Bamboo plywood is rapidly becoming an interior design star both for its beautiful appearance and for its eco-friendly qualities. People use this versatile material to create accent walls, cabinetry, furniture, bathroom vanities, ceiling panels, and much more.
Bamboo plywood, like bamboo flooring, is a popular building material for several reasons. First, once bamboo is harvested, it is easily and quickly regrown, taking a mere 4 years to reach maturity as opposed to several decades for trees, making it an eco-friendly alternative to standard plywood. Secondly, bamboo has above-average compressive and tensile strength, making it an extremely durable product.
Many people wonder whether you can stain bamboo plywood before using it in a design project. The answer is “yes”! You can both stain and finish bamboo plywood just as you would ordinary plywood. In general, any stains and finishes which work well with medium density hard woods, work equally well with solid bamboo plywood.
How to Stain Your Bamboo Plywood
Choose either an oil-based or water based stain to finish your bamboo plywood panels. (Avoid using a pigment stain as it generally produces a “blotchy” effect on bamboo plywood surfaces.) It’s important to use a moisture-balancing stain on bamboo plywood since it naturally absorbs moisture and can swell if exposed to excessive humidity. Once you’ve chosen a high-quality wood stain in a color you love, keep in mind that staining bamboo plywood involves more than just opening a can of stain and getting to work …
1. Get a hygrometer (small device that measures humidity and can be found for cheap online or at big box stores) and ensure you maintain a humidity level of between 40 and 60 percent. Set the thermostat in the area in which you’ll be staining your plywood somewhere between 50 and 90 degrees (F). Let the plywood sit in this environment for at least 3-7 days prior to beginning your work.
2. Prepare your work surface by laying out a drop cloth or plastic sheeting both to protect the surrounding surfaces from any drips from the stain and to help keep any dust or debris on the floor from blowing up and settling on the surface of the plywood. Next, lay the plywood out flat on your work surface, taking care that it doesn’t overhang. (That’s because it’ll need some light sanding, and you want the sanding pressure to be equal along its entire length.)
3. Lightly sand the panel surface with a sander and 100-150-grit sandpaper to remove spots and/or raised wood. (Wear a dust mask!) Afterward, wipe the surface with a clean lint-free rag to remove any sanding dust. (Be sure to clear your work area of sanding dust afterward as well!)
4. Apply a high-quality wood conditioner/pre-stain product onto the surface of the plywood and allow it to dry according to the instructions on the can. Once dry, you can very softly buffer the surface using extra-fine sandpaper, wiping clean again afterward. You’re now ready to stain.
5. You can use a brush to apply the stain, if you wish, or simply use a rag. Either way, have a rag handy so that you can wipe off the excess stain after giving it some time to absorb. If you’re happy with the intensity of the color, you’re done the staining. If you want it a bit darker, you can apply a second coat, but you can skip sanding between the first and second coats of stain. (Be sure to apply the stain in the direction of the grain!) Let the stain “cure” for several hours (up to 24) before applying the finish of your choice.
Adding a Finish Coat
Some people like to apply an additional layer of finish coat on top of the stain to protect your bamboo plywood from moisture. You can use oil, wax or polyurethane to finish your bamboo plywood, but we always recommend testing these products on a sacrificial piece of plywood before proceeding with your project.
- If you like an oil finish, choose mineral oil for any surface that will or could come into contact with food (e.g. a table or a counter top). If you’re finishing a surface that won’t come into contact with food, linseed oil is an excellent choice. (Important: On surfaces where food will be prepared, don’t make the mistake of using a vegetable based oil, since it will degrade and quickly turn rancid, and could subject you and your family to a nasty case of food poisoning!)
- Wax finishes aren’t as commonly used as oils, but will be fine for indoor surfaces, although it does require some elbow grease to apply and buff to a sheen! Minwax Paste Finishing Wax works well and is safe even for surfaces which will come into contact with food.
- Note that oil and wax finishes don’t last as long as polyurethane finishes, however, and will need to be replenished a few times per year.
Polyurethane finishes — whether oil or water-based formulas — are fine and come in finishes ranging from satin sheens to high-gloss shine, depending on your preference. Simply brush on following the manufacturer’s instructions on the can.