Finishing Fir Plywood

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Jan 23, 2008
17
Hunter 20 Wilmington
Hello, this is a repeat post from another, more specific forum... hope I'm not breaking any rules. If so, sorry. Anyway... I'm replacing all of the plywood bulkheads, covers, etc. in my '83 20' cabin with marine grade fir plywood. The look of the plywood is pretty unappealing as far as wood goes, but I don't wanna just paint it, and besides, bad-looking wood never really looks that bad anyway. If you've used fir plywood, would you tell me... (1) What stains work well to darken the wood. (2) What sort of finish you used (epoxy, varnish, etc.) (3) How it is holding up. I'm leaning towards a water-based stain and UV-stabilized epoxy. All info appreciated. Thanks.
 
Jun 12, 2004
1,181
Allied Mistress 39 Ketch Kemah,Tx.
Buy the Mahogany or Teak Ply

If you didnt buy the Fir yet...Dont. Everyone has a different eye for beauty, my eye tells me that fir looks like s**t. I'm not alone in that feeling or you would see fir cabinets, furniture and other wood products made from fir. No amount of stain will make it look good. If you calculate the price of stain which will look blotchy and the amount of finish you will have to put on it to look decent, you will will have paid enough for a piece of mahogany or teak. The fir will soak up the stain and the finish like a sponge. The savings now may sound good, but will that savings sound that good 6 months from now? IMHO Tony B
 
Dec 25, 2000
5,104
Hunter Passage 42 Shelter Bay, WA
Tony is pretty close on his advice about fir...

I've used fir/spruce/hemlock over the years and I've gotten okay results using a wiping paste stain finished with polyurethane. Sealing the wood first with shellac helps to even out the stain, but the bottom line, conifer woods just do not finish out very well. Heart wood will finish out better, but near impossible to obtain in plywood. Most you get these days is sap wood. Terry
 

Ross

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Jun 15, 2004
14,693
Islander/Wayfairer 30 sail number 25 Perryville,Md.
Fir plywood is rotary cut and the contrast

between the spring and summer wood, porous and almost imporous, make any finishing look utilitrian at best. Fir plywood is construction material and doesn't make handsome panaling. If it is stained dark it looks like zebra stripes and if you try to keep it light it looks like tiger stripes. If you must use fir for strength then cover it with carefully selected and applied, pretty, solid, wood cut thin and grain matched. Of course this will involve a bandsaw, a thickness planer, lots of waterproof adhesive and patience.
 
Jun 12, 2004
1,181
Allied Mistress 39 Ketch Kemah,Tx.
Another choice would be.....

If you already purchased the fir plywood, you can get an interior cabinet grade 1/4" oak plywood and glue (laminate) it to the fir plywood and go with an natural finish. It will look attractive and brighten up the interior. Dont get Phillipine Mahogany (Luan) because that also has the potential of looking like crap. Whatever you choose to do, you will be stuck with that decision for a long time. Tony B
 
Dec 2, 1999
15,184
Hunter Vision-36 Rio Vista, CA.
formica over ply

Nothing wrong with putting formica over the plywood. Use a nice light color (white works) and be sure to use a mat finish. It will brighten the interior and it will also be easy to clean.
 
Mar 3, 2007
139
Catalina 36 Lexington Mi
Wood Veneer

You can get some nice oak veneers at any of the big box lumber yards. They look good they are easy to install and not too pricey. If oak is not your thing try any wood working store (I like woodcrafters), they will have a long list of different type of veneers. I think some one mentioned formica..that is not a bad choice either of you don't want the look of wood.
 

Ross

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Jun 15, 2004
14,693
Islander/Wayfairer 30 sail number 25 Perryville,Md.
Remember that most bulkheads can be seen from both sides.

Most plywood has a face side and a back side. The face being fancy and clear and the back being of a lesser grade. High pressure lamenates are applied with contact cement that grabs instantly. Therefore they are almost always applied oversize and then trimmed. They will show every defect in the substrate on the sufrace. For this reason the substrate is usually particle board. Veneers also require a perfect substrate. Bulkheads are usually tabbed into place and resin won't bond the any of the formica type surfaces. I think that the leasy complicated solution is to buy marine grade plywood in the species you want or go very old fashioned and make the bulkhead up from solid lumber.
 
