What Is Poplar Wood? (Uses, Types, & Strength)
Poplar wood is a popular hardwood that’s commonly used to build all kinds of wood products like furniture, crates, wood pallets, and more.
If you’re wondering what poplar wood is, where it’s used, if it’s a strong wood, you’re in the right place. I’m going to cover all things poplar wood! Let’s get started!
In This Article:
What Is Poplar Wood Used For?
Poplar wood can be used to create:
- Drum shells
- Ceiling molding
- Furniture frames
There are different kinds of poplar wood, and certain kinds are used to construct furniture and instruments whereas other kinds are used to create boxes, pallets, and plywood.
Construction-grade poplar wood is used to create single-family homes, as it’s affordable, sturdy, and easy to come by.
If you need wood for your next woodworking project, poplar wood is a great choice to consider.
Different Kinds of Poplar Wood
Like other woods, poplar wood comes in a variety of colors, including dark brown, white, cream, ivory, green, and purple.
How poplar wood gets its color is quite interesting. Because poplar trees grow in swampy areas, they absorb a lot of nutrients and minerals, and these nutrients and minerals play a major role in determining the color of poplar wood.
There are also different kinds of poplar wood, and each kind has properties that distinguish it from the others.
White poplar wood (Populus alba) comes from southern and central Europe as well as central Asia.
White poplar heartwood is usually light brown and features white stripes, whereas white poplar sapwood is nearly 100% white.
White poplar wood has a muted natural luster, a fine grain, and a smoothish texture. Because it’s a softer hardwood, it’s easier to saw and lathe. Using a router on this kind of poplar is also easy.
In addition to being used to make ceiling molding and trim, white poplar is also used to make pallets, crates, toys, carvings, and furniture frames.
Black poplar wood (Populus nigra) comes from Europe, western Asia, and North Africa.
Black poplar heartwood is light brown, while the sapwood is a pale yellow that almost looks white. It usually has a straight grain, though some black poplar features an irregular or interlocked grain. The texture is fine and it has a muted natural luster.
This kind of poplar wood is used to create boxes and crates, as well as plywood, construction-grade lumber, instruments (drums and guitars), high-quality furniture, and inlays.
Like white poplar wood, black poplar wood is easy to cut and lathe.
Tip: If you have to cut black poplar wood, make sure you use a sharp saw. If you don’t, you could cause the area around the cut to look and feel fuzzy.
Yellow poplar wood (Liriodendron tulipifera) comes from the eastern United States, and sometimes this wood is referred to as “Tulip Poplar” or “American Tulip”.
Yellow poplar heartwood can be yellowish, creamy, or brown, whereas yellow poplar sapwood is either pale yellow or white. It has a smooth texture, a muted natural luster, and a uniform grain.
Despite being one of the stiffer poplar woods, yellow poplar is still easy to cut by hand or with machines. That said, you should cut it with a sharp blade to ensure the fuzz problem I discussed in the section above is avoided.
Among other things, yellow poplar wood is used to create furniture frames, crates, plywood, pallets, and paper.
Sometimes, yellow poplar wood can be multicolored, and this kind of yellow poplar wood is commonly referred to as “Rainbow Poplar”.
It gets its rainbow color from the minerals it absorbs, but how these minerals interact with the wood to form the rainbow color is not fully understood.
Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) is another kind of poplar wood, one that comes from the eastern United States.
The heartwood is light brown while the sapwood is a pale white. Usually the grain is straight, but sometimes it can be irregular or interlocked.
Like some of the other poplar woods I’ve already mentioned, Eastern Cottonwood is easy to cut by hand or with a machine. But again, it’s best to use a sharp blade when cutting this wood, as doing so will prevent fuzziness.
Eastern Cottonwood is one of the softest kinds of poplar wood, and being that it doesn’t hold nails or screws well. It can’t be steam-bent, though it does retain glue and finish well.
Nowadays, this kind of poplar wood is used to make boxes, crates, plywood, and furniture frames, but hundreds of years ago ancient Native Americans used this wood to make canoes and structures.
Because it’s widely available, it’s the cheapest of the poplar woods.
Balsam poplar wood (Populus balsamifera) comes from Canada and the northern United States.
Whereas balsam poplar heartwood can be light brown, dark brown, or dark gray, balsam poplar sapwood can be creamy or pale white. Its grain is straight, it’s smoothish, and it has a pronounced natural luster.
Balsam poplar is easy to cut and lathe, and it can hold screws and nails well because of its low density. It’s used to make boxes, pallets, crates, plywood, baskets, furniture, veneers, core stock, and excelsior.
Pros of Poplar Wood
Easy to Work
One of the most attractive things about poplar wood is that it’s easy to work with.
Whether you’re a professional or someone who’s just starting out with woodworking, you can use a variety of hand tools and power tools on poplar and not have to worry about this wood being easily marred.
It’s easy to work with because it has a straight grain, and since it’s lightweight it’s easy to transport as well.
Poplar wood is widely available, which means you don’t have to travel far or wait a long time to get your hands on some.
Poplar trees grow in many locations, and at present they aren’t listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Specie.
Its availability is a key reason why it’s one of the most inexpensive hardwoods, and it also explains why poplar is a popular test wood.
Variety of Colors
Poplar wood comes in a variety of colors, and yellow poplar in particular can have streaks of green or purple. For this reason among others, woodworking artists enjoy creating artwork with this unique wood.
