I use ¼” Baltic Birch plywood.  This is furniture grade, 5 ply, plywood.  Regular 3 ply lumber yard plywood will warp and does not have a suitable surface.  Baltic Birch is readily available but you may have to search around a little to find a supplier.  It usually comes in a 5’ x 5’ sheet and most places will not make more than one cut (just so you can fit it in the car.)  You will need access to a table saw to cut it to the sizes you want.

Backs - I sand the panels and then apply a coat of Minwax Polyshades (polyurethane with stain in it).  It is available in gloss or satin finish.  I let it dry overnight, sand lightly with 220 grade sandpaper, and apply a second coat.

Painting Side - I either apply canvas OR oil primer.

Canvas - Sand first and then “size” the surface.  I use 2 coats of rabbit skin glue (sanding lightly between coats) but you can also use dewaxed shellac or Elmers white glue thinned to a brushable consistency.

The canvas I use is LLDP (Double lead primed portrait linen) from New York Central Art Supply (www.nycentralart.com).  Cut the canvas about ¼” larger all around.  I apply an archival adhesive (Jade Adhesive from either New York Central or Jerry’s Artarama) to both the canvas and the board for even coating and good adhesion.  I roll out any bubbles with an old printers roller and weight the panels with some heavy books for several hours.  I then trim the excess canvas with a razor knife.

OR

Primed - sand and size as above.  I then brush on a coat of Winsor Newton Oil Primer.  When thoroughly dry (at least overnight, sometimes longer) I sand and apply a second coat.  Allow to dry and sand lightly to get rid of brush strokes and any irregularities.

This seems like a very labor intensive process but I usually do 15 or so at a time.  Compared to the price of good quality birch panels, it’s a huge savings and I can control the quality.
Do it yourself painting panels
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