Difficult Staining Poplar

A beginner gets advice on finishing a Poplar bookcase. March 28, 2010

I'm trying to get some advice on finishing poplar bookcases. I have a small, one man shop and will be doing this by hand, (no spray booth). I am going for a dark cherry color. From what I've read, it seems that an analine dye, followed by Zinser topcoat, followed by a wiping stain, then a topcoat would work. Can I use a Danish Oil/Poly mix for a topcoat, or should I go a different route? I have never used dyes; what's the best color to use for a base coat? Also what is the best wiping stain to use; will off-the-shelf Minwax work? Someone please help me!

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor F:
You are tackling a tough project for a first timer. Be sure to do lots of large samples until you get the color right. Poplar is a difficult wood to stain, especially to a dark color, as it is very prone to blotching. With no spray booth, Iím going to recommend the following based on the products you mentioned. Start with an aniline dye, then a washcoat of sealcoat (cut to around a 1lb cut), then apply wiping stain. Minwax will work, but an industrial stain will dry faster. Finally topcoat it.

I would suggest trying to find a local finisher who has enough experience to do this for you. It will probably cost less (if you value your time) and will turn out better. Practice your finishing on some simple inexpensive projects until you start to feel comfortable with it. Maybe build some coat racks or something out of different species and see how they stain differently. Practice, practice, practice. Also, there is a plethora of knowledge here. Spend some time reading the Knowledge Base.

From contributor K:
For a rookie finish on poplar try some Minwax water based stain. Wipe on, wipe off. It will raise the grain a little, but after your first coat of finish you can sand that off before the final coat. You can use normal off the shelf min wax polyurethane for your top coats if you want.

From contributor A:
Poplar is a good wood for dark stains because it is not really wood. It is more like a dense weed. Not many woods soak up stain and paint like poplar. Poplar is one of the few woods that will take two coats of stain. Do not use Minwax stains. Pro's dislike them for several reasons. If you can find Zar or Old Masters stains at a hardware store they would be a better choice. Bartley's gel stains are also good for adding dark and deep color. Zar wood filler is also a very good choice when staining. If you still want more color after the stain. Zinsser Sealcoat shellac tinted with Transtint liquid dyes will add plenty. It also acts as a barrier coat between your original stain and the topcoat. After the shellac barrier coat you can use any topcoat.

From contributor J:
I had this same conversation with a customer recently. The customer wanted mahogany armoire built out of poplar. My response is always the same. It doesnít cost any more to build it out of chosen wood than it does poplar because it will cost more to finish the poplar.

From contributor M:
In keeping this simple I would use a readily available cherry stain. I have had good luck with obtaining deep colors using Sherwin Williams wood classics. I have had good luck with Minwax as well, but like the deeper tones I get with Sherwin Williams. For the topcoat, Minwax waterbased poly is pretty simple to use, and it dries fast. Try a sample and see if you or your customer likes the results. If not, then it will need to get more complicated. It you need to use a dye, woodworkers supply carries a good line that is easy to get, simple to use. I have been using the water soluble dyes with good results for some time. They have an online color chart that helps with selection. I usually order several colors that are in the color range I am trying to get to. Saves time versus expense if the first choice does not quite work, and I have to reorder. After the dye, I still use the other stain as a second application, followed by my topcoat (you'll need a light sanding after the dye). Don't be overly concerned about trying dyes. Just be sure you use samples before applying to your project.