How to Stain Poplar Wood Like a Boss

I love taking a challenge and turning it into a triumph.  This is exactly what happened with one of my recent projects.

{BEFORE}

{BEFORE}

A client brought me a dining room table covered in glitter and the surface was a sticky, gooey mess.  I got to work sanding with 80# and when I had finally sanded off all the goo, I discovered it was poplar wood (not stain-grade). {Insert HUGE sigh.}

See all that shiny stuff?  Yep, that's glitter y'all.  

See all that shiny stuff?  Yep, that's glitter y'all.  

Poplar is commonly used in furniture projects because it's inexpensive  and works best with a painted finish. However, my client wanted the top stained and I was not going to let her down.   On the inside, I was a little concerned that I wasn't going to be able to pull it off.

Triple Threat {Handsome, Handy, Hubby} told me "no way is that going to stain well, you should probably tell her it needs to be painted." Well, I considered that a challenge. I had to prove him wrong.  

Check out all the variations in the wood pieces.  This top was definitely not intended to be stained with the finger-style joints showing.

Check out all the variations in the wood pieces.  This top was definitely not intended to be stained with the finger-style joints showing.

Lots of variation in the wood.  This is definitely going to be a challenge.

Lots of variation in the wood.  This is definitely going to be a challenge.

I applied wood conditioner, said a prayer and went to work with the ONE COAT WONDER, General Finishes Java gel stain. The first coat looked pretty darn good but was a little patchy in areas. Next coat, I used Walnut gel stain to give a little dimension to the Java. Holy cow, it looked amazing except one tiny area that wasn't staining well at all.

No worries, I used my dry brushing technique with walnut gel stain and VOILA, the tabletop transformed into a high-end wood knock-off.  When Triple Threat saw the the ReStyle, he was amazed I was able to stain poplar to appear like one of its higher-end cousins such as walnut. He affectionately refers to me as the Stain Master now, which I can't say I mind.  

The top completely transformed with General Finishes gel stains.

The top completely transformed with General Finishes gel stains.

{RESTYLED}

{RESTYLED}

My favorite part of this whole process was conquering something that seemed impossible.  That and my client's reaction when she saw her ReStyled table.  She loved it so much and said it was almost too pretty to use.  You can't beat that kind of payment for your work!  

The table base got some loving too.  

The table base got some loving too.  

I hope this will inspire you to try staining the 'unstainable,'  And if you do, please let me know how it works out for you.

In the meantime, Keep Calm and Gel Stain On!