Use Dyes to Transform Poplar into Cherry
Acheive an even-colored finish on dissimilar woods and species using dye stains
When we updated the kitchen in our 1920s home, we decided the cabinets should be made of cherry. However, I wanted everything else to be visually in tune with the new cabinets, and an adjacent door happened to be made of clear-finished poplar (a common choice back then). My solution was to turn the poplar into cherry. Historically, furniture makers also used stained or dyed poplar as an inexpensive alternative to the more desirable cherry. Using a sample cabinet door, I’ll show how I transformed the color. You can use the same techniques to change the color of almost any species of wood.
Although close scrutiny will always reveal the poplar’s grain pattern to be different, matching the color fools the eye into believing it is seeing cherry. The easiest way to begin the finish is with a dye; unlike pigmented stains, dyes are transparent and won’t muddy the surface of the wood. I prefer to make dyes from water-soluble powders. If the color is too weak at first, I can easily add more powder to intensify the color. Water-based dyes are also extremely economical. You can make a gallon of color for as little as $20, and it goes a long way.
The only problem with a water-based dye is that it will raise the wood’s grain, so before applying the dye, I sand, lightly dampen the surface, let it dry for 10 minutes, and then give it a final sanding. Another option is to dye the wood, wait until it’s dry, then seal the surface with a thin wash of shellac. The raised fibers will be locked in the sealer and can be easily sanded smooth without affecting the color.
Make color samples first The biggest mistake many people make is trying to get the…