Ask the Staff
I have a lot of natural, clear satin Varathane-coated Poplar wood trim in
my house. I made the mistake of filling the finish nail holes with Elmers
Carpenter's Wood Filler. The filler was supposed to be stainable, but I
cannot find a stain that will penetrate or cover all the light colored
"spots" throughout the trim. Short of digging the filler out of each hole -
and it isn't just in the holes but is also in the surrounding wood - or
painting the trim which I do not want to do, do you have a suggestion? As
you probably know, natural poplar with just a coat of Varathane is a myriad
of shades, from light to dark. I'm not expecting one color of anything
to fix it all. But some way of coloring the light cream colored spots with
varying coats so they will "blend" would be acceptable.
Thank you in advance,
You could consider using some Transtint dye to see if the dye will penetrate the filled nail hole better than the stain you've tried.
Dyes in general have a smaller particle size than pigmented stains and so
add their color more readily to the wood.
Most dyes do not have any binder in them (unless mixed into shellac). The
stain you have probably used had some binder in it (linseed oil, etc.). This
cures and a second application of the stain really doesn't add any more
intense color to the piece, because the binder locks out the additional
coats of stain. The dye may or may not penetrate the cured stain. You will
have to test it. You may also experience some "bleed" due to the dye
soaking into the end grain sides of the nail holes and the color may migrate
beyond the nail hole and look unnatural.
Check out some of our transtint dyes. You can alter the concentration of these dyes to your liking and mix.
Also, as far as making the varied color of poplar wood more even, that is a
more complicated finishing task. Going with an overall darker color can
help, but trying to color the wood a light tone when you have varied heartwood and sapwood color, (with some of it fairly dark), well you will have limited success.
You have to get into spot glazing and toning in an attempt to darken areas
to be as dark as the darkest tones in the wood. This is done best from the
beginning with a plan as to how you expect to glaze and tone in the lighter
woods to match the darker areas.
It may take multiple colors to spot color the varied wood colors and some
These water-based dye stains may also help in coloring.
Unfortunately there is no one fix out of the can that we can recommend.
Just be sure to do test samples before you start. Know your methods and
know your results.
You are experiencing the reason why wood selection is important in creating
a project that looks even in tone. It costs more and uses more wood up
front, but the finishing process is easier if you've already weeded out the
discolored wood before you create.
"Cherry" furniture from say Bassett Furniture may be a mix of species (with
poplar thrown in), but they cover it up in the finishing. The finishing is
somewhat muddled compared to a piece of furniture that is built with very
clear, single species wood (that allows it to be finished without needing to
hide or color over mis-matched wood).
Remember, poplar paints great (and mills nicely). This is why it makes a
very good paint grade trim.
Take a look at our Finishing Department
E-mail us with your woodworking questions. If yours is selected for publication,
we'll send you a free Highland Woodworking hat.
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