How to get a smooth finish on plywood

Q:

I am trying to wrap up my first ever woodworking project, two simple end tables. I have found a stain I like and am ready to move forward with staining, however I can't seem to get the tabletop wood as smooth as I would like it to be.

The tabletops are made of 3/4 inch sanded plywood (I think they are oak) which I bought from the Home Depot. I have sanded them progressively from 80 grit to 220 grit by hand and using a random orbital sander. No matter how much I sand, there always seems to be a roughness to the wood and the scrap pieces I have stained are also that way.

With the scrap pieces, whenever I applied the stain, a few tiny splinters would catch on the cloth or brush I was using, causing more roughness. Even after applying several coats of polyurethane to the scraps and sanding lightly between coats, it still has a roughness to it.

Is there anything else I can do, other than sanding, to get a smooth finish to the tabletops? They're the most visible and used part of the project, so it's imperative that they are durable, functional, and look and feel good.

A: It sounds like you are doing things right. Sanding is key.

Since you are staining your project I would also recommend using a stain sealer. This will help keep the stain consistent and it will also raise the grain. That means that after you have applied the sealer you can use a high grit (220) wet/dry sandpaper to lightly sand the surface. This should help. Again try it on a piece of scrap and make sure your test piece has been sanded the same way as your finished project so you can get a truer match.

Good luck. Hope it works out.

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