To paint or to stain?

  • Advertise with us

« back to Woodworking Skill Share forum

Forum topic by fseledon posted 10-15-2009 05:12 PM 8027 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View fseledon's profile


9 posts in 3141 days

10-15-2009 05:12 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Well this is my first post as I just joined yesterday. Here is my question.

I am building a chest of drawers for my 16 month old son. This is my first furniture piece so I decided to build it out of poplar and birch plywood. I figured I was going to mess up alot so I did not want to use expensive woods. My wife wants the end color to be a dark expresso or very dark cherry to kinda match our son’s crib. My question is should I paint the dresser with an espresso paint from BM or Sherwin-Williams and be done with or should I use a General Finishes Espresso water base finish? I am an even bigger novice when it comes to finishing which is why I brought up painting the dresser to my wife in the first place…

14 replies so far

View Mario's profile


902 posts in 4045 days

#1 posted 10-15-2009 05:43 PM

Try out both on a test peice (the same kind of woods) and let your wife decide.

It will give her an idea of what it will look like and get you off the hook.

-- Hope Never fails

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4212 days

#2 posted 10-15-2009 05:45 PM

The only problem with staining it is that poplar and birch plywood are usually pretty different looking as far as grain goes, and they will accept the stain differently…. possibly even exaggerating those differences. Still, us woodworkers love the look of wood, so stain always has a leg up on paint. :-)

If you do decide to stain with a water-based product, be sure and follow the directions to use a conditioner first to minimize grain raising. Also keep it mind that a dark stain will require more than one application, in all likelihood, to achieve the look you are seeking.

If it comes out looking awful, you can always go back and paint it.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

5851 posts in 3188 days

#3 posted 10-15-2009 05:48 PM

Ditto!! What Mario said. One thing I know is that popular doesn’t take stain good at all- no matter what you use, in my experience. I’d probably paint the whole thing and be done with it. Just my .002 cents.

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....

View McLeanVA's profile


491 posts in 3428 days

#4 posted 10-15-2009 06:41 PM

I agree with Rick. Anything I make that consists of poplar, birch or pine goes right to priming after the glue dries.

I agree with you on trying your hand with inexpensive woods to get acquainted with the woodworking processes, I would just hate for you to get frustrated when it comes to the finishing. Poplar can get ungly when it tries to accept stain. Finishing is an art for sure and there are woods that thrive under stain/oils and those that don’t.

Keep in mind that a 16 month old son quickly turns into a toy-wielding furniture banging boy in no time flat. Touching up small dings with left-over paint sure helps keep you sane.

... and that’s my two cents.

-- Measure, cut, curse, repeat.

View LesB's profile


1720 posts in 3437 days

#5 posted 10-15-2009 06:52 PM

I don’t think you will happy with the results if you use stain but guess what? If you or your wife (main decision maker) don’t like the stain you can always paint over the stain. Just be sure to put a good sealer/primer over the stain before you apply the paint. Also be careful with the stain if you don’t want the inside of the drawers stained or painted. You can use masking tape or pre-finish the insides of the drawers with a clear varathane to protect them. I prefer water base varathane and sand lightly (320 sand paper) between two or three coats for a smooth finish.

-- Les B, Oregon

View Gary's profile


9331 posts in 3427 days

#6 posted 10-15-2009 07:03 PM

I agree that poplar is lousy to stain. Like was said earlier, try it out on scrap wood to see how it looks. You will likely see for yourself (and the wife) that the poplar isn’t good for staining and, like Charlie said, the two woods will look different.

-- Gary, DeKalb Texas only 4 miles from the mill

View fseledon's profile


9 posts in 3141 days

#7 posted 10-15-2009 07:16 PM

Thanks for the quick reponse. It looks like ill be painting the chest but I’ll try to stain on some scraps, which I have a lot of :) first to see how it turns out. I know from reading multiple articles that poplar does not stain as easily as other woods but I thought I would ask as I do want the chest to look like it was build out of wood and not some cheap painted particle board material. Anyways I’ll post the finished result as soon as I am finished with it..

View a1Jim's profile


117086 posts in 3571 days

#8 posted 10-15-2009 07:28 PM

Good luck I agree given your experience and type of wood paints a good choice

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3152 days

#9 posted 10-15-2009 07:31 PM

I’d first brush on a gel stain, slightly thinned. But don’t wipe it off. The effect is a covering akin to paint yet allowing some if the wood character to come through…controlled by you. It’s a good way. You can even get fancy with some artifical graining techniques, if you like. It’s the same technique you use to “stain” a fiberglass or metal door to look like wood.

Seal with some good poly afterwards…kids are rough on furniture.

-- jay,

View emtwoodworker's profile


53 posts in 3489 days

#10 posted 10-16-2009 12:52 AM

I built a 2 projects this passed summer out of birch and poplar and stained them with GF espresso. I think they came out pretty nice, check them out in my projects.

View rrdesigns's profile


531 posts in 3180 days

#11 posted 10-18-2009 11:33 PM

Don’t forget about milk paint. It allows the grain and texture of the wood to show through when applied as it soaks in rather than sits on top like regular paint. Just be sure and use a water base sealer to protect it. Expect the colors to deepen when sealed.

-- Beth, Oklahoma, Rambling Road Designs

View ajosephg's profile


1880 posts in 3555 days

#12 posted 10-19-2009 12:01 AM

I’m presently building some stacking shelves made from poplar as an experiment to see how they would look using a dark dye followed by polyu.

I used Transtint dye (mixed with water), and it is going to look good. The dye evens out the white and greenish colors of the poplar.

I’ll probably not do it again though, because it was a lot more work than I expected. Maybe it’s just me but poplar seems to fuzz more than walnut, cherry, oak, etc. And, even though I raised the grain and sanded it down before dyeing it, the dye raised the grain again, and when I sanded it down again, that caused the color to lighten which required more dye, then the grain raised again—- you get the picture?

I’m now applying the 2nd coat of polyu which I hope is the last.

In the unlikely event I build anything from poplar again – it will be painted.

-- Joe

View Rick  Dennington's profile

Rick Dennington

5851 posts in 3188 days

#13 posted 10-19-2009 12:10 AM

I told you,Joe. Always paint poplar. Poplar sucks when it comes to any kind of finish. Black is a good color!!

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....

View ajosephg's profile


1880 posts in 3555 days

#14 posted 10-19-2009 12:18 AM

LOL Rick – why didn’t you tell me before I bought this wood about 2 months ago ;)

-- Joe

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics