How to Make Plywood Smooth and Shiny in 6 Ways

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Creating a sleek and gleaming wood surface has always been a mark of craftsmanship. Such a finish not only captures the attention but truly showcases the wood’s inherent grain and hues—essential for those decorative masterpieces.

Now, if you’ve ever felt lost or overwhelmed in achieving that silky finish on plywood, you’re not alone. In this guide, I’ll show you how to make plywood smooth and shiny so you don’t have to waste money on unnecessary materials and tools!

Making Your Plywood Piece Smooth and Shiny in 6 Ways

Tools and Supplies You’ll Need

Step #1: Know the Quality of Your Plywood

The smoothness and gloss are directly proportional to the quality of the plywood. Plywood can be found in many grades, from construction grade plywood and hardwood plywood or from Grades A to D.

buying plywood

Compared to grade A plywood, grade D plywood has knots and is more likely to create a split in the wood veneer.

However, if you choose quality plywood, you won’t have to worry about unsightly imperfections and tears. Also, if you choose high-grade plywood, the preparation process will be simpler and faster.

Step #2: Start Sanding

Smoothing down the surface with sandpaper is the key to removing any imperfections or rough edges. This initial sanding not only evens out the plywood but also seals its pores.

By taking the time to sand plywood gently, you create a smooth and uniform surface, perfect for either painting or staining.

How Do You Sand Plywood?

If you want a smooth and shiny finish, you must take your time sanding, just like with any other wood. When you sand properly, you improve the quality of the final result and make the plywood shine.

various types of sandpaper

Step #1:

Remove all the dust and grime from the area by rubbing it down. You can use a moist cloth. Use your gleaming vacuum to channel dust and debris directly into the container.

Step #2:

Use 180-grit sandpaper to softly smooth the plywood. Since 180-grit sandpaper is the coarsest available, be patient and thorough so that you can achieve that smooth surface. 

While working with plywood, it’s essential to be careful and go toward the grain. You shouldn’t sand plywood over three times to get the best results. 

Sanding multiple times using the roughest sandpaper will make the plywood’s grooves show, allowing you to remove its outer layers easily.

Step #3:

To proceed with sanding, switch to 200-grit sandpaper. Sand the plywood, but this time using 200-grit paper. I recommend at least three or four passes over the surface, this time using the 220-grit sandpaper.

sanding block

Using this method, you can eliminate the flaws that the 180-grit sandpaper revealed.

Step #4:

To lightly smooth the plywood, use 220 grit paper this time. When you’re done, use 220 grit sandpaper to smooth the board. Double-check the surface.

Sand #5:

After the plywood has been sanded smoothly, collect the dust accumulated. Vacuuming is the most effective tool for removing visible dust specks sticking. (Check the best small shop vacs here!) 

Alternatively, use a cloth dampened with paint thinner to remove the dust. You can replace your sanding block with an oscillating tool and sanding attachment to make the surface smooth.

Using 40-Grit Sandpaper

Use a sanding accessory like an orbital sander and a hand sander to smooth the plywood. The hardest sanding disk, a 40-grit one, is used to reshape plywood that isn’t in good shape and should be used if the plywood quality is below grade A plywood.
holding belt sander
Choose 220-grit sandpaper or high-grit sandpaper on grade A or higher plywood, and use an orbital or belt sander for sanding the plywood lightly to create a smooth plywood finish.

Using 90-Grit & 220 Grit Sandpaper

You can clean the plywood with a moist cloth and remove the sanding dust with a vacuum. Leave the plywood to dry after that. 

Start by sanding the plywood uniformly with a disk of 90-grit sandpaper. Afterward, sand it again, but this time using 220 grit disks. Remember to sand lightly.

Go Over the Sanded Plywood and Make it Smooth

To make plywood smooth and shiny, you must carefully inspect the plywood again to identify any splits in the wood grain. If there’s a crack in the wood or pocket holes, fix it with a wood grain filler. While using paste wood filler, follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

I recommend waiting till morning to sand the wood after applying wood grain filler.

marine grade plywood various thickness

Some tinted pore fillers may stain the surface of the wood, so be aware of that. A sanding sealer is helpful in this situation; sanding down the high wood grain can prevent the surface from taking on an unwelcome hue. 

Once you’ve done that, use sandpaper to smooth the plywood’s surface again.

Step #3: Fill Any Gaps or Holes with a Wood Grain Filler (Follow the Manufacturer’s Instructions)

Following the wood grain filler manufacturer’s guidelines is essential. The wood pores are filled in with woodgrain filler. You can use them to patch any imperfection, from holes to gaps. To scrape this off, you’ll need a plastic knife.

To achieve a smooth finish, lightly sand it once the wood grain filler has dried.

Step #4: Paint Your Sanded Plywood

You have to make sure that you are using the best exterior paint for the plywood surface, especially for outdoor projects.

person carrying plywood

How to Choose the Right Paint

You can choose from enamel, latex, oil-based, flat, chalk, satin, chalk, or acrylic paint. If you’re aiming for a high-gloss finish, you’ll have to opt for a product that’s made for this outlook.

For instance, latex is the way to go if you want a satin or semi-glossy look. Doors and cabinets are best painted in a semi-gloss, smooth finish, which is more durable than satin without a topcoat.

To safeguard the wood from scratches, apply a top coat after painting it with a satin or flat wood stain.

