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Finishing Poplar to look like Cherry

GScharf3's picture

I am making a small shelf out of poplar.  I'd like to finish it to look like cherry -- a light red-brown, not the ultra dark color of old furniture.

I have not decided what finish I will use, but I'd like to experiment with something other than varnish/polyurethane.  The shelf will be very lightly used -- it's to hold scarves and gloves, nothing heavy or abrasive.

It seems to me that the options would be an aniline dye followed by a finish or perhaps one of the colored Watco oils.

I'd appreciate any suggestions.  I'm just getting started with woodworking, and this will be my first attempt to finish something with other than a coat of polyurethane.  I thought I'd experiment on this shelf as it will be mostly hidden in a closet when I'm done -- that leaves lots of room for error.

I'd appreciate any suggestions.



rrpm1's picture

(post #108863, reply #1 of 10)


I have not worked with staining poplar but its base color suggests to me you'd do well to seal it before staining.  This would give you a more even stain and block any existing color in the poplar.  Also, before you decide on an acceptable color take the sample all the way through to completion.  good luck   


RANGERP75R's picture

(post #108863, reply #2 of 10)


   I have worked poplar often. I agree with BG to seal it before you apply the stain. Gel-stain would be better than oil stain as it does not penetrate deeply. The surface is what you see anyway. Poplar will blotch easily if not handled properly.

Mucho luck....


Proud member of the :  "I Rocked With ToolDoc Club" .... :>) 

Shepherd1800's picture

(post #108863, reply #3 of 10)

I have had good luck using a red iron oxide dry powdered pigment in linseed oil/ turpentine (50/50) for the first coat.  Wiped on in a circular motion then wiped off in the direction of the grain.  This is allowed to dry for 24 hours. Then a seal coat of very thin (1/4 pound cut) shellac followed by a coat of oil/turps with burnt umber dry powdered pigment applied as above.  Then another thin coat of shellac and maybe marine spar varnish or more shellac. By building up the stain the color is richer than just a single application of stain.

As for 'blotch', it is the nature of the wood and I like it.  If you want something that is prefectly uniform use something besides wood.  Figured wood is highly blotchy and we pay extra for it!

Stephen Shepherd


RANGERP75R's picture

(post #108863, reply #4 of 10)


   Good point about the blotch. ha..ha Your finish method sounds like it has potential. I will give it a try as I use a lot of poplar, white and red oak (I'm poor). < G >

Have a good weekend...


Proud member of the :  "I Rocked With ToolDoc Club" .... :>) 

goldhiller's picture

(post #108863, reply #5 of 10)

Here are two examples of poplar finished with a seal coat of MagnaMax followed by coloration with Mohawk shading and toning lacquer and two more coats of MagnaMax. All coats must be sprayed.

Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.

Knowledge is power, but only if applied in a timely fashion.
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RANGERP75R's picture

(post #108863, reply #6 of 10)


   Looking good on both counts. I think after fooling with WW for 30 years, it's time for me to figure how how to finish. ha..ha

Great work and G'day...


Proud member of the :  "I Rocked With ToolDoc Club" .... :>) 

Elmaflash's picture

(post #108863, reply #9 of 10)

Thanks for the input and the great pictures. I do have access to spray equipment; however, all of my woodworking is done in the basement where I have a furnace and hot water tank and I'm very reluctant to use volitile sprays. I do all of my work by hand (brushes and rubbing) but would like some ideas on safe (non-volitile) spraying.

noone51's picture

(post #108863, reply #7 of 10)

First, I do like poplar as an inexpensive wood that builds well. It does have color strains that cause it to stain rather oddly. The whiter sap wood does take color well while the greenish colored heartwood is a little less likely to hold the depth that I think you are looking for.

However............................. It does tan well and you can use a UV light source to make it look like fresh cherry if you work at it. How's your patience level..

GScharf3's picture

(post #108863, reply #8 of 10)

How much UV does it take for poplar to tan?  I've left a piece in a south facing window for several days now, with no noticeable change.  Of course, here in the Pacific Northwest, we don't get that much sun at this time of year!

noone51's picture

(post #108863, reply #10 of 10)

Guy, up north of the border you will surely have troubles getting it to tan and when I speak of tanning I am talking about going from whitesh green to slightly brown not brown to dark brown like carefully nurtured cherry.

Still though, when it is tanned in normal UV light, it does start to take on the same color characteristics but it takes a significant amount of time to get there.

How long does it take? Well, I'm not really sure since its just the result of comparison on my part and it might have been over a long period of time. You know, one piece of scrap here and another one over there. It did manage to fool me for a minute when I was tyring to do a fixit job recently.