Maple and poplar are two of the commonest types of wood in the United States. If you judge a wood by its cost and availability, then either of these woods should be a good choice for a variety of applications.
Maple and poplar may be cheap and available, but are they both the ideal types of wood to use? One of the moot points between these two kinds of wood is the hardness. While maple is harder than many hardwoods, poplar is quite soft, making maple the more robust choice for many woodworking applications.
Maple vs. Poplar
In terms of hardness, poplar doesn’t come anywhere near to maple. Poplar has a Janka hardness rating of 540 lbf whereas the Janka hardness rating of hard maple is 1,450 lbf. Poplar is among the softest hardwoods except for balsa, and perhaps a handful of other hardwoods.
There is often confusion between these two types of wood, and the oft-asked question is whether poplar makes good furniture which we discuss in another interesting post. Let us dig deeper to see the difference between maple and poplar.
Maple trees grow in the northeastern region of the United States. They grow to a height of 115 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 3 feet.
Maple enjoys prominence in being one of the hardest hardwoods available, with only a few other types like mahogany that are harder than maple. It is a wood with an extremely tight grain which makes the grain pattern almost absent.
The light brown wood is pleasant to look at, but it is a bit tricky to stain. We know maple best for hardwood flooring, but it also makes some smart, low-maintenance furniture.
You will find poplar growing in the eastern region of the United States. The trees are popularly used for landscaping. They grow up to 160 feet and the trunks grow to diameters of 8 feet.
Poplar is one of the softest hardwoods that you can find. We use it to make furniture, cabinets, wooden toys, and plywood. It has a striking pattern that differentiates the heartwood from the softwood, so looks good if stained properly.
It is easy to work with due to its softness and you can find it at most hardware outlets. You can get it in the form of construction lumber and construction plywood.
Maple vs. Poplar: Appearance
Maple is a light-colored wood with an extremely tight grain, with hardly any visible grain patterns or pores. It may sometimes have a reddish or golden hue. The tight wood grain makes it somewhat challenging to stain this wood.
Poplar is also a light wood but it has a greenish hue that some may find unattractive. If you don’t mind this coloration, then you can even leave the wood alone without applying a finish.
Maple vs. Poplar: Durability
Maple is mechanically much stronger than poplar thanks to its hardness, so maple furniture will last longer than poplar. But maple is considered non-durable to perishable and also prone to attack by insects.
The heartwood of poplar on the other hand is considered moderately durable to non-durable but it is also prone to insect attack.
Maple vs. Poplar: Maintenance
You won’t need to do much maintenance on maple furniture, but flooring made of this wood needs maintenance from time to time. Although you can get the flooring with a pre-finish nowadays, you would still need to refurbish it now and then.
Also, there is a set of standard procedures for refinishing maple flooring properly. If you do it incorrectly, you stand a chance of damaging the flooring.
Poplar makes some reasonably good-looking and serviceable furniture. But this type of wood will not withstand heavy loads, so you probably won’t see dining room chairs and tables or kitchen counters made of poplar.
Poplar has a natural luster, so you may end up needing to maintain your poplar furniture less than you would have to for similar furniture made of maple.
Maple vs. Poplar: Price
Maple has not only durability and good looks but it is rather comfortably priced. But be aware of the types of maple, as the price can vary considerably from one type to another. An exception is figured maple that may cost much more than many other types of hardwood.
Poplar is lighter and comfortable to work with. It is cheaper than maple and many other types of hardwood.
Maple vs. Poplar: Sustainability
You can find maple and poplar at all locations across the United States. Many maple trees take up to 30 years to grow to full maturity. Poplar trees on the other hand take 10 to 12 years to grow to full size.
Although neither wood appears on the lists of endangered wood species, poplar is a bit more sustainable than maple. It is believed to improve the quality of water and air and improve the biodiversity of natural habitats.
Maple vs. Poplar: Comparison Table
|Nearly white to off-white
|Light grey with a greenish cast
|Mechanically durable but no resistance to rot or insects
|Moderately durable but no resistance to rot or insects
|Hardness (Janka Scale)
|Needs extra support
|Suitability for outdoors
|Indoor use only
|Indoor use only
|Suitability for wood carving
|Easy to work with
|Easy but leave fuzzy edges
|Special features if any
|Maple syrup comes from maple sap
As you can see, when we compare maple vs. poplar, there are many aspects to consider. You cannot judge a type of wood only based on one or two parameters. Would you use maple for your kitchen hardwood flooring? Probably, yes. But you definitely wouldn’t use poplar.
However, if you are looking for cheap but reasonably durable furniture, then you could use poplar. You might not get heavy-duty furniture from it but you can use it to make bookshelves and side tables and maybe upper-level cabinets.
So, it all depends on the application. Maple is superior to poplar in more ways than one. But you can surely use poplar under certain conditions. Experiment a bit, be innovative, and try using poplar in your next woodworking project.