How To Make Plywood Smooth And Shiny

Sometimes you find yourself glossing over the woodwork in your favorite restaurant. You wonder how to make plywood smooth and shiny.

Well, no need for fear. We’re here to guide you in making plywood smooth and shiny, get the best finish, and help you with the upkeep. This is applicable whether you have hardwood plywood or construction-grade plywood.  

With simple steps, plywood will look glossy, adding a touch of elegance to your home.

How To Make Plywood Smooth And Shiny

  • Step 1: Sanding Plywood
  • Step 2: Painting Sanded Plywood
  • Step 3: Sealing the Plywood Surface
  • Step 4: Stain and Polyurethane on Plywood

How to Make Plywood Smooth And Shiny- Steps

Step 1: Sanding Plywood

Before we go through the process, you have to understand that the smooth quality and shine you can achieve depends on the quality of your plywood. Plywood is a manufactured wood classified from grade A to grade D. A having the highest quality and D the lowest.

One type that has high quality is the High Density Overlay (HDO) plywood, commonly used for signboards.  

In case your plywood isn’t grade A, it’s advised you get it ready by sanding it using 90 grit sandpaper.  

Note: there’re different types of sandpaper, as this comes with different grits (90, 180, 200, and 220 grit sandpaper). The number of grit indicates how fine the sandpaper is.  The higher the grit, the finer the sandpaper.

Tools to make plywood smooth

The first task is to smoothen the plywood edges and surface. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Cloth (for cleaning)
  • 180  grit sandpaper or sanding block
  • 200  grit sandpaper
  • 220  grit sandpaper
  • Orbital sander/ hand sander
  • Roller brush or paint sprayer
  • Wood grain filler or paste wood filler
  • Joint compound
  • Plywod primer
  • Paint brush
  • Paint tray
  • Paint roller
  • Tack cloth
  • Face mask
  • Hand gloves

Why you need to sand plywood

Okay, can you sand plywood? Sure, the whole sanding process is simple enough. But you can’t just go about rubbing the lumber with all the force you can muster, like how you do other wood.  Be patient in making the plywood clean, whether or not you choose to use a power tool. You don’t want to create too many grooves on the plywood’s surface.

Sanding will remove rough edges and imperfections, producing a smooth surface. It also closes the pores of the plywood. That’s why the sanded plywood has an even surface ideal for painting and staining.

How to sand plywood

Step 1: Clean the surface by wiping away dirt and dust. You can use a slightly damp cloth. You can also use your shiny vacuum so you can have the dirt and dust go directly to the vacuum bag.

Step 2: Sand plywood lightly using the 180 grit sandpaper.  Do this steadily as the 180 grit is the roughest sandpaper. Make sure you go in line with the wood grain and work on the plywood gently. 

For best results, don’t sand the entire surface more than three times. Doing so will expose the grooves and you can peel the edges of the plywood.

Step 3: Continue sanding using 200 grit sandpaper. Repeat the process, this time using the 200 grit sandpaper. This time, it’s best to go over the surface three to four times. This will remove the imperfections exposed by the 180 grit sandpaper.  

Step 4: Sand plywood lightly, this time with 220 grit sandpaper. Finally, smoothen the board using 220 grit sandpaper. Go over the periphery twice. After this step, you can say the plywood has been sanded smooth.

Step 5: Remove the sanding dust created. A vacuum is the best bet to remove not just dust specks sticking out. Alternatively, you can use a clean cloth soaked in paint thinner to wipe away all the dust. As an alternative to your sanding block, you can use a handheld oscillating tool with a sanding accessory.

Go over the sanded and smooth plywood

It’s important to re-scan the plywood thoroughly after sanding and spot any gap in the wood grain. Use wood grain filler to close any gap. Follow the instructions stated by the manufacturer before applying the wood grain filler. Best to leave the wood overnight to let the wood grain filler do its job and dry. 

Tip: As useful as pore fillers are, some tinted pore fillers leave color on the wood’s surface. This is where a sanding sealer becomes handy. To avoid having an unwanted tint, seal the entire surface using a sanding sealer and sand of the raised grain. With this, you can remove the excess pore filler safely.

 After this, go over the plywood with sandpaper one more time to make the surface smooth. Also, make sure you are using the best wood filler to use on plywood edges, as quality could be a hindering factor as well.

Step 2: Painting Sanded Plywood

Choosing your paint

For outdoors projects, ensure you use the best exterior paint for plywood.

You have a number of options on the type of paint – latex, flat or satin, chalk and acrylic, oil-based, and enamel-based. It all depends on the finish you want to achieve.

 Latex is the best choice for a satin or semi-gloss finish. Semi-gloss is the top choice for doors and cabinets, given that it’s more dependable than satin, even without a topcoat.

With flat or satin paint, you need to apply a top coat so the wood is protected against bumps.

And when you use chalk and acrylic, you must seal them after painting. Otherwise, the coat will wear off more quickly. Acrylic-based paint is best for wood beams, doors, interior walls, and shelves.

Oil-based paint suits tables, doors, interior walls, shelves, beams, storage chests, and cabinets.

And finally, there’re enamel-based paints for beams, doors, interior walls, shelves, floors, and tables.

Fill in any gap in the wood grain

After you choose your paint, you can go back to your plywood. Feel its smooth texture after sanding it. Others may tell you that it’s now ready for painting, but here’s a tip: seal plywood edges using joint compound, also known as drywall mud.

