Need finish advise for poplar and ash

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Forum topic by SteveMI posted 02-25-2010 11:19 PM 3061 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1092 posts in 3259 days

02-25-2010 11:19 PM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing ash pine poplar question

I have just cut the parts for a table 28” tall and 16” square with a drawer. The legs are 1 3/4” poplar and the aprons are 4/4 ash. Drawer front will be 4/4 ash also. Top is a 3/4” pine glue-up that I bought and will put 4/4 ash frame under it. Aprons are M&T to legs. Drawer is rabbet construction with pine sides and back. For the drawer, I am only going to finish the drawer front.

I do not have spray finish capability right now or ventilation for petroleum based finishes. I want to use a water based product and don’t need to change the wood colors.

Provide your suggestions on finishing for this that are;
  • water based
  • wipe/rub on finish that will dry in minimal amount of time (I could brush if necessary)
  • ability to finish the parts before glue-up

Obviously with the woods being used, this doesn’t need a heirloom result.


6 replies so far

View Waldschrat's profile


505 posts in 3400 days

#1 posted 02-26-2010 03:26 PM

I guess the easiest in the area of water based and if finish quality is not a priority with the variety of woods being used, you are pretty much left brushing on some waterbased polyuerathane. If you only want to coat it once for times sake, you could water or moisten down the wood lightly with a clean brush or cloth then do a light sanding with 240 grit or circa, after the the wood dried, then put on the poly.

You can easily finish the parts, you just have to watch that you dose out the glue properly and do not put any dents in the soft poplar legs when clamping together.

-- Nicholas, Cabinet/Furniture Maker, Blue Hill, Maine

View wisno's profile


88 posts in 2976 days

#2 posted 02-27-2010 05:12 PM

For staining you can use either oil stain or water based stain. Both are quite easy to be applied by brush and wipe.

For the clear coating i suggest to use oil, varnish or shellac, they are traditional finishing material that is easy to be be brushing or padding.


View Sawkerf's profile


1730 posts in 3033 days

#3 posted 02-27-2010 05:37 PM

If you’re staining, you’ll probably have some blotching issues with the poplar – and some unusual colors if it has any of the green, purple, or black in it.

I actually like poplar for many things, but try to use only the white or cream colored wood, and just a clear finish.

-- Adversity doesn't build reveals it.

View Sawdust4Blood's profile


403 posts in 2986 days

#4 posted 02-27-2010 05:57 PM

If you’re not going to change the color, I think that a clear water based poly will be easy and work well (though it’s not the fastest drying finish). You could also brush shellac (which will dry fast) but it’s alcohol based so there will be vapors.

If you’re going to change colors, I believe you’ll have a dickens of a time. Not only is poplar notorious for blotching but all the different species will absorb stain at different rates which will make color matching difficult. Any time I’m staining poplar or mixing species I use Transtint dyes (which can be mixed in water or alcohol) instead of stain. The smaller colorant particles in dyes can mitigate blotchiness and absorption differences since all the colorants will go deeper. However, I also always spray those finishes because applying a dye and topcoat that have the same base using a brush or wiping technique can present challenges of their own. Just my humble opinion.

-- Greg, Severn MD

View bladeburner's profile


88 posts in 3051 days

#5 posted 02-27-2010 06:15 PM

I’ve painted those woods because of the staining problems. Here’s one of a pair that one of my daughters wanted in her guest room. Mix of poplar and pine. Shellac conditioning coat, topped with rattle can laquer.

View dfdye's profile


372 posts in 3002 days

#6 posted 02-27-2010 08:02 PM

Of all of the petroleum based solvents, the alcohols used for shellacs are about the most benign you could ask for. They do have vapors that you can smell, but they are relatively non-toxic (unless you actively huff the denatured alcohol, you should be fine!), and dissipate quickly.

That being said, I really like water-based poly and use it all the time—it is my default choice for a finial finish on a piece that will get any sort of wear. Though the dry time between coats of the poly is longer than shellac, and wipe-on water based polys don’t seem to be widely available (though I heard rumors it actually exists!), you don’t need as many coats as shellac, the poly is more durable, and you don’t have to fiddle with mixing, straining, etc. that you have to with shellac.

If I were trying to match your criteria, I am not sure I could do better than a brush-on water based poly, unless you are lucky enough to find a wipe-on water based poly.

If you are pre-finishing prior to assembly, be sure to tape off the glue joint areas with blue or green painter’s tape before you start applying finish, and be sure to to finish both sides of every part to minimize asymmetrical wood movement.

Good luck!

-- David from Indiana --

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