I am making a simple toolbox for my son. Something he can carry his
tools in and "help" me do projects around the house. It will be a
basic design and made mostly from poplar that I have laying around. I
need advice or suggestions on finishing it. I would like to stay away
form paint, if possible. Would a clear poly (or something like it) be
ok? Leave it natural? Use some sort of oil? I am not really
concerned with changing the color of the wood. But I am thinking that
it might look nicer with "something" on it.
I don't know a whole lot about finishes, so any information will be
Thanks and Happy Holidays to all!!!
Poplar is pretty nondescript as a wood although it has nice properties
otherwise as a secondary cabinet wood (stable, machines well, etc.).
Painting is a typical finish for poplar but you don't want to
It does not tend to accept stain very uniformly and what grain there is
isn't particularly enhanceable, so I'd suggest simply a simple oil
would be about all to do...you should obviously take a piece of scrap
or excess material and finish it as the box and do some tests w/ it
before committing to the project.
Milk paint would be a traditional finish, btw, if that's of any
interest (despite the aforementioned "suggestion" :) )...
Unfinished wood ("natural") picks up dirt with handling and turns
grubby grey. I'd put a coat of clear poly urethane varnish on with a
brush. It will give a glossy washable surface and prevent the grime
from turning the wood dirt color. For that matter, any clear coating
works (shellac, lacquer) but poly varnish is widely available and as
cheap as anything else. Dries fast. The water based stuff works well
and the brush cleans up with soap and water.
For surface prep you want to sand, starting with 120 grit and ending
with 220 grit. Then one brush coat of poly. Let dry overnight. The
first coat will bring up the "nubblies" and make the wood feel rough to
the touch. Another sanding with 220 grit will get rid of the nubblies.
Then if you like give it another coat of poly.
You said you liked the color as is. A lot of poplar has a greenish
cast to it which I find unexciting. A coat of Minwax stain in a light
color like colonial pine will make the green go away and leave a nice
golden hue to the wood. If you want to stain, it must go on BEFORE the
poly. Minwax is a "soak into the wood" product and the poly will
prevent it from soaking in.
For a boy's toolbox I would recommend against the oil (no surface
film) finishes, I think they will look poorly after the boy lugs his
tools to a couple of dusty job sites with Dad.
> I am making a simple toolbox for my son. Something he can carry his
> tools in and "help" me do projects around the house. It will be a
> basic design and made mostly from poplar that I have laying around. I
> need advice or suggestions on finishing it. I would like to stay away
> form paint, if possible. Would a clear poly (or something like it) be
> ok? Leave it natural? Use some sort of oil? I am not really
> concerned with changing the color of the wood. But I am thinking that
> it might look nicer with "something" on it.
It's a tool box and it will take a beating.
Why not just seal the wood with a coat of shellac to retard dirt and
This is one of those "it depends" answers.
Poplar has been tagged as an undesirable wood to finish. I think some of
this is a bad rap. Some Poplar exhibits a greenish tint that is hard to
cover with lighter stains. Also, it tends to blotch so use of a
pre-conditioner or mineral spirits, prior to staining, is advised.
However, I have seen Poplar done in medium-dark stain very well. My son
built an office building in Rogers, Ark a couple of years ago and the
architect called for poplar base, chair and other trim in a couple of the
executive conference rooms. He questioned the choice and was told to use
the finish specifications he was provided with the drawings. When he showed
the specs to his finish contractor, the finsher just said "Yep, that'll
work." The finish was a medium dark walnut-color that came out very nice.
Use conditioner, practice on some scrap and stay away from the green wood.
Many better pro finishers don't really "stain" at all. They wipe or
spray a lacquer based stain over a barrier, usually dewaxed shellac
(Sealcoat) or sanding sealer. Final adjustments are done by coloring
the clear coat.
It's not unusual to see blue, purple, or orange tinted clear coats to
neutralize undesirable colors in the wood.
I've never had anything beyond halfway decent results using "conditioners".
Pick your favorite gel stain and a can of
Bulls-Eye Shellac in a spray can...
(1) Seal it with the shellac...
(2) Tone it with the wipe on gel stain...
(3) Top coat it with the shellac maybe three times
There are spray cans of toner but they are harder
to find, so the gel stain is the poor man's toner.
Poplar has nothing much to show, so to make it look like
something else is the normal way to finish poplar.
