Yet another thread on staining/finishing poplar

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Forum topic by Millo posted 07-22-2010 09:40 AM 13266 views 2 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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543 posts in 3291 days

07-22-2010 09:40 AM

Hello everyone,

I just spent a couple hours reading/watching vids around the internet about wood finishing. It seems most people seem to agree that while you can successfully stain and finish poplar with various methods, it still is prone to blotching, etc.

Today (well, yesterday, when I started internet-surfing on the subject) was the last day of my first-ever class on woodworking at the local community college (summer session), and built a VERY SMALL end table out of poplar. Tons of hues in the poplar pieces I got, but I think overall the grain on most of the components is pretty. I don’t think it’s photogenic, but I really think it is pretty. I wanted to finish it and on a whim went to the big blue box and got some Minwax stuff without reading first.

Anyhow, I was thinking of just using a natural, clear stain (“clear stain”—what an oxymoron, huh?) to darken the whole thing a bit, then using wipe-on satin Poly.

—>Should I not be concerned about blotching when dealing with a “clear stain” ?

—>Should I use wood-conditioner before the clear stain? I already have the much-maligned Minwax.

—>Should I skip the clear stain and just leave the piece out in the wild Texas sun for a few hours to get it darker, then only apply the wipe-on Poly?

I already have the Minwax conditioner, the “clear stain”, and wipe-on polyurethane. I still have the receipt, too.

Pretty much the whole workpiece is already sanded to 220 grit—all the visible surfaces, anyway.

Thanks for your help!

22 replies so far

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4369 days

#1 posted 07-22-2010 12:35 PM

Shellac – seal, condition and tone all at once.

-- 温故知新

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4063 days

#2 posted 07-22-2010 12:56 PM

Shellac is a good conditioner, as Hobomonk has suggested. I would suggest using a 1 pound cut to control blotching and then stain/finish as you want. I have never had any problems with Minwax products and use them all the time.

I would suggest that you get some scrap material and work out your staining/finishing routine on it before tackling your table. Poplar acts a lot line pine but it is a pretty wood when stained and finished with a clear topcoat. The biggest problem I have had with it is that some of the wood can have a green tint that, over time, will tone to brown.

I really don’t think that “suntannin” the wood will have a lot of effect in this instance. Cherry is very light sensitive and sun exposure for a 2 to 3 week period will darken the wood. It works well at coloring cherry, for example, but I do not believe that poplar will exhibit any appreciable coloring from sun exposure.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 3164 days

#3 posted 07-22-2010 01:09 PM

Definitely need to use a conditioner or you will not like the results.

-- Life is good.

View stnich's profile


122 posts in 3165 days

#4 posted 07-22-2010 02:49 PM

When you say clear stain do you mean their natural. Their natural is almost like a wood conditioner. I would definitely try it on a scrap first. I use MinWax products all the time but generally not on poplar. Poplar is very prone to bloching. Make sure you sanded it well before apply any stain. For poplar I use Zar stains.

View Millo's profile


543 posts in 3291 days

#5 posted 07-22-2010 04:11 PM

Thanks so much for your answers!

Shellac—sounds like a great solution. IS it easy for total newbies?? Never mixed/dissolved it. Should I get a big-box shellac product? Only problem, I feel like returning the Minwax products if going the shellac route, since It’ll be a while before I stain finish anything else. In terms of added protection—can I do a few coats of shellac and the some poly? Is that recommendable? I am going to use this very small table to hold coffee/water as I teach guitar lessons, and those and other drinks as I read, work, practice, whatever around the house—it will be moved around, indoors, quite a bit. I don’t think the table will be “abused”, but it will be used a lot. It’s not a fine piece of furniture or anything, LOL! It has tons of my silly mistakes but luckily they’re not noticeable from the “normal daily use” perspective, since the table is so low.

I have heard about shellac in casual conversation (I play classical guitar) and all I know about it is it comes in crystals that are dissolved into a solution that is then hand-rubbed. Ah, and that these crystals come in different tones. That’s the extent of my knowledge, LOL!!! Well, somewhere I read some people use it for as a grain-filler prior to finishing furniture.

stnitch: Yup, the natural stain. Good to know it sort of adds as a conditioner. I might experiment with later or skip it entirely for the moment and go the shellac route.

Scott: One of the threads I found on the topic was this one: seems like some light exposure worked on darkening the wood a bit. This “little bit of browning” seems useful to me. Final project discussed on that thread, which by the way, I loved: Again, my table has tons of different hues, including some yellows, the brownish grays, the beautiful light chocolate-y ones, the typical greens, the actual downright grays, etc. but for the most part the grain is fairly pretty (except for the top which is rather “blah”—I was the last person in the class to choose pieces for the top edge-joint glue-up). On what I will be using as a “front side” of the table there are some fairly straight grain lines, but the actual colors of the pieces area a bit disparate, which I don’t think is horrible or anything, but I do think a bit more browning would make it even more attractive, which I HOPE the finishing process will help with, but if the sun changes some of the hues SLIGHTLY to more brown like it’s suggested on the pics for the topic/project linked above, all the better.

