Plywood's dimensional stability makes it great for many projects, but it usually doesn't stain to the same hue as the solid-wood banding along its edges. Here are three fixes.
Matching the grain of a white oak edge to the grain of the oak-veneer MD helps the two surfaces blend together after staining.

Staining Plywood Veneer

Adhesive beneath a plywood veneer can throw off stain penetration compared with solid wood, whether on an edge-banded shelf or a bookcase made from plywood sides and a solid-wood frame. Try these simple tricks to help your project parts look like they came from the same tree.

*Stain helps equalize minor color differences, but it can make matters worse when it highlights the pores of mismatched grain. First minimize the challenge by matching the grain pattern of the banding to the plywood grain, as shown in the photo.

Wood conditioner on the right side reduces the color contrast between porous and less-porous surfaces, helping the edge band blend with the plywood veneer.

*Avoid smearing squeeze-out across the surface during glue-up, or you'll end up with light spots on top of your other color-matching problems.

If you anticipate staining mismatches, make practice glue-ups of finish-sanded scrap plywood or veneered MDF and solid wood to experiment with these three solutions:

3 steps to Staining

1 Try gel stain first
Unlike liquid oil-based stains designed to penetrate wood as much as possible, the thick consistency of oil-based gel stains helps control how much color penetrates both solid wood and veneer.

After applying a consistent coat of gel stain to all parts, stop short of wiping off all the excess on areas that need darkening. Should you accidentally leave streaks on the wood, wipe them away with a clean cloth moistened with mineral spirits, and start over.

2 Condition the wood
Wood conditioner works like a thin film finish to block stain from over-penetrating porous areas. By partially filling pores as well as the surface, it also reduces earlywood/latewood contrast, as shown in the photo.

You can buy ready-mixed wood conditioner or make your own by mixing two parts mineral spirits to one part polyurethane or alkyd-resin varnish. To apply conditioner, brush it onto the surface and allow it to penetrate thoroughly. Then wipe away any surplus, and let it dry overnight. Lightly sand the surface with 220 grit, wipe clean, and apply stain.

3 Seal, then stain
For the most consistent color, even between wood parts of different shades, apply stain to a layer of film finish instead of the wood itself. Dewaxed shellac provides a quick-drying sealer. To mix your own, dissolve 3 ozs of shellac flakes in 16 ozs of denatured alcohol. Or buy premixed shellac sealer, such as SealCoat (, and thin that by half with denatured alcohol. Avoid flakes or premixed shellac containing wax; polyurethane has trouble sticking to it.

Brush on or spray the sealer evenly across all surfaces, and allow it to dry. Scuff-sand the surface with 220 grit, and apply the stain. One caveat: The sealer will make it difficult to achieve dark stain colors, but it eliminates blotching and lessens grain contrast.

If you like this project, please check out more than 1,000 shop-proven paper and downloadable woodworking project plans in the WOOD Store.