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Get a rich, warm color without blemishes in 4 easy steps.
If ever stained birch plywood a dark color, the results were probably so smudged and difficult to reverse that you swore: “Never again!” Which is a shame, because if you could stain the birch plywood a deep reddish-brown color so it looked like cherry plywood, you could save a ton of materials for your next project.
That’s why you should never say “never”. I’ll show you how to give birch plywood a rich, warm color that resembles cherry. This process effectively fuses the dark colored heartwood and the light colored sapwood that typically appears on most types of birch plywood. It also works with the cheap grades you’ll find in home centers. This process also combines solid wood edging with veneered plywood surfaces. It uses immediately available finishing products and requires no special finishing equipment – you don’t even need a brush!
Creating a deep, even tone on birch plywood is a real challenge. Using regular dark cherry oil-based liquid stains or dyes will result in unsightly stains and / or a hard, unnatural color. Also, using stain or dye alone will not help blend the light and dark colors of the wood. Even gel stains (which are sometimes advertised as “stain reducing” because they don’t absorb as much as liquid stains or dyes) work just a little better in addressing these challenges.
However, a more traditional cherry look can be achieved with a good plan and a little extra attention. The best way to achieve this is to gradually deepen the color, using a series of steps designed to minimize the risk of staining. Each step also helps blend the color differences between dark heartwood and light sapwood and also between birch veneer and solid birch edging.
Sand plywood and 150 grit edging. Final sanding must be done by hand to ensure no machine marks. On some types of birch plywood the veneers are super thin and the surfaces are not perfectly flat, so be careful. It can be easy to sand the veneer, especially when you are rinsing the edging.
Mix two teaspoons of TransTint Golden Brown dye in 32 ounces of water. When applied to bare wood, this diluted golden tone provides a warm background color without causing noticeable stains. The spots become more noticeable with dark colored spots or dyes, so you shouldn’t use them for this step. To minimize blemishes, you need to gradually deepen the color.
Apply the dye and work it to ensure even saturation and uniform color (Photo 1, above). Keep the wood wet long enough for the dye to saturate the surface – about two minutes. Remove the excess and let the surface dry for about an hour, just enough for the water to evaporate. Night care is not required.
Step 1: Use General Finish Clear Gel Polish as a Stain Control to seal against stains (Photo 2). Rub on one hand and scrub, using a gray nylon abrasive pad to remove any raised specks caused by the water-based dye used in step 1. Then rub off the excess.
Step 2: Without any delay or drying time, follow by applying General Finishes Nutmeg Gel Stain (Photo 3). Work it up and remove the excess within five minutes. Rub harder to lighten darker areas. Allow a drying time of 24 hours.
This two-step application reduces stains in two ways. Applying clear gel varnish first partially fills the porous areas of the wood, like a liquid stain controller does. Unlike a smudge controller, however, the gel varnish does not evaporate. It stays in the porous areas of the wood and dries to help seal the surface. Also, the nutmeg gel stain is a darker shade of golden brown than the dye, but it’s not dark enough to cause stains, so it just adds some of the final color.
At this point, the surface is sealed well enough to prevent staining (especially in porous areas), but is still absorbent enough to absorb a little more stain. This allows you to evenly deepen the overall color of the wood and tone it to look like a cherry using a dark reddish brown gel stain (Photo 4). Generously apply General Finishes Brown Mahogany Gel Stain and remove excess.
Let the surface dry for 24 hours. Then you can selectively add color to any areas that remain too light by using the mahogany brown gel stain as nail polish. Since the previous coats have dried, there’s no risk – you can erase any glazing attempts you don’t like with a little paint thinner on a rag. After glazing, wait 24 hours before applying clear coatings.
For a perfect hand-rubbed effect, rub and remove another two rounds of General Finishes Gel Polish. If a waterproof surface is desired, apply one or more coats of General Finishes Satin Arm-R-Seal.
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