  • Fill holes with joint compound. Cover the exposed edges and smooth them out. Check and make sure all holes and crevices are covered. Leave your plywood overnight to dry.
  • Sand down the joint compound. You’ll need an orbital sander or a hand sander for this. Expect debris flying all around. Do this outdoors and wear your goggles and face mask for protection.

Start the painting process

  • Lightly wipe the dust off the entire plywood surface after sanding. We suggest using a wet rag or a tack cloth.
  • Pour primer in a tray and apply evenly using a roller. As an alternative, you can use a furniture spray paint gun.
  • Apply two coats of primer. Put on a single coat and wait at least three hours (maximum 6 hours) before applying the final coat.
  • Sand the plywood lightly using a 220 grit sandpaper and wipe off the dust.

Tip: Applying primer seals the pores. This allows the first coat to stay on the wood surface, giving it a thick finish. The second coat will make it smoother.

Moreover, make sure you put the plywood primer on the edges. This will help the wood become water-resistant.

How to properly paint plywood

  • Apply two coats of paint on the entire plywood surface using a paint sprayer or roller brush.
  • Sand lightly between each coat with a 220 grit sandpaper.
  • Putting another single coat is optional.

Using spray paint on plywood isn’t cost-effective. Plus, the paint might end up looking like a stain, unable to cover the entire surface.

After painting, you have reached the lower half of a pretty straightforward process.

Step 3: Sealing the Plywood Surface

Best to seal plywood for extra protection against rotting, mildew, moisture, and the sun. 

Moreover, sealing will help prevent splitting. The sealant prevents shrinking, twisting, and the expansion of the wood. Here are the steps in sealing plywood:

Step 1: Lightly sand both wood surfaces and edges using 180 grit sandpaper.

Tip: To make it smoother, best to sand the surface again with 120 grit sandpaper.

Step 2: Wipe the dust off using a clean cloth.

Step 3: Apply the sealer with a paintbrush. Do this evenly for a smooth finish. Take on one side first before going to another.

Step 4: Lightly sand the plywood, this time with 120 grit sandpaper. Do this until the plywood is smooth.

Step 5: Apply another coat of sealer for a smooth finish.

Tip: You may choose to apply light coats of polyurethane varnish using a foam brush on the edges. But avoid having varnish on the surface, as this will make the wood resistant to paint, stain, and any other treatment.

Step 4: Stain and Polyurethane on Plywood

Take the same steps in preparing the wood for painting—sand, wipe off dust, and allow it to dry. Then:

  • Apply a coat of wood stain with a paintbrush.
  • Wipe the stain with a clean cloth.
  • Leave the wood to dry for 24 hours.
  • Apply a later of polyurethane using a foam brush, for protection.
  • Allow the sealant to dry.

Other Plywood Finishing Techniques

With plywood, you can choose a number of exterior plywood finishes, painting and staining included. Besides using polyurethane, here are other great ideas to make plywood shine.

Epoxy resin (i.e. Envirotex)

Envirotex is an epoxy resin that gives you an excellent shine. Plus, it’s easy to use.

It also has a short curing time of eight to 10 hours and reaches the final hardness after 48 hours.

Water repellent coat

Wax, drying oil, mineral spirits, and paint thinners make up water repellant coatings. To apply this, dip the plywood into the mixture. This type of finish can bring out the natural beauty in the wood as the mixture doesn’t have color pigments.

Besides these, lately, plywood is being made to look like black steel.

Here is a guide on the best marine plywood substitute to use.

How to Properly Clean Plywood and Other Wooden Furniture

Here are general cleaning tips to keep your plywood and furniture shiny:

  • Wipe the dust off using a cloth with microfibers. Make sure to follow the wood grain when wiping.
  • Refrain from using spray polish.

For painted wood,  you can use wash-up liquid (i.e. dishwashing liquid) to remove grease and stain.

For stained, use a damp cloth.

For unsealed,  put the wash-up liquid (i.e. dishwashing liquid) on a soft, dry rag then wipe. Make sure to dry this promptly.

To clean varnished lumber, a damp rag is recommended. For stubborn dirt, you can use wash-up liquid. Dry it with a chamois cloth so as not to inadvertently peel off the varnish.

Before cleaning, best to have a wood putty on hand, so you’ll be ready in case you spot imperfections on the plywood.

Tips for Making your Plywood Smooth and Shiny

Use the correct sandpaper for plywood.

Choose what suits your lumber and start using the least fine sandpaper on the first go-over.

Don’t skip areas that a power tool can’t reach, opt to do it manually. Re-check the board after sanding by shining light at a low angle. With this, you can find the rough sections. Sand again, as needed.

Invest in a high-quality brush

In painting and staining plywood, a clean brush can hold more paint and is easier to handle, leaving fewer chances of applying paint unevenly. The only challenge can be if you don’t have the right cleaning agents, but we have made your work simple in our guide on how to clean paint brushes without paint thinner.

Don’t be too eager to correct errors.

You might notice a speck, making the paint uneven, but touching to correct this may just make a bigger mess. It just might be a dead fly caught on the paint.

Related: What is the best plywood to build cabinets?


Here we have given you steps on how to make plywood smooth and shiny. Choose which finish suits your wooden project and don’t hesitate to ask your favorite hardware store for techniques in keeping it smooth and shiny.

Often, the wood’s natural beauty is enough to make your furniture and fixtures an elegant addition to your home.

What Next?

Plywood is often seen as an inferior material because it doesn’t withstand moisture well, which leads to warping or splitting over time. For this reason, you should know how to glue plywood so that your project turns out perfect!

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