View Full Version : Staining Poplar and other staining questions

03-02-2004, 06:27 PM
I have heard that Poplar doesn't take stain too well. Is there a way that one could "prep" poplar to be able to take the stain better?

What less expensive species could be used and stained to look like cherry? Hard Maple comes to mind, but I haven't worked yet with it.

03-03-2004, 12:20 AM
Mmmm... rock (hard) maple doesn't have the pronounced grain that cherry has. I've seen it used that way, heavily stained for the cheery cherry look, but it's not quite right.

Besides which, rock maple doesn't take stain particularly well either due to its density.

Beyond that, I'm gonna' have to rely on other folks to advise about the staining. I'm just not much of a stain man.

-- Tim --

Don't walk in front of me, I will not follow.
Don't walk behind me, I will not lead.
Walk beside me, and be my friend.

03-03-2004, 12:27 AM
Maybe it was soft maple then. That would make sense that the more dense wood wouldn't take the stain.

03-03-2004, 01:18 AM
I stained soft maple with a cherry gel stain, but I used a spit coat of dewaxed shellac first, as a sealer. It stains nice this way.

03-03-2004, 08:41 AM
I work with hard maple alot! I love it. It is an easy wood to work with. It routes well, it's durable and it has a nice light grain and color. For all of this to be true your tools have to be sharp and well tuned otherwise it's difficult to cut and burns.

Maple stains well. But you can't use a pigment stain. Since Maple is so dense the pigment has no place to lodge itself and you end up wiping it right off. The best way to stain maple is with dye stains. I prefer water based dyes. Easy to mix, easy to change colors (just add more water) and easy to stain. Water based dyes also dye more deeply than oil based dyes and they are more resistant to fading.

Just rub the stain on in a nice even layer and let it dry. I don't like to flood the wood and wipe off the excess.

If you have any other question let me know.

03-03-2004, 08:45 AM
Red Alder.

03-03-2004, 10:41 AM
Unfortunately for me, alder is not an option. Too expensive to ship here, so not worth the cost.

03-03-2004, 10:41 AM
I've had some luck with poplar and a cherry gel stain. I think it was Minwax "Cherrywood." Make sure you sand the poplar to a relatively fine grit first (at least 180, preferably 220). Grain-wise, poplar is the best I have seen in terms of match.

I think the reason poplar is usually painted as opposed to stained is simply because the greenish hues are so hard to mask with a stain, at least in any way that makes it look right. With this in mind, another benefit with respect to using poplar instead of cherry is that cherry sometimes has a greenish tinge as well, so the green problem is less important when you are using it is as cherry.

However, I'm sort of a newbie here, so if I'm talking out of my posterior here, someone can feel free to correct me. :)

03-03-2004, 10:53 AM
What brand would you suggest? All I know about are Briwax and Homestead. I have never used a dye.

Have you ever used a dye on poplar or pine? I am curious only because of the claims that each of these species are hard to stain/finish.

03-03-2004, 11:08 AM
What is the difference between a gel stain and an oil stain?

And, did you prep the poplar with anything before staining it?

03-03-2004, 11:10 AM
Here is a picture of a Shaker Step Stool I built for someone. They wanted me to try to match their "cherry" bedroom furniture. She brought me a finial from her bedpost to use as reference. The stain that came closest (to her finish) was MinWax red mahogany.

After examining the finial she brought me, I realized it was made of poplar too! I think a lot of people who don't know better (I don't mean that in a mean way, they just aren't into wood like us) buy "cherry" bedroom suites, and don't know that they're often not made of cherry wood.




Do or do not. There is no try - Yoda

03-03-2004, 12:28 PM
I have used Lee Valley's stains. They come in a powder form and you mix it with water (I have used destilled water).


I know homestead sells transtint stains, these are also very good.

I have also dyed poplar and pine. For pine you must use a prestain conditioner (not sure for poplar). If you are going to use a water based stain use must use a water based prestain conditioner, if you use an oil based stain use an oil based conditioner. MinWax sells these. The water based is a little harder to find, but not too difficult, you can get it at HD.

I have used the prestain conditioner (oil based) on poplar and as far as I could tell it had no effect. I don't think it would hurt if you decided to use a prestain conditioner on poplar.

You are right pine is a bear to finish, lots of blotching, but with the prestain it works out well.

How do you plan to finish the project after the stain? Do yu need suggestion or are you ok.

If you have any other question come back to me I'm happy to help.

03-03-2004, 01:15 PM
Haven't decided on a finish yet.

