If you asked around for a utility wood recommendation, poplar is likely to be a favored response. It is a top wood in the United States loved for its availability, inexpensive nature, and workability, among other qualities.
But is poplar wood good for furniture? Yes, poplar wood is good for furniture because it is moderately dense and relatively strong yet easy to cut and assemble. However, a few inherent qualities may make it unsuitable for certain types of furniture.
Therefore, you must carry out some research before investing in poplar wood for your furniture. Luckily, this post covers all you need to know about poplar wood. It provides an in-depth overview of its properties, pros and cons, and what furniture it is suitable for.
Characteristics Of Poplar Wood
Poplar, amid huge debate, is classified as hardwood. However, it is far from the hardness level of other hardwoods because it lies much lower in hardness rank.
Contrary to popular belief, hardwood doesn’t necessarily denote tough wood. Rather, these are woods that come from deciduous trees which are angiosperms.
While the toughest woods stem from this category of trees, not all members produce robust wood. Angiosperm woods can range from extremely hard to very soft.
Therefore by definition, polar is indeed a hardwood. But when the meaning of hard is taken literally, poplar is not hardwood. I hope that makes sense.
Also known as tulipwood, poplar is ranked among the softies. It is within the same hardness range as Chestnut in the Janka hardness scale and is rated at 540 lb-ft/2400N.
This makes poplar very soft compared to other hardwoods like mahogany, cherry, walnut, birch, white oak, rosewood, golden teak, and ebony.
Still, it is harder than balsa and white pine, which are very soft hardwoods as well as most softwoods, with the exception of cedar and fir.
Poplar is lightweight and has excellent dimensional strength and bendability. It is also low on shrinkage, cracking, and doesn’t warp. It is very stable when dry making it ideal for outdoor use.
The poplar tree can grow to heights of 150 feet, and its wood is knotless. As a result, it is available in really long planks of 15+ feet. Therefore it is suitable for furniture that demands significant length.
Advanced equipment is not necessary when it comes to working poplar wood. Its softness makes cutting, sanding, nailing, and drilling it an effortless feat even when using hand tools and also goes easy on blades.
All these are aspects of good wood for furniture. Coupled with the fact that it is pocket-friendly makes Poplar wood a popular choice for furniture.
On the flip side, poplar wood is susceptible to wear and tear. Due to its soft profile, it scuffs, scratches, dents, and chips quite easily.
You really have to go slow and gentle on it, even with a sander, to avoid tearing. It would also be unsuitable for high abuse surfaces like a table. Aesthetically, poplar wood isn’t exactly what you would gush over. The overall natural wood look is underwhelming, with muted and bland colors.
Moving over to the grain, poplar wood has a straight grain that lacks visual interest compared to other woods with interesting patterns.
The color of the sapwood is light yellow, white, or cream. It may be streaked with grey or green. The heartwood, on the other hand, has a diverse range of colors. It can take on a blue, black, tan or yellow tone normally as a result of minerals.
A creamy white unstained sapwood is the most coveted grade of poplar wood but is quite rare. The rainbow poplar is more common, especially when harvested from mineral-dense soils.
The good thing is, that the hues darken over time when exposed to sunlight which dramatically helps improve the appearance.
Luckily, poplar wood takes both paint and stains very well, giving users a chance to elevate its aesthetics. In fact, it takes stains so well it can mimic some of the more expensive woods.
A veneer is, however, the most common alternative used to conceal the unattractive appearance of poplar wood.
Another problematic area of using poplar wood is getting fine edges. Since it is too soft and cannot be sanded aggressively without getting damaged, the fuzzy edges are impossible to smoothen out.
