, saving time. 

Whatever you use, ensure you sand lightly. You don’t want to dig into the wood with your sandpaper. 

Step 3: Apply pre-stain wood conditioner 

After sanding, you may want to use painter’s tape to cover all the areas you do not want the stain to reach. This step is only essential if there are parts to avoid staining. 

If there are no parts you do not want the stain on, you can skip the painter’s tape altogether. Use a soft-bristled paintbrush or foam brush to apply an even coat of pre-stain conditioner to cover every inch of the surface.

Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner is our all-time favorite. Ensure you wipe off the excess product after applying it like you do when applying wood stain.

The product helps regulate how the stain penetrates the wood, keeping it from splotching. In addition, using a pre-stain wood conditioner helps you achieve a uniform color when you stain your wood.

The product is neutral, so it will not impact the wood color itself; that role is for the stain. A product such as Minwax’s pre-stain wood conditioner will dry in approximately 15 minutes to allow the stain to follow.

Step 4: Apply your chosen birch wood stain

Once you have adequately prepared the wood surface, it’s time to apply the stain using a paintbrush, foam brush, or lint-free rag.

Here, a few rituals are essential to help you get the desired results. Here is what you must do: 

i. Choose a staining style

Most of the time, we apply wood stains to imitate specific looks. To achieve the look you want, you must choose a staining style likely to produce that effect. 

Ideally, this should begin several weeks before your actual project. Some people practice their staining techniques on small offcuts and leave them for a month or longer, observing how the stain interacts with the plywood.

Still, if you do not have the luxury of time to wait that long, you can eyeball the style you want and research the staining style most likely to bring it out. 

If you want a darker shade, you can choose a darker stain color and let it stay on the workpiece for 5 to 15 minutes before wiping off the excess. The longer the stain stays on before wiping the excess, the deeper the color it produces on your workpiece. 

After applying the stain, you will need to let it dry completely, then observe to see if you are happy with the tint. If you prefer it darker, add another coat following the same procedure as the first coat. 

Recoating with wood stains always makes the color darker. And, notice that such darker shades may mask the wood grain, so keep this in mind while deciding on the look you want. 

ii. Test it first 

Once you are ready with your chosen look and stain, test it out on a piece of scrap wood before proceeding to your actual project. 

This will give you a preview of the final look to expect. Ensure the piece of scrap plywood is the same as your project to give you an exact picture of what to expect. 

You will need to use a water-based stain for your plywood. It is the best stain type for this material. But you can use an oil-based or gel stain if it is the only option you have. 

You can test with different color samples on different pieces of scrap wood to see which one you like the most. Then, that is the look you should select for your workpiece.

iii. Stain the wood 

Once you have determined the look you want, go ahead and stain it. Apply the stain with a soft-bristled paintbrush, foam brush, or piece of lint-free rag in the direction of the grain. 

Applying stain with even strokes to cover every inch of the surface is recommended. Then let it sit for a few minutes before wiping off the excess with a rag. 

Ensure you wipe the excess before it dries. Waiting too long before wiping the excess stain can spoil your work. The wood stain becomes tacky if you do not wipe it in time, and such tackiness never goes away until you fix it. 

Wiping it in time is the best way to avoid having to redo the entire project.

For a stunning alternative, consider the captivating allure of stained hemlock wood. Much like birch, hemlock can be transformed with a variety of stain shades to achieve the desired effect.

Step 5: Seal the stained birch wood

After staining plywood, it is essential to lock in the color and protect it with a suitable sealant. This is the final part of the project, ensuring the stain job will be durable and protected against scratches and regular wear and tear. 

Ensure you let the wood stain dry fully before sealing it. Usually, the product label will indicate the appropriate drying time for the stain, after which you can apply the sealer. 

In most cases, this drying time will be about 48 hours, depending on the weather conditions and the type of stain used. 

