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I have a plank of hardwood poplar, and I want to have a piece of decorative trim along the edge made of a different wood (probably just pine, or maybe balsam). Is there anything I can do to get a stain that will give the same shade on both woods? A specific brand, style, coloring, or way of applying? Or should I purposefully get two different stains (one light, one dark) to aesthetically set the pieces apart?

Update: Final Result
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Staining poplar can be very tricky. The heartwood and sapwood absorb stain differently, and you may end up with some areas with a green tint. (article) –  Doresoom Jun 10 '11 at 16:41

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The finish color is dependent on two things...the stain, and the substrate (well, and some other variables as well...such as application method, length of time before you wipe it, how many coats, etc.). You can't use one stain on two substrates and expect a match anymore than you would expect finding a match with two different stains on one piece of wood.

So, I think the best you can do is stain one using the stain you want, then get scrap wood of the other material and start a trial-and-error process looking for a stain that will result in the match you want.

Alternatively, use the same species of wood for both parts, or consider going for a purposeful contrast between the two woods.

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good old trial and error on this one! –  shirlock homes Jun 10 '11 at 5:33
    
Since poplar is a hardwood, and pine is not, they will absorb stain differently. As Shirlock said, trial and error –  electricsauce Jun 11 '11 at 15:07
    
Accepted this answer since it mentioned the purposeful contrast, which was the approach I ended up using. –  Joel Coehoorn Jul 9 '11 at 3:00

Have you considered wood dyes, not stains? You can buy dyes in a wide variety of colors/shades from woodworking specialty stores online.

The dyes may seem expensive, but they are very concentrated, and because you can dilute them and mix them as you wish, you have a better chance of being able to fine tune the mix so that you get something that's close. Experiment on a scrap of wood that's of exactly the same kind as the piece you're looking to finish.

Dyes also have the advantages of overcoming the blotching that can occur with soft woods such as pine; being very easy (and forgiving) when applied; they dry quickly; and they have a long shelf life.

One other consideration: Poplar is relatively inexpensive. If cost is what's driving your consideration of using pine, you might find that it's not much (if any) more expensive to use poplar than to use clear pine.

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The dye is a good idea (+1). I'm using poplar with pine trim because the are the pieces I had, and the trim will match other pieces in the house. –  Joel Coehoorn Jun 11 '11 at 18:29

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