Turn poplar into cherry
Why poplar? Widespread availability and low prices make poplar a prime substitute for more expensive woods. Avoid poplar boards with a greenish cast or strong color contrasts between the heartwood and sapwood.
Making the switch: Dye will provide consistent color and, because it's water-based, a damp rag can extract some of the excess if you use too much. (We used Lockwood #911 natural antique cherry dye for this sample.) Allow a little extra shading for the light sanding needed to remove wood fibers raised by water-based dyes. Like cherry, poplar tends to blotch. To make spot adjustments to the color, lightly rub darkened areas with 320-grit sandpaper.