For your sealant, you can choose from a wide range of options available. Polyurethane varnish is likely the best sealant for birch plywood. However, you can also go for varnish, lacquer, or shellac instead of oil-based or water-based polyurethane. 

These sealers will provide an extra layer of protection against scratches and moisture, making your stained wood look good for longer.

Interesting Read: Eucalyptus Wood Staining Tips

How to Correct Splotchy Areas?

Sometimes you will do everything right but still end up with splotchy areas on birch plywood. This is normal and easy to fix. However, you must deal with it before applying your sealer.

If you did your surface preparation, applied the primer, and then the stain the recommended way, you should often get the desired results. But if you still end up with some blotchiness on your plywood, you can fix it in one easy step.

The solution is to spray or brush on some wood toner. You probably do not have one at home, head out to your local home improvement store and check the stain aisle for a product wood toner.

Once you have it, you can spray it on those unevenly colored areas of the stained plywood to help blend those blotched or uneven colors. 

The toner itself does not add color to the wood. Instead, its role is to even out the areas that have taken the wood stain unevenly. 

Instead of spraying, you could also brush it on whichever option you like better. Whichever way you go, the wood toner will facilitate mild color adjustments to improve your stain job and give it the look you want. 

Do not rush the process. Instead, take your time and apply the toner slowly since it can cause excessive bubbling if not applied carefully. 

Best Stain for Birch Plywood 

A water-based stain is generally the best choice for birch plywood. Ideally, any type of wood stain will produce professional-looking results if you sand the surface properly and apply a compatible pre-stain wood conditioner before the stain. 

However, water-based stain penetrates the wood better, distributing the colorant more evenly than any other stain type on the market. And you can apply it using a high-quality soft-bristled paintbrush, paint foam, or lint-free rag with great success. 

Most importantly, ensure you wipe off the excess stain before it dries and forms a sticky mess on your birch plywood. 

Here are three of our editor’s choices of the best stain for birch plywood.

If you are looking for an outdoor stain, here is the best exterior gel stain.

1. Minwax Classic Gray 

Despite this wood finish being oil-based, it produces some of the best results for birch plywood. This product is specially formulated to allow quick-drying and deep penetration, unlike standard oil-based formulas. 

Once you apply it, the stain will penetrate deeply into the wood pores and distribute the colorant within 5 minutes. This can significantly speed up your work. 

Since the powerful formula means you need only one coat to color the wood properly, you can finish your entire project within one day.

In addition, this birch plywood stain dries quickly in two hours, so you can apply your protective topcoat over it within the same day and wind up your project.

2. Varathane Premium Early American

The other best finish for birch plywood is the Early American fast dry wood stain. It features a fast-drying oil-based formula designed to make your projects super quick. 

Only one coat will sufficiently turn your light-colored plywood into a rich chocolate brown board of beauty. The dark tint instantly makes your birch plywood appear high-end and more expensive. 

This birch stain is ideal for use on all indoor wood projects, including furniture, paneling, cabinets, and doors. Once you apply the product, it will take only one hour to dry to the touch.

3. Varathane Sunbleached

Here is another premium fast-drying wood stain ideal for birch plywood. It is by far the best gray stain on birch plywood. With its one-coat coverage and fast-drying formula, you can complete your entire project on the same day. 

This birch wood finish gives your plywood a sun-bleached gray look, allowing the wood grain to be visible. The grey tone is nice and warm, making the wood look rustic and beautiful. This makes it match most homes’ décors. 

Related Post: Staining Redwood Furniture

Stain Colors on Birch Wood

Birch plywood tends to look great in various colors. For example, grey-stained birch plywood can give off warm feelings that conform to most interiors of homes.

However, if you are a fan of grey, you can choose dark stains such as Varathane’s Sunbleached option to give you what you want. If you prefer dark stain plywood instead, you can pick one from leading brands like Verathane and Minwax.

Such dark tones can give your birch plywood a premium feel and a dark, beautiful look that feels expensive and premium quality.