Tip: If you’re trying to create a rustic kitchen at home, consider installing poplar cabinets to create a one-of-a-kind natural vibe.
Hardwoods tend to be expensive because it takes a long time for the trees that produce this wood to grow. Poplar, however, isn’t all that expensive when compared to other hardwoods.
And despite being cheaper, poplar wood has most of the qualities that make other hardwoods sought-after.
Cons of Poplar Wood
Poplar wood isn’t a softwood, but it’s a hardwood with low density, which means it can be dented and scratched easily.
Poplar sawdust can be irritating when you’re working with it. Therefore, you should protect your eyes, skin, and respiratory system from this sawdust so it doesn’t irritate you.
Poplar wood doesn’t absorb stain very well. Therefore, if you want to color it, it’s best to use oil or latex paint.
Because it’s low density and not rot-resistant, it’ll need to be maintained often. You can make maintenance less frequent by painting or applying a protective layer of polyurethane to the polar wood.
When considering the total cost of poplar wood, don’t forget to consider that routine maintenance may be necessary.
Is Poplar Wood Strong?
Poplar wood is dense, and this is the main reason why it’s strong. Specifically, it has a 0.42 f(density) rating, so it’s denser than every softwood and a few hardwoods.
But density isn’t the only factor used to calculate the strength of poplar wood. You must also factor in compressive strength, bending strength, stiffness, and hardness to arrive at poplar wood’s strength.
- Density: 0.42
- Compressive Strength: 5540 PSI
- Bending Strength: 10100 PSI
- Stiffness: 1.58M PSI
- Hardness: 540 LB
Judging by these measurements, poplar is a strong hardwood.
Want more info? Check out the video below!
Is Poplar a Hardwood?
Poplar wood is one of the softest hardwoods. It has a Janka Rating of 2,400, and the only hardwoods that are softer are White Pine (1,900) and Balsa (310).
Because it’s not all that hard, it’s more susceptible to dents and scratches. Something like birch or walnut, on the other hand, can resist both dents and scratches much better.
Is Poplar Wood Rot-Resistant?
Poplar wood is durable, but it’s not rot-resistant. It’s also susceptible to insect infestations.
Therefore, it’s better to use poplar wood inside as opposed to outside, as if you have poplar wood outside for a prolonged period it may wear down quickly because of constant exposure to moisture and weathering.
Poplar wood can be strengthened by adding paint, stain, or polyurethane.
Treated poplar wood is a better exterior wood than untreated poplar, but the former is almost twice as much as the latter.
How Much Does Poplar Wood Cost?
When compared to domestic hardwoods like walnut and oak, poplar wood is cheaper. Specifically, a board foot will cost anywhere from $3.50 to $10, with a board’s width and finish influencing the price. Other domestic hardwoods cost $5 to $15 per board foot.
If you need to get a large amount of poplar wood for a project, and you want to save some money, pick up this wood from your local lumberyard. These businesses usually have a better selection, lower prices, and no delivery fees.
Of course, you’ll need a pickup truck and possibly a flatbed to haul all the wood, meaning you may spend a pretty penny on gas—especially if the pickup runs on diesel.
Still, however, getting poplar wood in person, as opposed to ordering it online, is the way to go if one of your priorities is saving a couple hundred bucks.
Is Poplar Easy to Carve?
Despite being a hardwood, poplar is easy to carve. One of the reasons why is because it has a straight grain.
And because it usually has a unique appearance, one that’s creamy and streaked with different shades of green or purple, it’s preferred by woodworkers who create artistic pieces.
It’s been mentioned already that some kinds of poplar wood can be easily worked by hand and by machine, and some woodworkers even say that cutting poplar wood is akin to cutting butter.
Specifically, poplar wood is great for hand carving, whittling, relief carving, and chainsaw carving.
Poplar is a good training wood for woodworkers who are just starting out. It’s cheap, readily available, and easy to work with once you get the hang of things.
Tip: Because poplar is fibrous, you’ll need sharp tools to cut through it. But if you’ve been using the same saw on poplar wood for a while, you may dull the blade, which will in turn mess up the wood the next time you saw.
Should You Paint or Stain Poplar Wood
Poplar wood can be painted and it can be stained. That said, most people choose painting over staining, in part because poplar doesn’t always absorb stain well.
Especially if the staining job was rushed, stained poplar can look blotchy.
Before you paint poplar wood, you need to make sure the fuzziness caused by cutting has been removed, otherwise this will affect how the paint sets. The best paints for poplar wood are oil and latex paints.
Poplar vs. Oak
Oak is both denser and harder than poplar wood, but that doesn’t mean it’s an all-around better wood.
Since poplar wood has a straight grain and no knots, it can bend better—unlike oak. This flexibility is a main reason why poplar wood is used to create shelves, furniture, frames, etc.
Poplar is more affordable than oak, but the latter wood has a beautiful natural finish that outshines poplar’s. This in part explains why oak is more expensive than poplar.
Most of the time, poplar is painted or stained, whereas oak’s natural finish is left as it is—or strengthened by a layer of polyurethane.
Poplar wood is a commonly used hardwood, in large part because it’s affordable, easy to work with, widely available, and often featuring unique color patterns.
I recommend this wood to anyone who’s looking to make cabinets, bookcases, or beds for a low cost.
Whether you’re using hand tools or power tools, you won’t have a hard time working with poplar. And since it’s easy to paint, you can easily boost its visual appeal while strengthening it.