I have seen poplar that looked VERY much like cherry after
several fancy coats of finish had been applied....
Get Zinsser Seal-Coat, actually a 2 pound cut of dewaxed shellac, and a bottle
of Trans-tint dye in the color of preference.
(1). Seal it with a couple of coats of shellac.
(2). Mix some dye in some shellac and apply a coat to "stain" the wood.
(3). Top coat as above with more clear shellac.
Test it first on a scrap piece.
Put all coats on with a rag, easier than a brush.
I'll second that advice. Finished some poplar bookcases for my
daughter exactly that way. She wanted to match the dark "cherry"
finish on some store-bought furniture. The process described above
worked very well. Not a finish schedule I would use on pretty wood,
but the result was quite attractive on the poplar.
Alex -- Replace "nospam" with "mail" to reply by email. Checked infrequently.
I didn't recommend the dye cause it can be hard(er)
to find but your method is a better solution "if"
you spray it on.
I have not tried the tinted version with a rag.
The spray can toner will work "very" well...
Larry Blanchard wrote:
Happy holidays to you too, Scraper.
A semi-transparant stain, such as used in out-door projects will do
reasonably well on poplar. Another fun thing to do, is to buy a package
of aniline dye (Lee Valley) and coat with clear.
Comes in some fun colours, yet the grain will remain visible.
Depends on what you like. I think a clear finish could certainly look
nice. I'm sure your son will like it no matter what.
I recently made a plant stand out of poplar (all light wood, no green
or brown) and stained it with Minwax English Chestnut. It took stain
well and I like the dark color.
IME, and I've tried every which way, Gel stains seem to work best with
Here is a prototype chair I made entirely of poplar and finished with one
coat of General Finishes' "Java" Gel Stain, and four coats of sprayed
In addition, one of the finest "walnut" sideboards I've ever seen was made
entirely of poplar, though a little lighter than the above, it was also
finished with a gel stain.
Something you might want to consider.
Its a tool box or a tool tote?
The initial value resides in it's utility. Years from now, its value may
well rest in the memories it evokes.
I'd get a spray can of some flat sealer and be done with it. If you have a
bit of contrasting lumber about - incorporate a bit somehow to make it
unique. Not necessarily fancy or "furniture grade," but "special."
Sturdy would be good. Interesting joinery technique would as well.
I still have a "tool tote" made for me by a fellow I respected. Nothing
fancy, but its held up and I've held on.
PS Add a "secret" compartment??!!
IME with poplar, it can be finished with some type of oil or wiping
varnish, and within a few weeks or so the green color will change to a
nice sort of medium brown. The color itself is not unnattractive at
all, but (at least the polar I've used) there is no visible grain
pattern to add any interest to the way it looks. So, for a toolbox,
IMHO most anything would be OK. I would just recommend that if you are
using a water based top coat, treat first with BLO or a low-pigment
stain, and let it cure thoroughy before applying the WB product.
Make it as simple as possible, but no simpler.
Larry Wasserman - Baltimore Maryland - firstname.lastname@example.org
I have 3/4 of a pickup truckload of poplar clogging my shop (great
price). Therefore a lot of projects are of poplar. I tried regular
pigment stain - Minwax provencial and it turned out dull and muddy and
not even close to a match with pine or oak done with same stain. Hence
the "poplar faux finish process." Put TransTint dyes on raw poplar: red
mahogony for faux cherry and black for faux ebony. Since these are water
based dyes you may want to raise the grain first with water and sand back
raised grain lightly. Follow up with a brownish pigment stain like the
Minwax provencial. Finish with whatever you like, I've used shellac to
added a bit more yellow or orange if needed or waterbased poly to leave
as is. Note there are no seal coats before the dye or between the dye and
pigment stain ... so there is no going back if you don't like it.
Therefore, please try on scrap first.
The TransTint Dye seems to brighten the poplar and "pop" what little
grain there is. Both pieces are over a year old and one sits in a corner
with french doors and the other in a bright room and neither has shown
Ditto on TransTint.
Great stuff and what I did as well. Saturate the poplar w/ the
red mahogany stain and it'll look like darkened cherry w/o the blotching
you'd get using a regular minwax stain (tried that before too...you have to
use shellac to seal the poplar and then sit the stain between coats of
shellac or spray on polyurethane that you spray on).
TransTint is much less of a PITA and worth the trouble of ordering it
if you can't get it at a local Woodcraft...
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