You should seal plywood edges and the entire project after painting with chalk or acrylic. If not, the coat’s durability will decrease sooner. Beams, doors, internal walls, and shelves made of wood are best painted with acrylic-based paint.

Rust-Oleum 285140 Ultra Matte Interior Chalked Paint

Meanwhile, oil-based paint is best for beams, cabinets, doors, interior walls, shelves, and storage chests. While you can use enamel paint on tables, beams, floors, doors, shelves, interior walls, and frames.

Start Painting the Proper Way

Step #5: Seal the Plywood Surface

Finish off the plywood by coating it in polyurethane, stain, or paint. This can be accomplished with the use of a paintbrush.

Polyurethane has a wide variety of applications, both indoors and out. It’s the perfect solution for protecting your plywood. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying time after applying polyurethane.

Step #6: Apply Stain and Polyurethane

You may sand the finish without worrying about the grain. But don’t go crazy with the sanding. Surfaces become soapy and smooth after being sanded, revealing the polish beneath. 

mixing Minwax Water-Based, Oil-Modified Polyurethane

The plywood should then be wiped down once again and allowed to dry.

High-build urethane is a good option for coatings. [1] Instead of using multiple coats of varnish, you can use this and achieve the same effect. This coating has a substantial thickness and can be poured over a flat surface and smeared utilizing a paintbrush.

Ideas and Techniques for Plywood Finishing

Tip #1: Prepare the Plywood Well Before Starting

Before diving into the finishing process, it’s essential to have a clear plan for the plywood, as different coatings require distinct techniques and materials.

As a result, there are a few things you need to get out of the way before you can begin wrapping things up, like fixing and filling imperfections and sanding down bumps and other irregularities in the wood.

Tip #2: Use a High-Quality Brush

When painting or staining plywood, I advise using a good-quality brush to apply the paint or stain uniformly.

paint brush

Tip #3: Use an Epoxy Resin Like Envirotex

Envirotex is an epoxy resin with a relatively short curing period (about 8-10 hours). The beauty of Envirotex is that you can attain its maximum brilliance without any additional polishing. The total hardness is achieved after 48 hours of room temperature use.

The fantastic thing about this item is its application is identical to polyurethanes. You can use Envirotex instead of polyurethane and apply it in the same way you would.

Tip #4: Apply a Water-Repellent Coat

Coatings that are water resistant can be made from a variety of materials, including paint thinners, wax, mineral spirits, and drying oil. 

To use, simply soak a piece of plywood in the concoction. Because the mixture lacks color pigments, this shiny finish can highlight the wood’s inherent beauty.

In addition, black-steel-looking plywood has been a popular trend as of late.

foam brush and Waterlox TB5284 Stain

Tip #5: Don’t Forget to Sand

Given the importance of sanding, the process is time-consuming. You should take your time with the sanding process, or you’ll ruin everything. 

Put in as much time as is necessary on it. More sanding will improve the plywood’s shiny finish. It’s an important step to make the plywood smooth and shiny.

Why Sand Plywood?

You must sand plywood lightly and to perfection. Otherwise, the finishing will only be satisfactory. Plus, you won’t be able to hide this towards the end. 

plywood, drill, nails on ground

The entire surface will look rough and rough edges can make the final product look uneven. As a result, sanding and wiping the plywood clean is crucial.

Tip #6: Use the Correct Sandpaper for Plywood

It’s vital to choose the sandpaper grit that aligns with the species and thickness of your plywood. Gently sand the surface to achieve the desired smoothness.

If you find areas where a power tool can’t reach, don’t be tempted to overlook them. Every inch counts.

After sanding, also make sure to shine a low beam of light across the board. This will help identify any rough patches you might have missed. Remember, when sanding plywood, a light touch is key, especially when working with coarser sandpaper.

See Also: What Grit of Sandpaper Should You Use Before Painting?

Tip #7: Ensure to Stain Plywood

Applying wood stains can alter the plywood’s color and make it look polished. It improves the plywood’s visual appeal and can make plywood smooth.

staining birch plywood

Tip #8: Select the Right Lacquer or Varnish

Like any other type of wood, you must finish the plywood with a protective lacquer or varnish. You can use lacquer and varnish to achieve a transparent sheen. The lacquer will produce a brighter gloss at the expense of the other qualities.

Tip #9: Consider Varnishing

Light coatings of polyurethane varnish applied with a foam brush to the exposed edges are an option. If you want to paint or stain the wood, you should avoid using varnish on the surface.

Tip #10: Take Your Time to Correct Errors

There may be a speck that makes the paint look uneven, but touching it may cause an even greater disaster. Don’t rush to fix mistakes, it could be a fly caught in the finish.

Cleaning Plywood and Other Wooden Pieces the Right Way

Follow these guidelines for thorough cleaning of plywood and furniture:

Baltic birch plywood thickness and layersB


Can you gloss plywood?

Yes, you can gloss plywood. To achieve this finish, you must first ensure the plywood is smooth and dust-free. Select an appropriate gloss product, such as polyurethane or lacquer, depending on the plywood’s intended use.

Apply thin, even coats using a quality brush or roller, allowing adequate drying time between coats.

Read NextSteps to Make Polycrylic Slippery


Learning how to make plywood smooth and shiny with these techniques and instructions is straightforward. By grounding yourself in the basics and getting a bit of hands-on experience, you’ll quickly feel at ease with this material.

If ever you’re in doubt about the right tools for the job, I recommend consulting with the experts at your local hardware store. Their advice might help you get the right tools for this task.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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