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  1. #1
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    Finishing Poplar

    Hey Everyone. I am building a set of cabinets using Poplar. I used it because it was more practice than skill, so I didn't want to spend too much on a really good hardwood. Anyway, I have tried multiple grits of sandpaper. On flat surfaces I used a Bosch DA sander, the curves and narrow surfaces I hand sanded with a sanding block.

    I started with either 180 or 220 grit, depending on how much wood I needed to initially take off. I tried stopping at 220, then tried to take it to 320. I even went as far as 400 on a couple pieces. What the problem is, I have spots that take much more stain, they are really soft and look fuzzy, and others that take less. The finer the sand paper, the less stain it takes which seems obvious, but it seems that the fuzzy pieces that take more stain are less problematic, but not gone.

    Any advice on what one can do to make this more even? I'll try to get a picture later. Thought I'd start with a question first.

    Thanks
    Ed
    If you don't want your mistakes to bother you, buy twice as much wood as you need.

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    Re: Finishing Poplar

    Sand everything with the same grit and that should be no finer than 220. Beyond that and you're burnishing the wood and hindering the stain absorbsion.
    Happiness is a direction not a destination. ~Athena Orchard

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  4. #3
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    Re: Finishing Poplar

    Quote Originally Posted by Wyatt Co. View Post
    Sand everything with the same grit and that should be no finer than 220. Beyond that and you're burnishing the wood and hindering the stain absorbsion.
    Just to modify and expand a bit...

    Your final sanding grit will always heavily influence how much stain is absorbed because you are effectively reducing the surface area with each finer grit as the scratches become ever shallower and there is a lot more surface area within the scratches than the original surface. So when you wish a darker stain you stop at a courser grit. This is why testing your finish and sanding formulas on some leftover scrap of reasonable dimensions is so important as it gives you the opportunity to see how things will go before you do anything to your actual project and starting over on another piece of scrap is much easier than redoing your project.

    Your other mistake was in starting with 220 grit. About the finest starting grit you will want to use is around 100-120 grit if your wood has already been planed fairly smooth and 60-80 grit if it is still fairly roughly cut. You will then work up through the grits until you reach your final grit (e.g. 80, 120, 180, 220, 320...), usually stopping by 180-220 grit for staining unless you wish to lighten your stain, in which case you can go finer. The one exception being endgrain where you will often wish to go another step or two finer in grit so as to reduce stain absorpbtion and prevent the endgrain from becoming much darker than the facegrain. By starting with an especially fine grit, like 220, you can also end up with uneven staining as you may never fully remove fine tooling marks left behind which can create unwanted stripes or scratches in the final staining and you may also not remove any burnishing caused by tooling (such as from slightly dulled knives). Wherever possible use a random orbital sander for as much sanding as possible and where you have to hand sand be sure to regularly change up the direction you are sanding in so that your sanding scratches have a reasonably random pattern to them to the extent practical (especially at the coarser end of the spectrum). This helps to maintain a consistent sanding pattern in your wood and helps to avoid gouging the softer sections of wood (especially in woods that have profound changes in seasonal ring hardness like Southern Yellow Pine).

    Poplar behaves a lot like pines in finishing which means it is prone to a certain degree of splotching, not as bad as many pines but still noticeable, so a certain amount of unevenness in stain absorpbtion is not unexpected for Poplar, especially if applied by the usual manual method of applying stain heavily and then wiping off whatever is left after several minutes. You can reduce splotches, at the expense of a much lighter stain result, by applying a very thin mixture (e.g. 1/4 lb. cut) of shellac to help seal the areas that are most prone to wicking up stain, then wipe off whatever shellac has not soaked in after a short time (much like you apply stain) as the shellac helps to partially seal the areas prone to wicking up the most stain and the thin cut of shellac prevents you from totally sealing the wood -- this is where practicing on scrap first really helps you dial things in. Another option to help attain an even staining is to apply the stain not by hand but rather with a spray gun and intentionally starving the wood of stain by slowly applying more in an even manner until you notice that some patches are beginning to accumulate unabsorbed stain and stopping at that point, waiting a few minutes, then wiping off any excess that remains. You will have a somewhat lighter stain as the end result but you will have greatly limited splotching because you carefully controlled how much excess stain was available to those areas most prone to wicking up stain rather than simply allowing those areas to wick up an almost unlimited amount of stain as they are otherwise want to do.

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    Re: Finishing Poplar

    What the above folks said, but Charles Neil's pre-stain conditioner works 100x better than shellac or other pre-stains for preventing blotching.

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    Re: Finishing Poplar

    Just for clarification, what type of stain are you using? Oil or water based? If water based, try wetting the wood w/ water prior to the last sanding. This will raise the grain and give you a little better stain absorption. You might also try a dye rather than a stain. I've had better results w/ water based dyes.
    I'll gladly tell you how I do something. Just please don't confuse that with the right way to do it, and almost certainly not the only way.


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    Re: Finishing Poplar

    A few thoughts and questions...

    I am building a set of cabinets using Poplar.
    Cabinets for the kitchen, shop, or whatever? Where'd you get the notion that the wood had to be sanded to the ends of the earth and beyond before staining?

    1. Whose stain and which color did you use on poplar? We really like pictures so, yes, please send them along as they're better than 1,000 words to see what's going on (especially the uneven, fuzzy areas).

    2. +1 to the comments about over sanding the wood before staining. Usually anything above 150-180 g is wasted effort and detrimental because of the burnishing effect that results, particularly in softer woods that are "fuzzy" in parts to begin with.

    3. What are you going to finish them with after staining? It's past time to be thinking about that part, but not too late.

    4. Gel stains are a more forgiving option on blotch prone woods and they can be used with or without a pre-stain conditioner.

    Here's a pine table with gel stain as an example of a "splotchy" wood but the effect actually highlights some of the grain.



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