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I'm planning to build a floating shelf on a plan I've put together as sort of a hybrid of many different DIY plans I found online. The top and side panels will be 3/4" (actual) thickness select pine boards (appearance boards). They have a very light almost white natural color. The bottom panel will be 1/4" pine project panel (plywood). It has sort of a yellowish natural color, darker than the other panels.

I plan to stain everything fairly dark, like an espresso color. Will I have a hard time getting the finished product to look uniform on all faces, given how much darker/yellower the plywood looks?

I also found a 1/4" sheet of birch project panel that looks almost identical to the pine boards in its natural shade. I'm wondering if that would be a better choice, but I know that different wood types probably accept the stain very differently, even if they look similar in color now.

I plan to do a bunch of tests anyway, just curious what advice anybody would have for me in general. Thanks!

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Pine plywood (project panel) looks quite different than pine boards (select)

This is quite normal, and unfortunately unavoidable, even with much higher quality plywood like Baltic-birch ply if the goal were to match it to some some solid birch. Partly is it simply because wood can vary (and sometimes a lot).

But also the ply's surface is a veneer — and these days almost invariably a radially cut slice taken from the edge of a spinning log by a gigantic knife, not a slice through a log (which would look like the surface of a board). So even when there is a good colour match, as there can be sometimes, the grain/figure is so very different the plywood screams "I'm different!" And as if that's not enough the slicing process means that the surface of plywood accepts most stains very differently to the same/similar solid wood.

I plan to stain everything fairly dark, like an espresso color. Will I have a hard time getting the finished product to look uniform on all faces, given how much darker/yellower the plywood looks?

You're lucky as only going quite dark like this will easily allow the two materials to look more similar. But, it matters greatly what you're staining with.

If you go with a conventional staining product, a liquid product that sinks into the product to colour it, then you'd have a much harder time than if you use something like "gel stain".

So-called "gel stain" is actually a coloured varnish that has been artificially thickened, and is so well suited to pine (a notoriously blotch-prone wood that is hard to stain evenly) that one finishing guru has quipped that it might as well be called "pine stain".


I also found a 1/4" sheet of birch project panel that looks almost identical to the pine boards in its natural shade. I'm wondering if that would be a better choice

It actually could be, if for no other reason that softwood plywood can be of such low quality. It's often only suited to rough work, or at best shop cabinetry (where appearance is of secondary importance to functionality).

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  • Thanks for the reply. From what I gather, gel stain isn't real stain. Also from what I gather, oak is preferable to pine for a number of reasons: staining, strength, etc. I think I will change my build plans to oak, and use a real stain that the oak will hopefully accept better than the pine would have. Ironically, in all my other research referred to in the preceding sentence, I stumbled upon another comment of yours insinuating that hardwoods are way better to work with. So, this novice woodworker will be spending more on oak! That does not hurt as much as the $1400 sawstop I bought today.
    – The111
    Dec 23 '20 at 8:11
  • There's nothing wrong with pine, especially good quality stuff without a lot of knots in it. But yeah, hardwoods can be much (so much) nicer to work with compared to construction-grade softwoods. Better quality, or carefully selected, softwood should not be dismissed though. Oak does take conventional stains much better and is of course much stronger (not that this may matter for a floating shelf of the construction type I think you're using) but I have to say it is sort of wasted underneath an Expresso stain :-) If you're building a skinned framework shelf (torsion box) then consider poplar.
    – Graphus
    Dec 23 '20 at 8:48
  • $1,400 SawStop, ouch. But nice! Congrats on your purchase.
    – Graphus
    Dec 23 '20 at 8:50

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