Introduction: Painting Plywood Edges

About: Hi there! My name is Bao and I'm an architect, a woodworker, a maker, and a father. As you can see, I have many hats! I do hope you find my tutorials helpful and that it will inspire you to get out and make so…

Have you ever worked on a project that needed to be painted but can never get the exposed plywood edges to be nice and smooth like what the pros could do? This tutorial will show you how to get that smooth, professional edge on any plywood project WITHOUT edge banding!

There are a few ways for you to achieve this finish. One is to use edge banding usually with a hardwood like poplar. This will give you great results, but it's an added cost and added tools needed to cut the hardwoods to size. Second, you can use iron-on banding and paint over it, and again you're looking at a higher added cost to the project. The final method is to fill the exposed edges with some type of filler. It can be bondo or, in this case, wood filler. I don't recommend using drywall compound since it might result in cracking.

Let's get started!


Wood filler - I don't like fast-drying wood fillers since from my experience they tend to crack. They're great for filling pinholes, but I think this is too much surface area for the quick-dry stuff.

Wood filler -

Wood filler applicator - AKA your finger. Or you can use a spackle knife.

Spackle knife -

Sandpaper - I would use 120 grit and 180 grit to sand the wood filler and 300 and 400 grit to sand the primer and paint.

Circle Sandpaper -

Rectangle sandpaper -

Sandpaper block or random orbital sander - This will ensure that the sanding is done evenly

This is the one I used -

Sanding block -

Primer and paint - I prefer to use a separate primer and a separate paint since it requires fewer coats

Paint applicator - If you want to get a super smooth paint finish, investing or renting a spray gun is the way to go. I'm using an HVLP system, but you can always use a sponge roller.

This is the one I use -

This one is a great one as well -

Step 1: Applying the Wood Filler

The first thing you want to do is apply the wood filler so that it covered all the plywood edges. You want to apply just enough so that the exposed layers are covered but not too much. The more wood filler that's added, the longer it will take to dry.

The awesome thing about wood filler is that if your plywood has exposed voids, the filler will fill them in nicely. It doesn't have to be neat. It just as to be covered.

Step 2: Sanding Down the Wood Filler

Sanding would go a lot quicker if you have access to a cordless random orbital sander, but it's definitely not a requirement. While sanding, make sure you're sanding evening along the edges. You don't want to angle the sandpaper or else your edges will not be sharp. The goal is to remove all the excess wood filler and have a smooth edge with the plywood layers slightly visible.

Once the wood filler has dried, sand the edges down with 120 grit sandpaper. This will quicking remove most of the excess. After that, come back again with 180 grit sandpaper to smooth out the area. What you should be left with is an edge that is smooth to the touch.

Step 3: Adding Primer and Sanding

Once the wood filler has been completely sanded smooth, you can add on the primer layer. I use a roller for this because I can apply more material onto the surface compared to spraying it with an HVLP system. If you do choose to spray the primer with an HVLP sprayer, you might need to add a few extra coats to ensure that the plywood is fully covered and the wood will not absorb any more of the primer.

With the primer dried, sand down the surface with 300 or 320 grit sandpaper. This will smooth out any debris that might have fell onto the surface of the primer. Be careful when you're sanding to not remove the primer layer. If you do accidentally expose the plywood surface underneath, add more primer to these areas and repeat the sanding step.

What you should be left with is an edge that is smooth and no plywood layers are visible or "ghost" through the primer.

Step 4: Final Paint Top Coat

Once the primer has been sanded smooth, apply your final top coat of paint. I'm using an HVLP system that lays down paint really smooth, but it needs to be thinned. Since my paint is water-based, I added water to the paint to thin it out. I then used a viscosity cup that came with my spray system to measure the viscosity of the paint once the water was added. For water-based latex paint, my system required 20-25 seconds for the viscosity cup to empty. Check your spray system requirements for more details.

I will then apply my first layer of paint and let it dry. Once dried, I'll sand the paint layer down with 400 grit sandpaper and then apply my second layer. If the second layer looks even and the paint is smooth I will stop. If you need to apply a third coat, then simply sand down the paint with 400 grit again and apply the 3rd layer. The reason why I have to apply so many coats is that the HVLP requires thinning of the materials which means less material is being applied to the surface.

If you're using an airless sprayer, then you probably only need one layer of paint since airless sprayers does not required that the paint be thinned out. If you're rolling the paint with a sponge roller, then you will probably need 2 layers of paint depending on how evenly the material was applied onto the surface.

Step 5: The Results!

By this time the paint should have dried and what you're left with is a smooth finish on your plywood edge. With careful planning and proper application, you can save a lot of money going this route and achieve a high-quality finish compared to the more costly edge banding methods described in the introduction.

I hope you found this tip helpful for your project!