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bigal341
Posts: 2
Registered: ‎12-26-2009
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Finishing and Staining Poplar

I started a tool cabinet project using Poplar as I like the grain and coloring.  I am at the point of staining it and have run into some real color problems.  I used a pre-stain wood preparation (oil base) and a final 220 sanding.  My choice of stain was Minwax Gunstock.  The result was that the dark edges turned black and the lighter edges a sickly yellow.  I resanded, reprepped, and tried a fruitwood stain - the darker areas got blacker and the lighter edges turned a pasty yellow  - still no good.  I resanded, reprepped, and then used a maple stain - now things grew worse - the light areas were more reddish and the pale greens turned into a Forrest black green tint.  I am out of options.  Should I have stayed with my original plan and used a Danish Oil rub?  Suggestions are really appreciated.  Al

Honored Advisor
Howard Acheson
Posts: 1,173
Registered: ‎10-24-2009

Re: Finishing and Staining Poplar

How did the stains look when you tested them on scrap material?  Never let your project be the first time you have used a particular stain or finishing schedule.

 

At this point, you will probably have to use a chemical paint stripper and remove all the finish on the wood.  Then, because Minwax stains contain dye as well as pigment, you will have to bleach the remaining color out.  Use a 10% dilution of a new bottle of Clorox.  Wet the wood and keep it wet until the color is gone.

 

Poplar is a difficult wood to stain even if it was carefully chosen beforehand for even coloring.  I have not had much luck with any of the so called "pre-stain conditioners".  The best I have found is to first put on a 1/2# cut of dewaxed shellac, let it dry and then give it a very light sanding with 320 paper.  Then use a gel stain.  Finally, apply the clear coat of your choice.

 

If you are going to continue to use poplar, spend some time practising on scrap until you can handle it properly.

Howie..............
Frequent Visitor
bigal341
Posts: 2
Registered: ‎12-26-2009
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Re: Finishing and Staining Poplar

Thanks!  It is more work intensive than I immagined, but if I want it to look good I guess I will have to go this route - What do you think about Danish Oil on this wood?

Honored Advisor
Steve Mickley
Posts: 1,567
Registered: ‎10-21-2009
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Welcome...

[ Edited ]

Al;

 

…the new and improved WOOD Magazine Forums, particularly to the Finishing & Refinishing Forum. I hope you will visit often. You will find a number of accomplished woodworkers and finishers here who stand ready to assist you with your finishing and refinishing questions.

 

I was initially struck by your reason for selecting poplar; you "like the grain and coloring."  Just out of curiosity, then, why did you decide to cover the grain and color with stain?  My first suggestion would be that you allow the poplar to be poplar.  From your description I gather that the lumber you selected contains a mix of both heartwood (the darker, greenish color) and sapwood (the light cream color).  Over time the heartwood will oxidize to a rich, warm brown color and the sapwood will retain its cream color, darkening only slightly.  While poplar is usually selected as "secondary" lumber it can, left to its own natural process of oxidation, produce striking results.

 

But, if you are determined to alter its color then you must accept its properties to take stain poorly; especially stain containing both oil-soluble dye and pigment such as those popularized by Minwax.  Not only do these products yield dramatically different results on heartwood and sapwood; but, the dye element is prone to producing extensive "blotching" on diffuse porous hardwoods (poplar among them) and softwoods.  The solution to the problem developed by Minwax is to sell unsuspecting consumers something called a "pre-stain conditioner".  This so-called conditioner is nothing but a thinned coat of poly.  Its purpose, like the thinned cut of shellac proposed by Howard, is to "seal" the grain thus preventing the dye element of the stain from penetrating into the cell structure of the wood thus producing the dreaded "blotching".  This same thinned coat of finish serves as a barrier coat to separate the pigment stain from the wood so in reality you are applying the stain as a "glaze".

 

Unfortunately, Minwax doesn't bother to reveal to the consumer the actual purpose of the "conditioner".  So, let's back up just a bit and consider a multi-step process for coloring poplar (and other difficult to stain diffuse porous hardwoods).  This isn't the only effective technique but it is within the grasp of most woodworkers using materials on hand, or easily obtained.  The process may or may not begin by altering the foundation color of the poplar with water-soluble dye (see the link that follows).  In all cases, whether or not dye is used, a "barrier coat" of finish will be applied ahead of any pigment stain.  Like Howard, I prefer shellac for its clarity and fast drying properties.  After the shellac is dry it is lightly sanded before applying a coat of heavy bodied gel stain.  The stain is then manipulated to the desired color intensity, allowed to cure, and then a topcoat is applied.  This approach works as it does because the pigment never makes direct contact with the difficult to stain wood.

 

Here is a link to a short step-by-step that explains the process of applying a "cherry finish" to poplar.  Other finish colors are achieved by altering the dye and gel stain employed.  Of course, if one really wants the look of cherry it is best to begin with cherry.

 

Now, as to your question about "Danish Oil"; do you still intend to "stain", or are you just looking for a finish.  If just a finish an Oil/Varnish Blend will work well.  I would avoid commercially prepared "Danish Oil" (just as your three strikes with Minwax stain suggest you may want to avoid Minwax stain in the future). 

 

Steve

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Apprentice Visitor
thomkoz
Posts: 1
Registered: ‎03-12-2011
0

Re: Finishing and Staining Poplar

I have used cabot stain on poplar and had very good luck with it. It is not a gel stain. I used a sponge brush to apply a relatively dark mahogany colored stain. Do wipe the wood about 5 to 7 minutes after application. This gives you more latitude with the color. I did not use a pre stain conditioner and I do not use minwax products, I think they are overated. Cabot stains colors are custom mixed so color preference is better.

 

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