Read Also: Best Stain Colors for Maple Wood

Benefits of Using Birch Plywood

Quite a few reasons make birch plywood the engineered wood of choice for many DIY enthusiasts and professional woodworkers.

  1. Birch plywood has a beautiful rich sheen, making it a highly aesthetic choice for use in furnishings are other applications where beauty is a premium consideration.
  2. The plywood is versatile as it looks great in its native color and with various shades of wood stain. This allows for flexibility regarding the color you want for the final product.
  3. Birch plywood is highly affordable, considering its many premium features. Since it is grown in the United States and is readily available in most places throughout the country, you can generally find it at low costs.
  4. Birchwood is long-lasting and durable. You can expect projects made of birch plywood to last for generations.
  5. Birchwood is highly malleable, making it easily workable into various forms and suitable for different woodworking projects. It is also relatively less dense than most wood types in its class, making it easy to handle and move around.
  6. Birch plywood has added strength and stability since it features several layers of birch wood combined into one solid board. This strength and high impact resistance make the product ideal for various structural applications.
  7. Birch plywood is a reliable material in terms of supply. The sourced wood is widely available geographically and in all seasons, making it a dependable material for building projects.
  8. Birch is a renewable resource. It grows rapidly and natively in many regions, making it relatively immune to deforestation problems that affect the supply of many wood species.

Downsides of using Birch Plywood

Despite the numerous benefits, birch plywood is not without its limitations. Here are the main downsides of this construction and woodworking material. 

  1. As you may have learned in this tutorial, birch plywood can be challenging to stain. Even though the wood eventually accepts any kind of real stain, you must prepare the surface thoroughly for it to accept staining. The entire process can be time-consuming. 
  2. Birch plywood lacks an intricate grain pattern. Unfortunately, if you are a diehard fan of such sophisticated grain patterns, you may be out of luck with Birchwood, as you will find the plywood rather plain or dull.
  3. Birch is an excellent material for indoor use, but it is not suitable for exterior applications. This can be limiting if you wish to bring this beauty outdoors. You will have to keep it sheltered from snowfall and rainfall even if treated. 
  4. Birch exists in different types; some can be expensive. For instance, the stronger Baltic birch plywood consisting of 100-percent Birch in its constitution typically costs far more than regular birch plywood. 

Related: Maple vs birch plywood

Finishing birch plywood FAQs

Can you stain birch dark?

Yes, you can stain Birch dark as long as you sand the surface properly and apply a pre-stain conditioner to improve the outcome. Choose a product from any major wood stain brand like Verathane and Minwax to dark stain birch plywood. 

Best plywood for staining

Hardwoods like oak and cedar take stains extremely well, so any plywood made of oak and other hardwoods is the best for staining plywood. The large open pores of the source wood ensure the plywood takes stains easily. Other popular plywood options like pine and Birch tend to absorb wood stains unevenly, leading to blotching problems. 

How to stain Birch to look like walnut

Since Birch does not take stain well, ensure you apply generous amounts of pre-stain conditioner before wood stain to make it look like walnut. The dark walnut color may require more than one coat of stain to achieve with Birch. 

Paint or stain birch plywood

Staining birch plywood is the better option to preserve the wood’s grains. Consider using a water-based stain, for that matter, after sanding and applying a pre-stain conditioner. However, you can paint plywood if you do not mind hiding the wood grain.  

Can you stain blonde wood plywood?

It is not always possible to stain and varnish blonde wood because the primer has already filled the wood’s pores, leaving the stain with nowhere to penetrate. When the wood stain cannot soak into the wood properly, it cannot color it.

Related: Best Plywood for Kitchen Cabinets


Engineered woods like birch plywood are popular for ease of use, extreme durability, minimal manufacturing costs, and versatility. Birch plywood, in particular, has numerous benefits you can tap into.

However, if you want this product in a specific shade, you must know how to stain birch plywood to get the desired results.

We hope this tutorial helps you achieve the best results in your next birch staining project.