finishing poplar without staining. - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 6 Old 07-13-2012, 04:54 PM Thread Starter
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finishing poplar without staining.

I've worked mostly with pine or oak in the past and a tiny bit of maple. Poplar is a whole new look and technique from what I've been reading.

I've got a bookcase from (we think) 1940-50 It appears to be predominantly heartwood and the grain is almost black, rather than the lighter browns and greens I saw in the lumber yard. We are trying to match the finish, to the extent possible, to the maple (blonde) furniture we have.

I've read a great deal of posts on numerous sites about staining poplar before finishing and the pre-conditioning, colors to use etc. All of it refers to making the wood resemble a different wood such as cherry , walnut,or mahogany. We want to keep the wood lighter. I don't know if i will work, but I'm game.

I read that the poplar will oxidize and the dark patterns will lighten. I don't know if this is a long process or if it takes only a week or so. Also, in the same article it mentioned shellacking the poplar. Will it oxidize after being shellacked? That doesn't make sense to me, but I have a pottery background and think in terms of fired glaze more than varnishes and stains.

IF we simply apply the shellac without a stain, what process must I follow so that it comes out smooth, protected and with honor.

I'm going to do the under side of the bottom shelf (only ever faces the floor) before I do any other part of the book case, just in case we really hate the result.

Any recommendations of both process and product are more than welcome. I already know that Minwax is NOT my best option.

Thanks to everyone, in advance.
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post #2 of 6 Old 07-13-2012, 05:35 PM
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It is not easy to make the dark poplar match the blond colour of the maple.

This would require bleaching the poplar. This is a challenge to get the effect to be even. Feels too risky.

I think you will be better off just finishing and accepting any colour difference.

The normal method to match colours exactly is paint. Yuck....

Any finish which is transparent will allow the oxidation process to show. If the finish contains UV inhibitors, such as Marine Spar Varnish, external poly etc, the oxidation process will be slower.

Normal shellac, e.g., Zinsser brand will not contain an UV inhibitors.

Shellac can be applied with brush, roller, padding or even spray.

You should get good results with brushing.

I use 300-400 wet-dry paper and few drops of water to sand between each coat, then wipe with damp sponge before applying the next coat.

Shellac does not create a thick coat, so I would expect 3 coats to get a decent result. The first coat essentially seals the wood and so do not be surprised it if looks to being absorbed - it is.
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post #3 of 6 Old 07-13-2012, 05:48 PM
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If you want to finish Poplar without a stain or dye, look at this link to get some info on Poplar, and see some samples. In keeping it light, the Poplar sold can vary from light to light with the green or brown mineral running through it. Just a clear finish of sorts can keep it light but also will accentuate the dark.

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post #4 of 6 Old 07-13-2012, 08:34 PM
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If it were me I would use the old bookcase somewhere where you can stain it dark. I normally buy a great deal more lumber than I need when building something out of poplar. That way you can pick through it and find boards with similar grain and color. In the old days furniture companies used poplar for a secondary wood to go with walnut so it could be stained dark. If your furniture needs are maple color, I would rebuild the bookcase with maple.
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post #5 of 6 Old 07-14-2012, 11:12 AM
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It is unlikely that you will be able to color poplar to give it the creamy white color of maple. Poplar, even when clear, has a distinct green cast to it. If that is the color you want, using a clear waterborne acrylic finish will be your best bet. But, it will not result in a maple-like color.

To remove or lighten the natural color of wood a two-part A/B bleach is used. You can find this bleach at many real paint stores and I've seen it at some big boxes. Follow the directions on the label and test it out on some scrap before committing to your real project. Then use the waterborne acrylic as your top coat to keep from adding any amber color that you would get from an oil based finish or most shellacs and lacquers.

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post #6 of 6 Old 07-17-2012, 01:58 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks everyone.

I realize now, we are not going to get the blonde maple the more I sanded the pieces of the bookshelf. It seems each part has more and more dark grain.

I am now torn between just shellacking the wood, and let oxidation do the rest, and staining it with a medium stain, letting the natural pattern of the wood show, but lessening the extreme contrast between the creamy sections and almost black mineral stain.

This is a decision the hubby gets to make. Thankfully we have so many books, and between our combined families, numerous periods of furniture manufacture - so whichever way it goes, the bookcase will find a home in a room where it will fit in, and be filled with books.
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poplar, refinishing a bookcase, shellac

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