I plan on making some lamps. I am still undecided whether to use poplar or maple cause I still have little ones that run around the house. I want them to look like cherry, but don't want to use cherry cause of the expense, mainly. Poplar may be too 'soft' for potential ding and dents.

I don't want the lamps to look too shiny. So, more of a subtle finish. Any thoughts?

03-03-2004, 02:26 PM
Here is what I recommend:

Use maple for all of the reasons I listed earlier.

Take a look at Lee Valley's "Russet Amber" stain. It gives you a nice reddish brown color on maple. Just like the picture.

Take a look at Tried and True wood finishes. I love their finish. They have a danish oil, an original finish and a varnish. This stuff is thick! It rubs on well and gives a great sheen to the wood. The varnish gives a slightly less sheen than a semi-gloss. You don't need to raise the grain with this finish either due to how you apply it.

The entire finish process I have used is as follows:

sand everything down to 220 grit
appply first coat of finish (Assuming you are using the Tried and Tru Original or Varnish). Let it sit for 1 hour, then rub down the wood and remove the excess. Let it sit 1 day. Then rub down the wood with fine synthetic steel wool. The more you rub the better (this rubbing fixes the raised grain).
Apply 3 coats to solid wood and 2 coats to ply.

It is simple and looks great. Plus if the project starts to loose some sheen in a few years just apply a new coat and it will look like new.

03-03-2004, 02:42 PM
thanks a bunch! I have copied this down so I don't forget any of it!

I appreciate your help.

03-03-2004, 04:53 PM

Here's a picture of a bookcase I made for my granddaughter. It's made of poplar and was dyed and then stained.


I used a mixture of Mosers water based dyes and Olympic red mahogony stain. The dye will raise the grain, so I wet the wood first and then sand it before applying the dye. I bought the dye from


Bob R

03-07-2004, 07:30 PM
I couldn't give you the chemist's answer to what the difference between a gel stain and oil stain are, but from a functional perspective, the diffrence is just as it sounds- the gel stain is much thicker, almost like a paste, whereas the oil stain is pretty much a pure liquid form. You have to wipe the excess gel stain off much sooner than you do an oil stain (3-5 mintes for the latter as opposed to 15 for the former), though.

The can's directions recommend you pre-treat with a wood conditioner for softwoods, and I am pretty sure I used Minwax Wood Conditioner on the poplar. Your best bet is to take a scrap length of poplar (say a 1 foot long length of 1 x 6, just to get an accurate sense of how things would look on a real panel), pre treat half of one side, and put the gel stain on the entire side. If the untreated portion of that side ends up looking blotchy, use the conditioner on your project; if there's no real difference, don't.

Incidentally, your local home center should have gel stains right next to the oil based stains. I usually only use Minwax so I am not sure if other manufacturers also make gel stains (I would assume they do), but since Minwax seems to be the wood treatment of choice for most home centers to carry, you should find some no problem.

03-08-2004, 02:58 PM
Could someone run through the wetting/sanding process on raw wood again and briefly, the logic behind it. I think I have a situation that calls for it and I can't remember exactly how I should go about it.



03-08-2004, 09:43 PM

I just wet the wood down with a wet rag to raise the grain. After it dries, I sand it smooth. Be careful not to sand through the veneer if you're using plywood.

Bob R

03-09-2004, 04:39 PM
FYI, I added on a small pine shelf to a cherry bookcase and was able to match it up pretty well with some mohogany gel stain.

03-09-2004, 06:59 PM

Poplar has been refered to as "poor man's cherry". Has a tendancy to fuzz and seems to take water based stains better. Just my experience and opinion.
Best alternative, I think, is birch. Close in hardness and grain characteristics. Birch seems to have fallen out of favor for some reason. It's a pleasure to work. Just not that popular anymore. Birch also takes stain much better than maple. And don't get suckered into paying extra for red birch. There is no such thing.
Red birch is just heart wood.


03-10-2004, 05:16 PM
I second the poplar taking water based staing better. Just tried water based on poplar last night and found it worked much better for me.


03-11-2004, 04:39 PM
Quick tip - when you begin sanding, after you have wet the wood down, do it quickly and lightly. The objective is to sand off the little hairs that have "raised" up from the water, not sand the entire piece again. If you sand too much you will cut away the cells that got wet and uncover new cells which will "raise" new hairs when you apply the stain.

03-12-2004, 12:05 PM
Makes perfect sense and reafirms why I use a scraper.