How Do I Get A Walnut Look On Poplar?

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Forum topic by Mean_Dean posted 10-25-2010 07:56 PM 15557 views 1 time favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7057 posts in 4430 days

10-25-2010 07:56 PM

Hi Guys!

I saw on The Woodsmith Shop TV show on PBS a couple of weeks ago, a simple staining process to make poplar look like walnut.

I didn’t think to write it down at the time, and now wish I had!

Can anyone tell me what the process and stains are?

Thanks much in advance!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

11 replies so far

View interpim's profile


1170 posts in 4741 days

#1 posted 10-25-2010 08:03 PM

I’ve had luck with trouble woods like poplar by using the blotch control method of laying down a wash coat of thinned poly, then staining over top of that with a gel-stain.

-- San Diego, CA

View knotscott's profile


8434 posts in 4658 days

#2 posted 10-25-2010 08:04 PM

I didn’t catch the show, so can’t comment on their technique, but my first thought was to cover the poplar with walnut veneer if you want it to look like walnut. I’m skeptical about what kinds of results you’ll get trying to stain poplar to simulate walnut….with luck, I’d guess that the best you’re likely to do is get the coloring close, but the grain structure will never look much like walnut IMHO. Even a closer wood like butternut that’s stained a walnut color doesn’t really capture the look of walnut.

-- Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 4206 days

#3 posted 10-25-2010 09:47 PM

I did a spice chest not long ago out of poplar. Sealed it first and then used walnut stain on it. I thought it came out pretty good. This was for a prototype so I got more than I expected.

-- Life is good.

View Beeguy's profile


179 posts in 4919 days

#4 posted 10-26-2010 11:41 PM

If you want to stain poplar you will have to use a wash coat of some sort as already mentioned. Every wood has its own character and as knotscott mentioned and you can never exactly match one wood using stain. That said, when I think of walnut it is the color that comes to mind first. So if you are just trying to achieve a dark color for your project then staining wood will work. The above spice chest is a beautiful example of that. It may not be walnut but it is really nice. I hate the color of blonde wood. Stain has always been my friend. I think maybe we went wrong many, many years ago when when the industry started naming stain colors after wood. If it is dark brown call it that. But that is not important now.

I like poplar and use it a lot. I will stain it or in some cases paint it. I also love walnut and use it as often as I can. One does not exclude the other. Stain, paint, and different woods all have their place in the woodshop.

I have had really good results with dilute Zinsser Sealcoat and gel stains. Charles Neil also has a very good product for presealing hard to stain wood. Just experiment a little, search around and look for posts on staining maple or pine and you will see a lot of information. Good luck.

-- Ron, Kutztown, PA "The reward is in the journey."

View Mean_Dean's profile


7057 posts in 4430 days

#5 posted 11-06-2010 06:54 AM

Thanks everyone who replied!

I am making a couple of picture frames out of poplar, and want to stain them to look like walnut. I’ll save the actual walnut for better projects!

Thanks again!

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View stnich's profile


130 posts in 4207 days

#6 posted 11-06-2010 02:41 PM

I use a lot of poplar with the clocks that I make. Poplar can have pretty nice grain if you pick through the boards. I try to pick the whiter colored poplar for lighter colors. But as long as the poplar doesn’t have the real dark streaks running through it I can stain it dark weather the wood is green or white. I sand it to at least 120 grit. I usually use Zar stains for poplar. I find that I get very little blotching. The Zar stain is pretty thick but not quite as thick as a gel stain. It tends to lay on the surface which helps with the blotching. If I’m really concerned about blotching I would use a pre-stain conditioner.

View plantek's profile


314 posts in 4082 days

#7 posted 11-06-2010 02:58 PM

I built a screen door last summer and stained it with oil based dark walnut stain. No sealer, just stain a spar varnish to finish. I did apply the stain twice and rubbed it in the areas that wanted to blotch. I’m happy with the results:

-- If you want it and it's within reason... It's on it's way!

View canadianchips's profile


2632 posts in 4280 days

#8 posted 11-06-2010 03:11 PM

Poplar typicaly absorbs stain more than walnut. It also has hard and soft spots which will take the stain differently, leaving blothy areas. My choice…If its walnut I stain it – if its polpar I paint it ! When I lived back
“WEST” we called poplar wood “Saskatchewan Oak”

-- "My mission in life - make everyone smile !"

View Mean_Dean's profile


7057 posts in 4430 days

#9 posted 11-15-2010 08:53 PM


As luck would have it, the Woodsmith Shop episode was on again last week, so this time I took notes….!

The formula is: Old Masters gel stains: 1/2 part walnut color, 1/2 part red color, mixed together.

Any way, though not as fancy as some, it should work well for a poplar picture frame.

-- Dean -- "Don't give up the ship -- fight her 'till she sinks!" Capt James Lawrence USN

View DavidH's profile


519 posts in 5025 days

#10 posted 11-16-2010 12:09 AM

looks like you already have your formula, but just to throw another one in, I learned this formula from Charles Neil and used it on my quilt rack:

3 coats of amber die (i used transtint), 2 coats mahogany gel stain (i used general finishes), 2 coats satin gel poly

Click for details

-- David - Houston, Texas. (

View swarfrat's profile


39 posts in 2738 days

#11 posted 03-28-2016 04:16 PM

Old thread, but I found this in a pile o poplar – just a shellac wash coat on it.

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