Skip to Content

How to stain poplar wood

Working on a project made from poplar? Here is how to stain poplar wood so you get the perfect finish the first time!

Poplar is a super popular wood for beginners to work with. This is because it is often the cheapest hardwood available for sale at big box stores.

Lumber prices have skyrocketed and we’ve learned that it can sometimes be less cost-prohibitive to buy “nicer” hardwoods compared to construction grade lumber.

Read our tips for getting good prices on lumber here!

Poplar is a popular wood species for weekend woodworkers because it is a step up from basic lumber, but is affordable and easily available at big box stores.

Poplar is easy to work with and easy to get. Win-win!

Poplar is really beautiful on it’s own and doesn’t even need a wood stain – oil is often all it needs – but you can also add a stain to it.

One important thing to remember about poplar is that it comes in a lot of different colors.

Some pieces are very light tan, there is yellow poplar, and darker pieces that have green or even purple tones.

With so many different possibilities, it’s really best to test poplar on the exact poplar boards that you are building with – save a scrap if you can!

Let’s talk about how to stain poplar wood so you can do it right the first time!

how to stain poplar

Is poplar wood easy to stain?

Poplar wood is OK to stain – but it does tend to get a blotchy finish. This is due to the variations in color, dryness, and low density of the wood.

The different colors in the wood can make the stain take differently along the face.

While this is technically a hardwood, it is one of the softest hardwoods. This low-density makes it very porous.

There is also often a variation in the dryness of the wood, which can lead to stain being absorbed more or less in certain spots, causing splotches.

supplies needed to stain wood: gloves, lint free cloth, foam brush, or paint brush

What kind of stain do you use on poplar?

You can use any kind of stain on poplar – water-based, oil-based, gel stain, or even a DIY natural wood stain.

Click here to see how you can stain wood with coffee!

How do you darken poplar naturally?

You can use household items to naturally stain poplar wood! We have tested a bunch of methods:

Is gel stain good for poplar?

Gel stains are thicker than more watery stains. Gel stains tend to take more evenly on soft wood, including poplar wood!

sanding poplar board

How do you prepare poplar wood for staining?

You will want to sand your wood well before staining it. Most wood has a slight coating on it straight from the store or is uneven, which can make it hard to absorb stain evenly.

Then, wipe your wood clean of any dust or debris.

If you plant to have exposed end grain (the cut ends of the wood), sand them with a higher grit sandpaper than the rest of the project. Get them as smooth as possible to have the stain take the same as it does on the other faces of the board.

Do you need to treat poplar before staining?

You can 100% stain the bare wood of a poplar board as-is. However, this wood tends to take stain in a more splotchy way. So, applying a pre-stain wood conditioner can help to even out the absorption of the wood stain.

Think of it like your skin – if you’ve ever gotten a spray tan (haha), you will know that the fake tan absorbs darker into areas of dry skin – like knees and elbows.

That makes those areas splotchy looking.

If you apply a lotion first, it will even out the base skin (AKA unfinished wood) layer. Then, there aren’t dry spots to absorb more color, and you get a more even finish!

Read our complete guide to wood conditioner here!

applying pre stain wood conditioner to poplar

What is the best wood stain for poplar?

The best wood stain colors to use really depends on your style and the look you are going for.

In general, I prefer something with more coverage – more opaque – on poplar. This helps to cover any unevenness in the coloring of the wood.

We have tested TONS of wood stains and laid them out for you to decide what you prefer.

Check out the best wood stain colors on poplar wood!

10 colors of wood stain on poplar

How to stain poplar wood

  1. Sand wood with fine grit sandpaper until smooth
  2. Wipe clean with a tack cloth or other clean cloth
  3. Apply pre-stain wood conditioner in the direction of the grain with a clean cloth or paint brush
  4. Let sit for 30 minutes
  5. Wipe off any excess conditioner
  6. Stir your stain to be sure the pigment is evenly mixed in.
  7. Apply stain directly on top of the conditioner
  8. Wipe off excess (wiping sooner will result in less color coverage versus letting it sit for longer)
  9. Let dry
  10. Apply wood sealant
applying gray stain to poplar wood

How do I stain poplar a consistent color?

If you are having trouble with your poplar wood coming out splotchy, you most likely have an uneven wood. Sand it well, with a fine grit sandpaper, then apply a wood conditioner. Follow the directions on the can and follow up with the stain of your choice.

If the stain still looks splotchy, choose something a bit more opaque with fuller coverage rather than something more transparent. This usually helps!

How many coats of stain is necessary?

I usually only do one coat of stain on my wood projects. However, you can easily do two coats if you prefer a darker color or more coverage.

how to stain poplar
Yield: 1 stained board

How to stain poplar wood

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Here's how easy it is to apply a wood stain to poplar boards.


  • Poplar wood
  • Sand paper
  • Wood conditioner
  • Wood stain


  • Paint brush or lint-free cloth


  1. Sand wood with fine grit sandpaper until smooth
  2. Wipe clean with a tack cloth or other clean cloth
  3. Apply pre-stain wood conditioner in the direction of the grain with a clean cloth or paint brush
  4. Let sit for 30 minutes
  5. Wipe off any excess conditioner
  6. Stir your stain to be sure the pigment is evenly mixed in
  7. Apply stain directly on top of the conditioner in the direction of the grain
  8. Wipe off excess
  9. Let Dry
  10. Apply wood sealant

    Did you make this project?

    Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

    Video demonstration

    Check out our video showing step-by-step how to stain poplar wood!

    how to stain poplar wood youtube thumbnail (1)
    Charleston Crafted Logo heart

    Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Twitter | YouTube


    Subscribe to get our latest content by email.


      We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Looking for something?

      We’ve been doing this since 2012 so we have a LOT of blog posts! Use the search bar below to find what you are looking for!

      Search stuff like: Ceiling Projects | DIY Plant Stands | Thrift Flips

      Can we send you our newsletter?

      Another great way to keep up with out latest projects is by joining our weekly newsletter! Get alerts of our latest projects and special peeks behind the scenes!

      Follow along on Instagram

      Join our online community where we share real time behind the scenes looks at our DIY projects and peeks inside our home + family!

      top photos banner
      Charleston Crafted logo banner

      Skip to Instructions