As a woodworker, you are probably always on the lookout for suitable wood for your projects. An extremely popular and versatile form of wood is plywood. It is an engineered wood that cuts easily and can be made very durable for multiple purposes.
Birch plywood and poplar plywood are two of the most widely used types of plywood. It is very common to use them in combination – a core of poplar with top layers of birch plywood on either face. But even on their own, birch and poplar plywood has a particular place in the world of woodworking.
Birch Plywood vs Poplar Plywood
Poplar grows faster than birch. Poplar trees grow in plantations and take about seven years to reach maturity. Cultivators harvest the trees once they grow to their full capacity, and they immediately replace the harvested trees with new ones.
This continuous cycle of harvesting and replanting makes poplar highly sustainable as a result of the carefully managed forests. On the other hand, birch trees take much longer to grow to maturity. The result is denser and stronger wood.
Due to its increased strength, we use birch for making plywood and also in construction with a requirement for strong wood. Poplar’s lower density makes it useful for laser cutting at lower power settings. Moreover, the reduced number of knots in poplar makes it a better candidate for laser cutting than birch.
Birch Plywood: Background
Plywood made from birch (Betula spp.) comes under the category of hardwood plywood, and it makes boards of great strength and durability. Further, the grain structure is smooth than also makes it easy to apply a finish.
As with all other plywood, birch plywood panels have several layers of veneer called plies. The thickness of the panel is defined by the number of plies on the board.
The two outer facing surfaces will always consist of birch and we call this surface the face. The layers of veneer that lie between the two faces make up what we call the core stock. It is a common practice to use other wood veneers like poplar, gum, pine, or aspen veneers for making the core stock.
Sometimes, especially in places where birch is abundant, manufacturers use birch veneer in the core stock as well. They also glue the core veneers together using different configurations, depending on the end-use and the specification requirements.
Some typical birch plywood core configurations are unidirectional, LVL (laminated veneer lumber), lumber core, and conventional birch plywood. The durability and strength of the birch plywood will depend on the veneer species used in the core stock.
Poplar Plywood: Background
Poplar plywood also comes in a range of products. For example, you can get fine Italian plywood, which comes as thin sheets meant for laser cutting. Then, to suit color preferences, there is white poplar plywood and black poplar plywood.
Further, poplar plywood of the different colors as mentioned above also comes in different grades to suit different projects. You can get poplar plywood to use in furniture, cabinetry, and outdoor projects.
An interesting fact is that a category of plywood that we see in the market under the name of yellow poplar comes from a magnolia species. Although it is not birch, it has some desirable features making it a useful type of plywood.
Looks-wise, poplar plywood is pale with a tight, fine, and consistent grain. In addition, the knots are extremely tiny, perhaps a few millimeters in diameter. The smoothness of the plywood will depend on the grade. So, it is a good idea to refer to the manufacturer’s information to know what to expect.
Birch Plywood vs Poplar Plywood: Pros and Cons
As with different types of wood, even birch plywood and poplar plywood have their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Here are some of the primary pros and cons that come to mind:
Advantages of Poplar Plywood
- The birch faces on poplar plywood add to the aesthetic value of the wood. Firstly, you can leave it unfinished. Secondly, if you want to apply a finish to the surface, you can get a wide selection of UV finishes to blend in with the environment.
- You will find poplar plywood an easy material to work with. For example, sanding, cutting, and shaping is an easy process and you can use it for a variety of projects.
- Poplar plywood is light which makes it easy to handle and install. For example, you can use it at high locations like high shelves and false ceilings.
- There is a variety of UV treatments that you can get from the market which can improve the durability of poplar plywood. For instance, you can use it in places where the surfaces will take a beating like kitchen cabinets.
- Poplar plywood has many additional certifications that give it preference against many other types of plywood.
- Poplar plywood comes from some of the most sustainable trees you can find. An interesting fact about poplar trees is that they can purify water. Moreover, they are low waste and come from sustainably-managed plantations.
Disadvantages of Poplar Plywood
- Poplar plywood doesn’t have the strength or hardness of many other types of plywood. Therefore, it is highly susceptible to getting dented and scratched.
- This variety of plywood tends to soak up more finish and paint, so, applying a finish can be a bit of a challenge.
- While sanding poplar plywood, similar to when you sand the wood, it tends to fuzz up due to the softness of the wood.
- Poplar trees are characterized by their rapid growth. As a result, it has wider, less dense annual rings, making the wood and plywood less dimensionally stable.
Advantages of Birch Plywood
- You will notice a nice, rich sheen on birch plywood that adds elegance to furniture made of birch plywood.
- Furthermore, the surface of birch plywood is such that you can customize the look of the end product to suit the surroundings.
- Additionally, even if you don’t apply a finish, the plywood surface will still look good.
- Another plus point of birch plywood is its durability and strength. The multiple layers of veneer that make the thickness of the boards give the plywood enormous strength.
- Birch plywood will not develop jagged edges on cutting. Therefore, it enables better joinery, especially if you use this material for cabinetry.
- The freedom from jagged edges and fewer knots make birch plywood the preferred choice of plywood for children’s toys and other child-friendly applications.
- Birch plywood also takes screws, nails, and glues quite well. It also accepts paperback veneers for more decorative applications.
- Birch is a species that grows rapidly and in abundance in several places in the United States and across the world. Consequently, we regard it as a sustainable species of wood.
- Finally, we come to the cost-effectiveness of this variety of plywood. Birch plywood is a readily-available, reasonably priced variety of plywood.
Disadvantages of Birch Plywood
- However hard you try to preserve edges, even if they aren’t jagged, they don’t look as good as the face of the plywood.
- The top birch veneer of birch plywood is extremely thin, and a common blunder is to go through the top layer while sanding the surface.
- Birch plywood isn’t as attractive as several other types of plywood like maple ply.
- Applying a finish to birch plywood can be challenging.
Birch Plywood vs Poplar Plywood: Comparison Table
|Strength||Strong material||Strong but not as much as birch plywood|
|Color||More color variation||Less color variation|
|Laser cutting||Easy to cut but not as easy as poplar plywood||Very easy to cut|
|Finish||Takes good finish||Takes good finish|
|Price||Reasonably priced||Reasonably priced|
|Uses||Models, jewelry boxes, engraving, and cabinets||Cabinets, toys, and furniture|
|Hardness||Harder than poplar ply||Softer than birch ply|
|Durability||Non-durable||More durable than birch plywood|
|Workability||Easy to work with||Easy to work with|
In conclusion, if you compare birch plywood vs poplar plywood, you need to consider the grade of the material. Both of these types of plywood are versatile and you can get different thicknesses to suit your various requirements.
To sum up, if you need strength, then birch plywood should be the ideal choice. On the other hand, if you need plywood that you can cut on a lower power setting then poplar plywood can meet that requirement.
Choose your plywood carefully according to your requirements to complete project upon project successfully.
For more interesting information about plywood, click HERE.