Poplar Wood Advantages and Disadvantages
Let’s quickly summarize these features of poplar wood into pros and cons:
Pros of poplar wood:
- Budget-friendly utility wood
- Soft and easy to work, which is excellent for beginners
- Dimensionally strong, satisfactory bendability, and relatively durable
- Receptive towards paints and stains, thereby surface is highly customizable
- Glues well and takes nails and screws without splitting
- Stable when dry thus fairs well outdoors
- Has uniform texture
Cons of poplar wood:
- Prone to scratches and dings
- It requires delicate handling like sawing and sanding because it tears easily.
- Unattractive colored patches in the heartwood
- Not fine wood for high-end furniture
Therefore is poplar wood good for furniture? It depends on your objective. Poplar is good for furniture if it’s to make utility furniture without spending too much and don’t mind about aesthetic or long-term durability.
If you aim for elegance and sophistication, incredible strength, and outstanding durability, there are far better alternatives.
The 7 Best Types Of Furniture For Poplar Wood
Traditionally poplar wood was shunned for its less than stunning looks and was seldom used as the primary wood for furniture. It was more commonly used for hidden furniture parts and fixtures.
Today poplar plays a more significant role in furniture-making despite being short of the visual appeal of other natural woods. Its ubiquity, low cost, and workability forge a winner every time.
Paint, varnishes, stains, and veneer come in handy to enhance its looks when used to make solid furniture or any vivid areas of furniture.
Here are the best furniture and pieces you can make out of poplar wood.
Poplar wood is a rare choice for cabinet fronts for apparent reasons. It is not a top contender when it comes to beautiful wood.
However, it is preferred for drawers, underside, backside, and frames of cabinets, closets, and cupboards. Poplar will work for any hidden parts that demand stability.
Still, nothing stops you from using it as the primary wood because it is easy to machine and assemble. You must then finish off with a gel stain, paint or veneer wood.
One downside with poplar wood is its propensity to dent and scratch quickly. Therefore it cannot be suitable for high-stress surfaces like tabletops.
However, you can make a solid table out of poplar then coat and seal it to protect the delicate wood from friction and elements. It is also perfect for side tables as they don’t receive a lot of abuse like coffee or dining tables.
Any chairs, functional or decorative, placed in a living room or indoors are expected to be exquisite. Consequently, poplar is unlikely to be the choice of wood for them as there are other valuable options.
However, poplar wood can be used to make the frame for upholstered seats and sofas. The look of the wood, in this case, is a non-factor because it will be covered by foam anyway.
Poplar wood can also make standard lightweight shelves to store light to medium weight items. It is relatively dense and robust with a bendability rated at 10100 psi which is acceptable.
The finishing will, however, entail some work to improve the look, especially on the edges where poplar tends to be fuzzy.
If there is one type of furniture that is popularly made using poplar wood, it is a bed. Poplar is widely used for making bed frames for two reasons.
The first one is due to its comparatively long planks measuring 10-15 feet in length. This makes poplar ideal for beds since they utilize long planks.
Another reason poplar is preferred for bed-making is due to its dimensional stability. This is a critical feature of bed frames as they must support the weight of the mattress and the users.
6. Outdoor Furniture
Outdoor furniture is usually exposed to weather elements known to be harsh on many materials, including wood. The best wood for it is resistant to these elements.
Poplar wood is up to the task of creating outdoor furniture. It is highly stable wood when dry. and resists warping caused by temperature fluctuations.
Therefore, it will not split or crack due to contractions. It is perfect for Adirondack chairs for your patio or garden. But you will have to seal the piece of furniture if it will be outdoors permanently. Sealing keeps it waterproof for durability.
Poplar is moderately resistant to rot and insects that normally attack outdoor furniture.
7. Molds and Trims
Being soft and easy to shape, poplar wood is among the best wood for moldings and trimmings for your furniture. It is easy to carve and takes intricate details very well.
You’ll have an easy time making those exquisite decorative borders and edges out of poplar wood.
We hope this post has been an eye-opener for you on the use of poplar wood for furniture. Knowing its pros and cons and what it is good for will help you decide on which projects to use it for and which ones to look elsewhere.
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