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I'm building a bunk-bed/playhouse out of (mostly) plywood.

The plywood I bought is not the best stuff, definitely no veneer. The smoother face is still pretty splintery. In hindsight I wish I had sprung for the good stuff, but in my defense even the cheaper plywood ran to almost $300. The plywood I would have preferred would have put the total well over $400, which (at the time) seemed hard to justify for this project. I figured I would just have to spend extra time sanding and prepping, which would probably be worth it to save the money.

I went ahead and did all the cutting (and there are enough pieces that it took a couple weekends). Then I worked on smoothing out the pieces. I used a pre-treatment that was recommended for sanding rough plywood. I believe it was supposed to lock down the wood fibers so they wouldn't lift during sanding.

I assume it helped, but the final product is still pretty rough. And while the smaller fibers aren't too bad, it's still possible to catch long flat splinters you didn't even notice because they were lying so flush to the wood. I definitely wouldn't want to brush my hand flat along it. And I have very little confidence that painting will help that situation much.

Again, in hindsight I wish I had just paid more up-front for the wood, but it is what it is. I want to salvage what's already been invested in the project - both money and time. Between the cutting and endless treating and sanding it's probably been over 8 weekends of time spent. So scrapping it all and starting over with better wood isn't really an option.

I'm willing to spend money to get back on track though. I'm thinking what I need is some kind of epoxy-like coating I can use in lieu of normal paint. Something that will glue any remaining fibers and splinters down and also provide some smoothing and leveling. I'm not so worried about the final texture, I just want something durable I don't need to worry about anyone hurting themselves on.

Ideally I'm looking for something I can paint on with a brush or roller. I bet there are auto-leveling epoxy products intended for floors or countertops that would give me exactly the finish I'm after, but I don't think you can apply those like you would standard paint, and a more elaborate process would probaby be a huge hassle when extended to dozens of plywood pieces.

And I need to color it to match the room, so I either need to be able to dictate the color, apply standard paint on top of it, or paint the wood directly and apply the product over that. I'd definitely prefer the minimum amount of steps (I'm so ready to be done with this) so a tintable product would probably be the best.

There's a fair amount of wood involved in this. An (extremely) rough estimate might be 350-400 square feet. So while I'm ready to spend some money to make this go away, a $150 product intended to finish a single kitchen's worth of countertops (40-50 sf?) is probably going to end up being way too expensive.

Can anyone point me to a product that might work?

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I agree an epoxy coating makes sense. West System epoxy would pretty much do what you want. GitRot would have better penetration, but it'd be pricey and not designed for that purpose. West System is specifically meant to be painted on. They even sell special foam rollers.

It will penetrate somewhat, get underneath those wanna-be splinters, and tack them down. It is sandable, but if it's not blended with fairing powder, it can be fairly hard to sand, i.e. The sander won't take material very quickly. I would recommend one pass with sanding to remove burrs and odd bits.

If you also want to level the surface you can mix epoxy with fairing filler, then trowel on the mixture. This is much easier to sand.

Lightly scuff-sand the epoxy, wipe off the amine blush, and you can paint it with most paints.

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What grit level was the sandpaper you were using? I would start with a 150 and move up 180 grit and possibly finish with 220. Once the surface is clean I would try a product like Sherwin Williams Primer RX. It's considered a high-build primer. It's a thicker product that will fill uneven surfaces. You can then top coat everything with a couple of coats of quality semi-gloss paint. Progressive sanding is the key though. If you can get your hands on an orbital sander, that would give you better results than block sanding.

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