How to Make Plywood Look Good & Smooth

April 21, 2022

Smoothening the surfaces of plywood to make better quality cabinet.

As a woodworking material, plywood has come a long way since it got patented on December 26, 1865. Since then, plywood had served only as an alternative to solid wood for several decades. Nowadays, however, plywood has become the foremost choice of many woodworkers. The reason is due to the many benefits and advantages afforded by its use.

Plywood is very stable, and it is easy to work with. Yet, the primary challenge with plywood lies in how you will finish it to make it look good. Many DIYers and woodworkers sometimes fail in making the finished plywood look good, and if you’re one of these DIYers, it will be best to learn the different techniques for making your finished plywood look good.

Helpful Techniques To Make Plywood Look Good & Smooth

While it takes effort and time on your part to do the leg work in making plywood look good, this effort, however, is worth spending for. Hence, if you want to achieve a quality finish for your plywood projects, you can check out the following succinct tips on how to make plywood look good:

Don’t Skip Sanding

The key to achieving a smooth finish is sanding. It is also crucial that you use quality materials for finishing the sanded plywood. Yet, the sanding of plywood takes precedents over any other techniques. 

When sanding, it will be best to use 220-grit sandpaper. You should sand the entire surface and not skip or forgo any plywood part. However, you should not sand along the face veneer. Hardwood plywood sheets often have thin face veneer, and this veneer face veneer is about 1/40″-thick. Hence, it will be best if you are meticulous not to sand the face veneer. 

In some instances, you need to sand using coarser grits before using 220-grit sandpaper. Using the coarser grit, you can remove the scratch marks of the plywood. 

After sanding, you can clean the dust using a vacuum cleaner. Afterward, you can wipe the surface using a damp cloth. Besides, ensure that you clean up your workbench to prevent dust from ending up with the finish.  

Fill in the Gaps Using Wood Filler

Once you’ve sanded the plywood, you can go over the grain of the wood. Inspect for any gap or void in the grain. If you happen to see some, you can fill them with quick-drying wood filler. 

You can also use quality glue, provided it dries fast. The gaps, of course, will make the finishing look bad.

Apply a Quality Finish

You can either paint or varnish the plywood. Of course, the key to achieving an excellent finish lies in the preparation process of the wood. So, the previous steps will be critical to how you can achieve a perfect look for your plywood. 

After sanding the plywood and vacuuming it, you are now all set for painting or varnishing. It will be best to prime the wood surface with a quick-drying primer-sealer. Let it dry for thirty minutes. If you’re using high-quality paint, you will see that it will let you build thicker paint coats. Thus, you can expect a better cover for your plywood. 

However, one issue you should contend with is the removal of brushstrokes. Therefore, it will help if you use a quality brush with natural bristle if you use oil-based paint. Nevertheless, if you are using water-based paint, it will be best to use a nylon brush. Besides, it will help if you add Floetrol to the water-based paint and Pentrol to oil-based paint. 

You can completely cover your plywood project after two paint coats. But if you feel that a third coat would make the plywood even look better, you can add another coat.

You Can Use Polyurethane for a Smooth Finish

If you are desirous of achieving a shiny and smooth finish, you can use polyurethane. You can use high-gloss polyurethane using a natural-bristle brush. It is a clear protectant that readily seals the plywood. Allow the polyurethane to dry according to the directions of the manufacturers. 

A polyurethane coat can protect the wood for several years, and you can apply it every four to six years. Mix the polyurethane thoroughly and remove bubbles from the solution.

Seal the Surface of the Plywood

After the first finishing coat, you can always apply a sanding sealer. The sanding sealer, of course, dries quickly. Sand again after twenty minutes. Ensure that you use 220-grit sandpaper as you sand the dry sealer. 

One caveat, however, is not to over-sand the surface. You will achieve a smooth finish after sanding. Then, wipe the plywood surface again with the sanding sealer and allow it to dry. 


Once you’ve done everything mentioned above, you can now apply varnish. If you utilize lacquer, you can spray it. You can achieve a shiny and smooth finish if you spray the lacquer. However, when varnishing, you should use a brush to achieve the best result. 

After brushing the surface, allow it to dry and sand using 320-grit sandpaper. Apply another coat and repeat the sanding process. Nevertheless, sand lightly in between every coat. Besides, don’t sand the final coat. 

Use Envirotex

You can also use Envirotex, an epoxy resin that quickly cures within eight hours. However, this one is not quick-drying, and you can achieve maximum hardness after two days. You don’t need to polish the surface to achieve the best sheen for the surface.

Frequently Asked Questions

Aside from knowing the simple steps on how to prepare plywood to make it look good, it will also help if you are familiar with the following FAQs about plywood finishing:

Is It Okay to Paint Rough Plywood?

Of course, you can paint rough plywood, but you can’t expect to get the optimum results after painting it. You need to prepare the plywood before you paint it. It will be best to follow the abovementioned tips on preparing plywood for optimum results. 

Likewise, it will be best to sand the plywood as mentioned above and smoothen the rough surface before you decide to paint it. You can use 80-grit sandpaper on those rough plywood parts and shift to finer grits afterward.


Professional woodworkers usually distinguish themselves from beginners in how they finish their work. Professional woodworkers understand that it is not enough to complete the project, but it is necessary to complete it with style and excellence and according to the specifications of their clients. 

Achieving the desired look for your plywood project is not easy. The reason is that you need to sweat it out to achieve such an appearance for your plywood. Remember that nothing is achieved without sacrifice. So, you need to do the necessary leg work, for, without sacrifice, you can accomplish nothing excellent and beautiful.

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