Finishing 1/8" x 4' x 8' birch top plywood panels

In my room there was one wall panelled with luan, finished with varnish maybe 50 years ago. I had restained and put gloss poly over it ten years ago, but it wasn't a real good job.
I saw the 4' x 8' birch top plywood panels, 1/8" thick at the Home Depot, figured the hard part would be getting them home and cutting them, there are two doors on the sides. It wasn't easy, but between one thing and another I got it not too shabby.
Hung the wall panels first, figuring it would be easier to finish them, three 4' x 8's, and went to stain, natural first, figured a quart ought to do it. It did, for a start. The 1/8" panels absorbed stain very quickly, and I had to add thinner to finish the first coat, oh yes, it came out kind of uneven when I put the poly to it later. Oh yes, I sanded down, put various mixes of natural and red sedona stain on, for a month. I only do this a few times a week. Lots of sanding, too. Two coats of satin poly, then I started on the door skins, which I had cut out of the 3 panels.
There was a note about pre-stain on the stain can, so I went and got a can of pre-stain too, all Minwax stuff oil base. Laid the first door skin on my bed ( it's like CRAMPED in this tiny studio ) and put a coat of pre-stain on. Again, it took a lot, but I had a wet layer to wipe off fifteen minutes later. Let it be for an hour, then a coat of natural stain, it took a lot to get a bit to wipe off fifteen minutes later. Stood it up against the wall and found between the pre-stain and the stain, it had gone entirely through the 1/8" panel, even left a damp spot on my sheet.
Oh yes, so I let it dry outside in the California sun a few hours for a couple days, let it be for a week, sanded and polyed.
Oh yes, I put it on with a brush, several coats of gloss, sanding in between coats, but it always had brush waves in it. I got a pint of wipe-on gloss poly and found I could get decent results with that, no waves or runs, using a piece of scrap panel.
I sanded the first door skin, stripped it good, restained, and started wiping poly a couple weeks ago. It looks decent enough, maybe when I get some good wax on it will look good. I'll put a few more coats of wipe-on gloss poly before I quit it for this go-round, my can of poly got kind of thick and until I added more thinner to it the going was getting anywhere.
Shortly, I'll start stripping the second door skin, Bix worked fine on the first. Sand it down by hand with 150 tomorrow, then 220, rub with #1 steel wool. I'm thinking a light coat of pre-stain, brushed on uniformly, and not so much that there's much to wipe off after fifteen minutes, dry a few hours, then natural stain similarly, I can't imagine there's anything to gain by soaking the plywood all the way through. Let it dry for a day or two, rub with #1 steel wool, give it another light coat of natural stain, repeat until I get some stain remaining on the surface to wipe off fifteen minutes after application. Oh yes, I wipe with a thinner dampened cloth before apps.
Then, I'll start the wipe-on gloss poly applications. I'm not really looking for anything mirror-like, I don't have room enough to sand that much.
Reactions, suggestions, comments, pointers to URLs are welcome. I may use some more of the 1/8" birch plywood panels on some other things, so ideas upon how to proceed from scratch would be useful.
What I've learned is that applying gloss polyurethane with a brush to a vertical surface is not a piece of cake with a cheap brush. I used a 3" that works just fine with latex but got really poor results despite being slow and careful; well the lighting isn't real great either.
I still haven't figured out what to think of the pre-stain and stain soaking all the way through the panel but I reckon that it isn't really a good idea to apply so much that some remains upon the surface fifteen minutes later when I go to wipe it off.
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I'm exhausted just reading about all you did. I'd go with wallpaper. Ed
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What color/texture/pattern?
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