Jun 12, 2004
1,181
Allied Mistress 39 Ketch Kemah,Tx.
Woodworkers/Woodturners

We all seem to be in agreement that the fir plywood is a bad idea. With that, how many of you are active woodworkers and woodturners? This is a necessary skill in order to do many of the repairs on a boat, both from a structural and an aesthetic point of view. Questions like this original post are best asked PRIOR to purchase. Maybe this should be a whole new thread. Tony B
 

Ross

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Jun 15, 2004
14,693
Islander/Wayfairer 30 sail number 25 Perryville,Md.
TonyB, That is an excellant point. Being, as you say an

active woodworker, I would use the fir plywood as a substrate for nicer wood faces. I can saw and plane 5-6 pieces of wood from a 2x. So I could with a little effort make cherry faces on these bulkheads where they show and get 15-18 inches of coverage from a 2x4 stick. There is no need to cover the entire sheet if only a portion of it will show. If Derelicte is in Willington NC he would have no trouble finding native furniture grade wood in his market area. But there is no way to finish fir plywood to make it look like anything but fir plywood since he has pretty much ruled out paint.
 
Jan 23, 2008
17
Hunter 20 Wilmington
Whew!

Unfortunately, I already got the fir. But - fortunately (!!), it's a small cabin, mostly form-molded fiberglass, and the shapes that I am pattern routing are for small stowage covers that live under cushions (which maybe changes the whole focus of this forum), or the wood is for small jambs and what-nots. It IS ugly-a** wood, I'll have to say. But - this is my 1st boat, and I make do with the $$ I have, right? That being the case, the info in this post suggests a paste-stain and a polyurethane seal coat might do. Any other suggestions? All that said - I agree, woodworking seems to be the utility skill needed most frequently in this whole process of making this boat sea-worthy again. Even with working with glass and gel-coat: the elbow-grease patience learned thru doing all of the other wood-stuff has been extremely beneficial, even if it comes down to already having 220 grit wet/dry paper from a previous project. Curious about veneer, though. If veneer (or formica) is used, would regular-ole contact cement be good enough for the high-moisture environment of the cabin? Or does that just come down to how well you've kept the moisture out to begin with? Thanks all for the posts.
 

Ross

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Jun 15, 2004
14,693
Islander/Wayfairer 30 sail number 25 Perryville,Md.
TonyB, I have a Dogwood tree that has died

about 3 inches diameter Email me a snail mai address and i will send you a foot long chunk
 

Ross

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Jun 15, 2004
14,693
Islander/Wayfairer 30 sail number 25 Perryville,Md.
Dereltic, The stuff that doesn't show, paint.

The stuff that does show cover. Contact cement is completely water proof.
 
Jun 12, 2004
1,181
Allied Mistress 39 Ketch Kemah,Tx.
Ross is right....as usual

I just want to add that contact cement comes in "brush" grade or "spray" grade. The spray grade is thinned out a little more than the brush grade and is easier to apply even with a brush. If you mess up and stick it where it is not straight, dont panic. Just get some acetone or laquer thinner in betwen the veneer and the ply and it will peel right off. Dont worry about too much acetone, it will wipe up easily and dry up quickly. When the veneer dries up in a few minutes, just add more contact cement and re-apply. Too many people are unjustifyably scared of contact cement. One more thing.....contact cement is highly flamable so dont let the fumes accumulate without some fresh air circulation Ross: I e-mailed you my address.. Thanks. I havent used a lathe in quite a while and I just bought a new one. I am re-learning. BTW: you can always tell a dogwood by its bark. Tony B
 

CalebD

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Jun 27, 2006
1,479
Tartan 27' 1967 Nyack, NY
Not to beat a dead horse but

As previously mentioned fir plywood is really intended for construction purposes and is not intended for a finished surface. That said, I am not familiar with the gel stain Tony and Ross mentioned but I am familiar with some rather interesting wood finishing stains made by a company called M.L. Campbell that could be used with several coats to even out any irregularities caused by the way the veneers were cut in the wood to begin with. You could even pre-seal fir with a shellac or other sealer and then apply this stain as it will ride on top of the sealer to provide an even stained look. Another option is Japan Colors by Ronan: http://www.abbotpaint.com/mfrs.cfm/10/Ronan The Japan colors are nice because you can mix your own custom color and just mix it with some paint thinner and apply - let dry and re-apply as necessary. Neither of these products will be found in your big box brick 'discount' store as they are not for the average DIY homeowner but more for furniture/finishing pros. You will find products by Minwax which are crap IMHO. No amount of overcoating using a Minwax stain will take out the unevenness of the grain but with the right stain (ML Campbell or Ronan's Japan colors) you will get a creditable result. With Japan colors you could make your bulkhead blue, red, yellow, black and nearly any shade in between by mixing your own stain. If you are even considering white or light colored linoleum I would first think about getting a decent marine grade of interior paint and just go over the plywood directly with several coats. You might even still be able to see a little grain. As Ross correctly pointed out, most fir plywood has one good face and one not so good face with voids (knot holes) in it. If you need to have the bad side of a sheet of (AC) ply showing you can first use Bondo (or regular wood putty) to fill the voids so the surface ends up smooth (after sanding). IMHO dark colors in the cabin make the cabin a bit somber. You want lighter colors to reflect the light so you can see. Varnished teak positively shines when a light is on in the cabin but a good polyeurathane (preferably a gloss floor poly for durability) can achieve much the same effect. Using oils is another way to achieve some of the same effects but with more effort. Boiled linseed oil (a component of Tung oil) will usually darken a wood and also help seal up the pores with multiple coats with light sanding (#220 or greater grit) between coats. Then varnish or put on poly or just paint the damned stuff. You can even use the paint pigment tubes so if Worst Marine only has white, off-white, blue and red you can make purple if you really want that. The marine interior paint is a pretty robust coating if your work is properly sealed. Yes, I do some furniture restoration work and finish work and no, it is not my main squeeze. Your mileage will vary. Good luck.
 

