I am in the process of selecting lumber for my baseboards. My flooring is prefinished maple, dark red/brown, stained, looks great. I was thinking about also smooth finished but not stained maple but someone told me maple doesn't stain well. It is also expensive (approx. $4/ft)

What are some good choices for baseboard lumber if I just want to stain? I plan to go with plain 1 x 6 (3/4 x 5-1/2 or better yet 5/8 x 5-1/2). E.g. would oak be a better choice?

  • You're correct that maple is very difficult to stain. Do you have any pictures of the flooring? – Comintern Mar 18 '14 at 2:15
  • There are wood conditioners that help even out the stain in problem wood like maple. Question for you, what will be your casing? As in 1X flat stock or a profiled molding? I imagine it would also need to be the same specie of wood as your base. Knowing that will help determine an answer. – Jack Mar 18 '14 at 3:22
  • casing for doors ? – amphibient Mar 18 '14 at 3:30
  • Yes, he was asking about the door casing and likely also including window casings if any of those were used in your construction. – Michael Karas Mar 18 '14 at 4:12
  • there are varying types of casings around the house that will be in contact with the baseboard. Some are more traditional (the house is old) -- with plynth blocks etc., others are more modern and minimalist – amphibient Mar 18 '14 at 4:17

I used poplar in my home, it is cheap compared to other off the shelf materials. It took stain very well, but a word of caution, the heartwood of poplar is green, takes stain well, and when it ages it turns a nice shade of brown from UV exposure. The sapwood is the bad guy here, it is really light in color, as soaks up the stain, so much so, that if there are any dark pigments that make up the stain color, for some reason the sapwood really accentuates the dark color, when on the green heartwood it responds differently to the color of stain being applied, so much it looks like 2 different stains are being used. This problem was not evident when I built my home in 1989, poplar then was pretty much all heartwood. My remodel that I finished last year proved different using poplar. Poplar today has a lot more sapwood, and just a little heartwood which makes it difficult to stain evenly. Maple has the same problem but for a different reason, but the fix is the same. There are "wood conditioners" out there that are applied first to soak up into the softwoods or "curly grain" like maple that will let the stain soak in evenly, at least more evenly than without the conditioner. This may be the simplest fix for the problem, though there are other ways to get past the problems, but they include a lot of trial and error- time consuming.

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  • so in the end, would you recommend poplar for my application? – amphibient Mar 19 '14 at 15:45
  • IMHO I would, It is cheaper than pretty much any other material out there. My only thing, and it is only a curious thing, is your casing and other trim painted or stained. It is a design question. But I feel with the right treatment poplar is the right choice without knowing the other details. That's why the curious question. – Jack Mar 19 '14 at 19:48
  • the other trim is mixed. in one room i have stained antique window trim (i stripped many decades worth of paint, the house is 105 yrs old), others have pained door casings etc. – amphibient Mar 19 '14 at 19:53
  • another option is to just simply varnish maple – amphibient Mar 19 '14 at 19:53
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    Well the one room that is stripped, since the house is that old and it is original trim, it will most likely be pine or less likely fir. There is a possiblilty it could other NICE STUFF like black walnut or oak, also not unusual in old homes such as yours. In that room I would go the extra mile and match wood specie and stain it to fake a patina to match your original trim. On the rooms with the painted trim, I would paint the base, but it may not be too bad with a stained base cut between the plinth blocks. Otherwise base matches room casing, shoe mold CAN match flooring, but can be painted.. – Jack Mar 19 '14 at 20:55

If you want to color maple, you might investigate dyes rather than stains - leaves much more of the grain visible.

If you're going to stain it anyway, poplar (in the lumber trade that almost always means tulip poplar) is a nice, cheap, stable wood. Has a somewhat greenish cast, but dark stain will obliterate it.

Responding to Jack's comment: I've posted this one before - it's from "fowl weather custom birdcalls" and provides a nice sample of what you can do with dyes on maple. I suppose it may be possible to use dyes in a manner that gets less clarity, but my overall experience is that dyes leave more "wood character" visible than most stains do. My personal preference is to let the wood be wood, and use a different wood if I want a different color; but I have seen nice things done with dyes.

enter image description here

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  • @ Ecnerwal, are you positive about the character of stains vs. dyes? I hate to question another member, but my experiences with floor staining has been if you want the grain to go away, dye the floor, if you want it to really go monochrome, water-pop the floor first, then apply the dye. This has been popular in the past few years since the trend has been dark floors. Stains, as you know soak into the softer grain or end grain readily, and not so for harder grain. Dyes color everything without regard to soft or hard grain, though there may be a subtle difference here and there. – Jack Mar 18 '14 at 15:13
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    Also, this on YouTube (just looked for examples, this is a fairly good if somewhat tedious presentation.) youtube.com/watch?v=o3Ysfw0LmMw – Ecnerwal Mar 18 '14 at 16:25
  • Seen the video, I don't want to go off topic, but the part about the ebony makes my point. it can mute the grain the totally not just because it is dark, but the vehicle, water soaks in so readily. The stain he used was more like a paste than stain that I have seen used as a wiping stain although he used a brush, of course, the nature of that stain would be opaque to him, semi-transparent to me. The oil used as a vehicle is naturally thicker than water, therefore it will stand on any surface thicker giving the color more opacity from that alone. Had he used a brush on stain like Miniwax... – Jack Mar 18 '14 at 16:53
  • I just seen your edit above, I know there is more science to this than I know, but what I see is the dye reacting to the "figure" of the grain, not the wood grain itself. I may not be clear enough on this. But apply this on maple that is not curly, say just plain sliced, the effect may be different. Heavy up the ratio of dye, the effect would be different. Stain will not let you do that.... – Jack Mar 18 '14 at 16:58
  • Dyes on splotchy wood should finely sprayed and allowed to dry with no manual "handling". This will let the coloring penetrate evenly.. As soon as you move it on the wood surface, some areas will get more dye, causing the splotch. I usually leave the color a bit light and seal with shellac. Additional color can be glazed with a gel stain, if desired. A water borne poly makes a good top coat. – HerrBag Mar 20 '14 at 21:47

I would go with pine because it has a look that is close to maple but not exactly and I think a good pine trim is probably my preferred wood type. Oak would stand out too much. You want something to complement what you have not draw a person's eyes to it. So I would say pine or maple (if you can find maple trim in your area).

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  • why do you say that "Oak would stand out too much"? – amphibient Mar 19 '14 at 15:51
  • Well I guess it depends on the type of oak but the oak trim that I see is very knotty with deep/harsh veining. It would really be the last thing I used with maple. Jack's advice on poplar isn't bad at all either. In no specific order I would go with pine, maple, or poplar - this really depends on the quality of the 3 types I would see when I was buying. – DMoore Mar 19 '14 at 16:01
  • would pine, as a softwood, be more prone to warping over time you think? – amphibient Mar 19 '14 at 16:17
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    No not as trim. Trim is stapled in all over the place. A harder wood isn't "better" because they are more like to crack if hit. I would be more concerned about the quality of wood you are getting and the finish look. Not sure I have seen warped trim. I have seen cracked oak trim and have seen dented mdf. – DMoore Mar 19 '14 at 16:20
  • what do you think if i just varnish maple ? – amphibient Mar 19 '14 at 19:27

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