Make Poplar Look Like Deep Red Mahogany

Poplar is available in just about every home center and sawmills across America, so it's a great lumber choice for building furniture. It's great to work with and is easy on your tools because although it's considered a hardwood, it's one of the softer hardwoods. It's even used in some fine furniture pieces as the secondary woods in places like drawers and back panels.

A lot of people choose to typically paint this hardwood but you can make it look awesome with the right stain recipe. The downside of staining poplar is that it blotches very easily. Blotching is when the wood absorbs stain at a different rate on certain areas of the board, resulting in something that is streaky and ugly. To get around this you will need to apply some sort of "sealer" to help even out the absorption of the stain. Let me show you my method.

Step 1 - Surface Preparation

Image title

I purchased this sample board from a local big box store (the blue one) so it was already in decent shape and didn't require much surface prep so I sanded it with 80 grit, 120 grit and stopping at 180 grit. 

The end grain will always absorb more stain than the rest of the board so I help combat that and sand it to 220 grit. This will slow down the amount of stain the end grain will absorb, thus making it look like the rest of the board.

Step 2 - Raise The Grain

Image title

Since the stains i'm using are water base, I pre-raise the grain of the board using a spray bottle filled with water. The goal here is to get the surface wet, but not soaked. This will cause the fibers to swell and feel "rough". You want to do this now, instead of after you apply the stain because you can't really sand the board after applying the stain as it will remove the stain and it will look uneven.

After the board has dried (about 2-4 hours), sand the board with the highest grit you stopped at previously. So for the face grain, I went back to the 180 grit sand paper and the end grain I used the 220 grit again. This will smooth the board back out and any future water based stain that you apply wont raise the grain again. When you are sanding the surface in this step, don't sand too much, only enough to smooth the surface out. 

Step 3 - Prevent Blotching

Image title

The most important step in this whole process is to apply the pre-stain conditioner from General finishes. This will seal the surface and promote an even absorption of the stain, giving you a blotch free surface. To apply the conditioner I simply wiped it on the surface using a paper towel. I then wiped off all of the excess with a clean paper towel and let the surface dry for about 30 - 60 minutes before moving on to the next step.

Step 4 - Apply The Amber Dye Stain

Image title

Poplar can have a multitude of colors on the surface. To help even out the appearance and to set the "tone" of the wood, I applied an Amber dye stain from General Finishes. I applied this dye using a cotton staining pad, wiping from edge to edge with the grain. After the whole board is covered, I then wipe off any excess with a clean paper towel. I let this coat of stain dry for 2-4 hours before going on to the next step

Step 5 - Apply The Rosewood Wood Stain

Image title

The final piece of this recipe is to apply a coat of the Rosewood wood stain from General Finishes. And just like before, I applied it using a clean cotton staining pad, flooding the surface and then wiping off the excess with a clean paper towel.

Step 6 - Top Coat

You will want to let this final coat of stain dry for roughly 24 hours before applying a top coat. I sprayed on a couple coats of a semi-gloss lacquer but you can apply just about any other top coat such as a varnish, polyurethane, shellac, etc.

I also made a YouTube video outlining this process. Check it out:


Please note: Some of the links above are Amazon affiliate links. Anything purchased through these links will help support this site, my YouTube channel and future enhancements. They don't cost you anything extra so it's a win-win for us all.

1 comment

I like the concept. Not being able to afford the more expensive woods for some project's.

You need to be signed in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Join now