How to Stain Poplar Wood

Unstained poplar wood used as flooring.
What You'll Need
Sandpaper (180, 320, 800-grit, and higher)
Orbital sanding machine (optional but recommended)
Wood conditioner
Wood stain
Polyurethane clear coat
Mineral spirits or paint thinner
Eye protection
Dust mask

Poplar is a very popular hardwood used in building cabinets, furniture, and other projects because of its relatively low cost. It is also very easy to work with and can be stained to look like more expensive types of wood, such as cherry, oak, or walnut. However, staining poplar is not as simple as just brushing it on and allowing it to dry. It takes some patience and planning for a professional-looking job. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to get a great looking stain finish with poplar, and this simple step-by-step guide will show you how.

Sand the Wood

Start with low-grit sandpaper to smooth away any rough edges or spots on the wood surface. Continue sanding and work your way up to finer grits. At a minimum, you should perform a final sanding with 320-grit sandpaper before applying the stain. Using even higher grits provides for a smoother finish that will help the poplar wood accept the stain better.

Apply the Wood Conditioner

Take an old towel or rag and rub the wood conditioner into the surface. Poplar can be blotchy or spotty when stained; therefore, you have to use this to prepare the wood. After the conditioner has been applied, wipe off any excess, and allow it to set into the poplar for at least 15 to 30 minutes. Then, apply a second coat of wood conditioner in the same manner.

Apply First Coat of Wood Stain

Next, take a towel or good-quality paintbrush and evenly apply the stain in the direction of the wood grain. Always apply the stain in light coats and don't allow it to build up too much, as it can cause uneven coloration. If you're using an old towel, quickly wipe off any excess to avoid buildup when applying.

Lightly Sand

Take finer grit sandpaper of 320-grit or higher, and lightly sand the wood after the first coat of stain has dried. This will help remove any buildup and help make the color even across the entire surface.

Apply Subsequent Coats of Stain

Follow steps three and four to apply subsequent coats of wood stain. After you apply the final layer, you can use very high-grit sandpaper of 1000 or higher to very lightly sand the surface in preparation for the polyurethane clear coat. Slightly roughing up the surface will help it adhere better.

Finish With Polyurethane Clear Coat

Using a clean paintbrush, apply thin layers of polyurethane clear coat. Just as you did when you applied the wood stain, lightly sand between each coat with a high-grit sandpaper. Then, once the final coat has dried, take an old towel and buff the finish to a glossy shine.

While you're waiting for the polyurethane to dry, clean up your towels and brushes with mineral spirits or paint thinner. Wear protective gloves while doing this, as the chemicals can be harsh on your skin. Then, when you're finished, dispose of your thinner properly.