Staining Birch - What's with the inconsistency?!

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Forum topic by StolCo posted 10-25-2016 08:19 PM 2349 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 2044 days

10-25-2016 08:19 PM

Topic tags/keywords: stain birch plywood minwax early american

Hey guys – I’m new to the forums, but have found myself here seeking advice many time before. I’m in a bit of a pickle, and I’m hoping someone here has a little nugget of wisdom that can help me out.

I’ve taken on a rather large project making a series of benches for an office building. Super basic benches – basically a rectangular box. They wanted to use Birch plywood. So I have 6 sheets of this stuff all cut up and ready for finishing. They picked a color – the ever-classic Early American Minwax stain.

I spend nearly an entire day testing staining processes to make sure I got it right. Everything from thinned out sanding sealer to only sanding. I probably ran 15 different samples. The best result was to hit it with 120 then 220 sandpaper, then apply the pre-stain conditioner, then stain.

The first set of boards I did turned out awesome – exactly what we were looking for. But the next set turned out not-so-great, then the next set was good again. All done in the same day, in the same afternoon.

Attached is a pic. The front and back pieces are good. But the middle one is suuuuuper light, more golden colored than brown. Any advice on getting those light pieces darker? Already did two coats without much change in color.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Help?!?

-- Patrick | StolCO Designs

6 replies so far

View sawdustdad's profile


379 posts in 2348 days

#1 posted 10-25-2016 08:43 PM

All exposed faces on a project need to be from the same panel or from sequential panels. If you’ve mixed up the parts from different panels, you may never get them consistent. The way the wood absorbs the stain depends on how the characteristics of that particular piece of veneer—and it varies from log to log and from slice to slice (or, if rotary cut, from bark to pith). Other than layering on more stain, and letting it soak in, or even dry on the surface, you’re not going to get them to match.

you’ve got alternatives—build the seats from matching panels, or make the differences in color part of the design, or go get more lumber and start over.

-- Murphy's Carpentry Corollary #3: Half of all boards cut to a specific length will be too short.

View splintergroup's profile


6957 posts in 2685 days

#2 posted 10-25-2016 08:45 PM

...and birch by nature tends to be very blotchy.

Your best bet in my opinion is to totally seal the wood (shellac, or poly), then use the stain as a toner (stain mixed with poly) and spray it on.

View Carloz's profile


1147 posts in 2054 days

#3 posted 10-25-2016 09:35 PM

You still can get them darker but matching them to the others would be difficult. To me it looks like you forgot to apply the sealer on the good boards. Could it be true ? Also it could be that you sanded them differently the higher the grid is the less the wood takes stain.

View StolCo's profile


2 posts in 2044 days

#4 posted 10-26-2016 01:25 PM

Thanks for the feedback, guys. I’m a little embarrassed to say it, but I ended up switching to a similar colored gel stain and it made ALL the difference. I knew I should have tried that sooner. You could say I have a tendency to have to learn things the hard way. I’m off to the races now.

I’ll post a pic this afternoon when I have a few assembled.

Thanks again.

-- Patrick | StolCO Designs

View Planeman40's profile


1561 posts in 4224 days

#5 posted 10-26-2016 01:44 PM

The blotch appearance to my way of thinking comes from the angle of the grain of he wood to the surface. End grain absorbs more stain than flat grain. Any waviness in the grain shows up as “blotchiness”. To control this, before staining, apply a very thinned out coat of clear sealant to seal the wood surface and keep it from absorbing the stain. I find thinned out shellac works best as it dries quickly and “chalks” when sanded and doesn’t clog the sandpaper very much. Burch can have a wavy grain as well as maple and both need to be sealed before staining if you want an even finish.

-- Always remember: It is a mathematical certainty that half the people in this country are below average in intelligence!

View Earlextech's profile


1164 posts in 4153 days

#6 posted 10-26-2016 02:39 PM

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

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