I was originally planning to doing the staining/finishing today (I’m free in the mornings), but I have family coming over tomorrow for the weekend (still need to work on cleaning around, etc.) and since I decided to follow your advice and sand/finish some of the other pieces of scrap poplar I got for testing before finishing the table, then I’ll have to start tackling this on Tuesday.

I think poplar (which, after reading about it last night I am confused on its name since apparently the tulip tree is sold as “poplar”) is a very pretty wood, especially in person—not so sure I think it is very, er… “photogenic”. I’ve seen it used on electric guitars without staining or painting and it looks horrible for this purpose. For future projects: is there any way of controlling the green hues as in, making sure they turn to brown for some projects, or attempting to keep the greens as green as possible? It doesn’t seem like a hard wood, although I’ve read it is stable. I did get tones of scraps from the community college woodshop.

Thanks once again, everyone!

View swirt's profile


3574 posts in 3213 days

#6 posted 07-22-2010 05:36 PM

You should be able to get Zinsser Shellac in either blonde or amber at most big box stores. The sealcote version is dewaxed and should be used if you plan to put poly on top of it. (the wax in “regular” shellac can prevent poly from adhering to it as well.)
You could do it in layers for the coloring if you wanted to. A few applications of amber shellac then a couple coats of dewaxed, then however many coats of poly you want for protection from water rings.

You can get other shades by ordering the flakes and mixing it yourself.

If you wanted to go a different route, A1Jim did a great post on here someplace about using CharlesNeil Blotch control and then staining poplar. It is worth a look.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Millo's profile


543 posts in 3291 days

#7 posted 07-22-2010 06:03 PM

swirt: thanks so much for your help! Is the Zinsser available “tint-less”? Not sure how either tint would affect the wood hues in question. Thanks a lot for your post!

A few very low-quality pics of the unfinished piece—my first indoor furniture project, my 2nd furniture project from that class.

This is what I call “the front”. Of course, it’s a micro-mini SQUARE table, so it doesn’t matter.

These would be the sides exposed when placed in a corner:

this is the “back”, complete with a horrible mistake—that side of the skirt is narrower than others… work piece moved from against the fence when ripping on the table saw. Operator malfunction. Noobie silliness…

...I posted these so that you guys can see some of the tones. Maybe make an educated guess of what some of the finishes might look like on the piece?

View Domer's profile


252 posts in 3607 days

#8 posted 07-22-2010 09:09 PM

Charles Neil has a product that helps blotching on popular. Look at his web site which is I think

What he shows on his web site looks great.

I have not used the product but have bought several of his DVD’s and they are very good.


View swirt's profile


3574 posts in 3213 days

#9 posted 07-22-2010 09:27 PM

Shellac has its own color. Tints aren’t really added to it (though they can be) The different colors come from the different varieties of shellac used to make it up. The Sealcote has a light yellowish (just slightly more than most clear varnishes. The amber is a bit more orangish. I think the original recommendation from Hobomonk was because the natural color is something that can be useful and it doesn’t really blotch.

Here is an example of amber on pine
Click for details

I probably would not start with mixing it yourself. Just start with a can or two.. you will find lots of uses for it in other projects. ;)

It is both difficult and easy to work with depending on your method. Brushing is difficult, but padding it on is pretty easy. The nice thing is, if you make a mistake, it is soooo easy to repair with ethyl alcohol on a clothe

Here are a couple of links that describe application options

It dries super fast which can be both good and bad. Its major drawback is that it is not a super protective finish. So if it is going to be used as an end table I would topcoat the top with some poly just to keep it from getting water damaged by glasses.

-- Galootish log blog,

View a1Jim's profile


117421 posts in 3818 days

#10 posted 07-22-2010 09:54 PM

I did a review of Charles Neils blotch control.

Here’s Charles video about it.

Here’s were you can get it.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 3164 days

#11 posted 07-23-2010 01:01 AM

Do yourself a favor and watch some of Charles Neil Vids. Down to earth ,good old boy approach us common folks can understand. If you have a question email him.

-- Life is good.

View Millo's profile


543 posts in 3291 days

#12 posted 07-23-2010 04:56 AM

I really want to start on this this coming Tuesday, so while I WILL get the Charles Neil Blotch Control in the near future, I will try the shellac procedures recommended above next week.

Regarding the Charles Neil vids—those will have to wait a bit… $$$. Soon enough I’ll start renting from Smartflix, although they do not have the finishing one.

I am enrolled for the second woodworking course this semester—one course at a time is all have time for at the moment. Anyway, the point is: there is more poplar in my near future.

Thanks everyone for your invaluable help.

View swirt's profile


3574 posts in 3213 days

#13 posted 07-23-2010 05:42 AM

Keep us posted on how it turns out.

-- Galootish log blog,

View Millo's profile


543 posts in 3291 days

#14 posted 07-23-2010 04:57 PM

Hmm… just wondering—can I use the SealCoat and apply some dye to give it a bit of different toning? Then clear wipe-on satin poly on top?

View Millo's profile


543 posts in 3291 days

#15 posted 07-23-2010 05:54 PM

a1Jim: What is that vintage cherry stain you used on the piece you used to review Charles Neil’s Blotch Control? That piece of conditioned poplar on your review looks great!

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