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I want to make a plywood owl lamp similar to this one. After sawing the pieces and polishing them, I tried painting them using watercolours. The colour looks good, but the wood has become rough on the edges. I am afraid that polishing again will remove the colour (is this correct?). What paint would be good for this job, provided that I want it to be

  • Relatively transparent, to see the wood through the colour (i.e., no acrylic);
  • Relatively cheap (i.e. no varnish – I will use fully transparent varnish at the end, but don't have the budget to buy many different colours of varnish just for this);
  • Not making the edges of the wood rough.

My wood is simple 3mm plywood. For the rest I don't know any specs, but don't expect it to have any kind of quality.

enter image description here

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    I think the "rough" edges you are seeing is due to the water content in your water paints. Unprimed plywood acts like a sponge to paint. Even regular paint will cause the same warping and roughing of the surface of the plywood. There is a special plywood boat builder and sign makers use but that plywood (called marine plywood) is very expensive. I'm not even sure if coating the plywood with clear epoxy would work. – John Vukelic Aug 3 '16 at 11:19
  • Could you include a picture of the edges? – user812786 Aug 3 '16 at 12:37
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    You don't mention any specifics of the material you used. Your plywood quality would be suspect here but the edges of plies will contain end grain which will absorb a lot of moisture like glues and paints. You will also see the grain raising which can happen because of moisture as well. I would attribute that to the roughness you feel. Once the grain is raised you should be able to smooth it again in order to reapply the finish, like paint. Some people wet wood to force the grain to raise so they can scrape it off. Not usually with some plywoods though. – Matt Aug 3 '16 at 13:19
  • I feel like you might be asking two questions here. One about the plywood edges and the other about the paint. – Matt Aug 3 '16 at 13:23
  • @Matt hm, it's really one question: before painting, the edges were fine. I either need to post-process them to remove the edges, or take on a new painting technique to not get these rough edges. Either way is fine for me. Are you saying I could (1) make the wood wet, with water, (2) polish the wood, (3) paint the wood? I suppose that would only have to be done on the sides? – Keelan Aug 3 '16 at 13:26
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Not sure if you want to hear this but this is better handled before finishing as supposed to mitigating after the fact. Either way I think you need to sand the roughness out you have first then do something to prepare the edges for finishing. In your case finishing would be painting.

Preparing Plywood Edges

Plywood surfaces are usually finish ready. That is not the case with edges. For larger project you can use banding/veneer or solid wood edging. In your case those would not be ideal since you are working 3mm board. What I think you should do is apply some compound along the edges. You have choices here but you can use wood filler/putty or something simple like drywall mud/compound. Your workflow should be something like this

  1. Sand edges.
  2. Liberally apply compound of choice. This will ensure you get gaps between the plies if they exist.
  3. Sand again to get smooth finish.

I spoke in the comments about the raised grain. This is the wood swelling from moisture contact. This is a normal occurrence and can similarly happen in engineered wood products. This is more dealt with solid wood products. Plywood still contains solid wood though. Read some of those links to Woodworking.SE that cover those topics in more detail.

When you raise the grain and go to sand it again you are just trying to remove the raised grain and not sand the surface of the wood. Doing so will expose more grain and you likely will have the same problem.

I am not convinced that is your issue from the picture. The edges of your wood there really look like tear out or blow out from the saw. Even if I am wrong the following suggestions would still be useful for the future.

Prevent Tear-Out

When cutting wood like this you can try to prevent tearing of the wood fibers, on thin wood like this, by having tape on both sides. Something simple like masking or painters tape can help stop that. You still have to sand of course afterwards.

One other thing to keep in mind is that the family of saws used for this work (coping, fret and others) almost exclusively only work on the forward or back stroke. It depends how you have the blade mounted of course. Don't but force when the teeth are not going to cut.

Paint

Unfortunately I don't have any suggestions about the paint since I usually use acrylic for applications like this. However you could try thinning the paint with water if you want a more opaque effect.

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When using a water based paint, you will for certain cause the grain to raise and funny things that look like tear-out on the edges.

To avoid this, before painting, I sand, then intentionally raise the grain with water, i.e. I paint it with water.

Then I sand again to remove the raised grain and the tear-out.

Finally I paint it with pigmented paint - in my case watered-down acrylic which does a nice job of letting the grain show through.

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