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Poplar finishing help!

Scott_petty's picture

I have a project in poplar...this is my first time
to work with Poplar. Does anyone have any
suggestions for finishing poplar? what are its
characteristics? Can I make it look like cherry?


bullet_'s picture

(post #110202, reply #1 of 11)

paint is your best bet--furn. mfgs. make poplar look like cherry and walnut, using a complicated finishing schedule (toning, glazing, etc.).

Jeff_Jewitt's picture

(post #110202, reply #2 of 11)

Water-soluble anilines are your best choice for a stain. If you go with others -- like minwax, you need to use a stain conditioner.
I'd take a look at the article I wrote thats called "Staining Cherry w/o Splotching" thats in the FWW techniques section. Follow the same steps for poplar that I detail for cherry, except substitute a reddish colored dye for the amber colored one I describe. If you need more info e-mail me directly and I'll try to help

Jeff Jewitt

Don_H's picture

(post #110202, reply #3 of 11)

I 'd guess that there is not much in the way of attractive grain in the popular you have. Once in a while there is something worth looking at, but in my experience not often. You may want to consider color more than grain and although paint is one choice, a more heavily pigmented stain that can be built up into a uniforn color may be more appropriate. Again a fifty-fifty mix of polyurathane and mineral spirits or naptha will let you wipe on coats of finish until you get the results that please you. Just another option. Life is good.

Jessie_Cueto's picture

(post #110202, reply #4 of 11)

In my experience with these types of wood species (I run a finishing outfit that produces 3500- 4000 parts a day), be careful with darker stains. Anyone can apply the stain to the desired color, the effect may not be pleasing. I suggest a good sanding job with a finish grit no finer than 180. I would also start by applying a 1 to 1 water/alcohol mix to open up the grain. The alcohol will reduce the surface tension in the water allowing it to soak in and open up your grain. Sand again with 180, don't oversand, just try to cut some of the raised grain.

Let that dry then you could start stepping up your stain applications. You may notice that you will use more sealer and topcoat but the outcome should be worth it.


bullet_'s picture

(post #110202, reply #5 of 11)

you can make poplar resemble cherry by using toners and glazes, but why bother? poplar is best painted.

CStanford_'s picture

(post #110202, reply #6 of 11)

Try cherry tinted Watco Danish oil. You'll like the results. Minwax oil based stains work well to. I built a sofa table years ago out of Poplar when I first started woodworking. I stained the top with Minwax oil based stain and topcoated with spar varnish. Man, the piece looked great. Poplar can be an attractive wood when stained or finished with oil, you simply have to avoid the pieces with the profound dark olive streaks. Or, you could celebrate the streaks as part of a design strategy. My supplier has an enormous piece of 5/4 Poplar with birdseye throughout the entire piece. It's truly amazing and rare for this species from what I understand. I'm strongly considering buying this piece.

Quite often, you will see Poplar associated with the term "paint grade hardwood" or similar terminology. Partly this is because of it's relative low cost and availability. Other reasons include the dark streaks that are so common.

I think it makes a lot of sense to refine your skills with Poplar if you are new to woodworking. It's also perfectly fine to "think outside of the box" in terms of what woods you use. I can guarantee you that if I decide to buy the birdseye piece that I mentioned that I'll be able to build a very commerically viable piece of furniture with this wood.

Frank_Fowler's picture

(post #110202, reply #7 of 11)

I too am interested in the techniques of finishing Poplar. I purchase wood from a supplier who can provide "White Poplar", free of any olive coloration. On one side or on both as desired and in boards over 12 inches wide. They have told me that several craftsmen in the area are staining to achieve the cherry color and they suggest that the grain pattern is similar in Cherry and Poplar. As a novice I'm interested in others opinion before I begin the project. Is the grain on Poplar at all similar to Cherry? I have read some articles on stain penetration. Glue sizing tips are available on this website. I have used a sanding sealer for use with oil stain on Oak. Is this a bad idea? Would sanding sealer with MinWax cherry stain be acceptable for Poplar?

Eric_A._Hanick's picture

(post #110202, reply #8 of 11)

As suggested above a good combination would be Dye sprayed on in light passes followed by toned finishes.

Mixture of cherry and orange dye followed by a toner of cherry.

Eric Hanick
Hanick Woodworks Company

rich_levenberg's picture

(post #110202, reply #9 of 11)

After reading the first few messages, I followed Jeff Jewitt's advise about analine dye and poplar. I make hand crafted hardwood lamps working mostly in oak, mahog. and maple. I always wanted to work in poplar but was never satisfied with the stain or paint finish. I was looking to create a 2 or 3 toned effect, and if possible a "marbalized" effect on the lamp bases. I was able to do this using the following method: 1-sand the surface up to 600 grit. coat all surfaces numerous times to make sure that the dye is uniform and covers completely. I was working with a black analine dye cut with denatured alcohol. Once the piece was thoroughly dry, I applied 3 coats of sanding sealer and let dry overnight. The following day I resanded the piece starting with 60 grit and ending at 600 grit. The effect was great as I was able to get 3 colors, black, deep blue and the natural color of the poplar. Also, the 3 coats of sanding sealer helped create a smooth, glass like finish almost like it was from the inside out like watco. I can't wait to try this again. I feel like I can now work in poplar successfully.

rich levenberg

kristenmark12's picture

Download the Best Woodworking Plan (post #110202, reply #11 of 11)

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jayvollmer33's picture

I just finished an end table (post #110202, reply #10 of 11)

I just finished an end table the top was poplar I just used a dark stain and finished up with some rustolium triple thick clear glaze and it looks great

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