Ross

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Jun 15, 2004
14,693
Islander/Wayfairer 30 sail number 25 Perryville,Md.
Painting and faux finishing can put lipstick on a pig.

It takes a lot of practice to get a good looking result but for the "B" side of plywood it os an option.
 

CalebD

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Jun 27, 2006
1,479
Tartan 27' 1967 Nyack, NY
Lipsticking the pig

I love the analogy. Any finish that goes on wood over a sealer is in a sense a 'faux' finish. If it is applied directly to raw (sanded) wood it is not a false (faux) finish. Most antiques have at least a few layers of finish that may start with a veneer, then a stain, then a sealer like varnish or lacquer that give them their distinctive look. It is unlikely that regular plywood (even AB faced birch or oak ply) will end up looking like a family heirloom without a good amount of practice and trial and error. That said, my dad built a house and some bunk beds out of wood and plywood. I used to lie in the lower bunk admiring the grain of the underside of the upper bunk. The zebra or tiger stripes you described used to take on shapes, sometimes of a face and other times just the undulations were pleasing. That was 50 year old plywood though. Wood is quite a bit more scarce these days than it used to be. The loft building I am in now was built in the 1890's and has 12" x 12" wooden beams made of the (now nearly extinct) tall, original growth forest conifers (spruce?) that they used to make masts out of. Our structural columns rise about 11' and there are vertical columns about every 12' or so of the 12" x 12" stock. Since they did not have the engineering knowledge back then to figure out how little fiberglass they could use to get the job done they overbuilt everything to some amazing factor. Try going to any lumber yard or saw mill for that matter these days and asking for 12" x 12" stock lumber. You will be laughed into the sty with the lipsticked pig.
 
Jun 12, 2004
1,181
Allied Mistress 39 Ketch Kemah,Tx.
Caleb

"Any finish that goes on wood over a sealer is in a sense a 'faux' finish. If it is applied directly to raw (sanded) wood it is not a false (faux) finish." That makes no sense at all. A sealer, which is actually a sanding sealer is similar to the actual finishing product except it is faster drying with a harder surface. This makes the wood fibers that rise , break off easier when sanded and prevents the grain fibers from rising again. The term sanding sealer is normally referred to as a 'sealer' which is somewhat of a misnomer. Most people think that it actually seals the pores and fills them up and makes the finish look flat like a mirror surface. This is an incorrect interpretation and is evident in most refinishers as you will notice that their finish rarely if ever has that mirror finish. In order to get that 'family heirloom' look, you must fill the grain (pores). This is accomplished with a product called a 'paste wood grain filler'. It is an oil based product and applied with a brush across the grain and further rubbed in across the grain with a burlap sack rag. It will flash off fairly quickly and then the whole piece gets sanded and the pores will remain filled. Typically, the paste wood grain filler is always darker than the wood color. Now, when you apply your finish, it will lay flat on the surface which is flat and you will get that mirror finish. To get this finish does not take any great effort, you just have to know that this procedure exists. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why 99.9% of refinishers dont know this. When todays aniques were new, they had that mirror finish. The shellac was applied by brush spray or French Polishing. Laquer did not grow in popularity as a furniture finish until after WW-I. Nitrocellous laquer was made from some of the left-over nitroglycerine chemicals from the war. After I retired 22 years ago, I had a furniture design and construction business and we also did refinishing of high end antiques that were sold at Christies and Southerby's. Tony B
 

Ross

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Jun 15, 2004
14,693
Islander/Wayfairer 30 sail number 25 Perryville,Md.
Caleb a faux finish can make sheet rock look

like wood paneling and can turn a smooth wood column into the look of marble.
 
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