Poplar is one of the most abundant trees that grow in the United States and Canada. It is very useful for landscaping, and it has 30 unique species to its name.
In this post, we feature poplar and study the various features that make this wood so popular among woodworkers in the United States. After reading this information provided here, you should have a very clear idea about poplar and can choose wisely for using this wood in your woodworking projects.
Poplar Wood: Background
One of the major reasons for this wood’s popularity is the rapid growth that it has. Polar trees are huge and grow to heights of 50 feet to 160 feet, much faster than many other trees, yielding lumber in record time.
Poplar is also very suitable for making wood pulp and plywood. It is also very fuel-efficient on burning, making it an excellent choice for firewood.
In ancient times, the Romans and Greeks made battle shields out of poplar wood. Poplar went out of fashion in more recent times, but lately, it has become popular again.
Types of Poplar Wood
Although there are at least 30 different poplar species, here we examine the features of five of the most widely-used types of poplar today.
White Poplar (Populus alba)
Also known as silver poplar, white poplar grows in southern and central Europe and central Asia. The trees grow to a height of 80 feet, and the trunks to a diameter of 3 feet.
Interesting fact: Many Italian Renaissance painters like Leonard da Vinci used wooden panels made of white poplar upon which they painted.
It is not an endangered species, and the wood is relatively soft and easy to work with, having a Janka hardness rating of 410 lbf.
One useful feature of white poplar is that it takes stain remarkably well. With the right technique and color combination, you can make it resemble expensive woods like oak, teak, and cherry. It is particularly prevalent with kitchen cabinets that look expensive but come at a fraction of the cost.
A downside of white poplar is that it easily gets scratched and dented. Fortunately, you can sort out this issue by using high-quality oil-based paint.
Also, bear in mind that white poplar is not a good option for floor moldings or baseboards. However, you can use it for ceiling moldings and trimmings with satisfactory results.
Black Poplar (Populus nigra)
Black poplar is also called Lombardy poplar or Mappa burl. You will find it growing in Europe, western Asia, Northern Africa but only as an ornamental plant in North America. The trees are tall growing up to 100 feet with trunk diameters of 5 feet.
Black poplar is a soft variety of wood with a Janka hardness rating of 960 lbf. It is easy to cut and work with. It is valuable as firewood, reasonably priced, and easily available.
Other uses for black poplar are furniture carcasses, boxes and crates, plywood, and laminated construction lumber. A more sophisticated form of this wood called Mappa burl has intricate grain patterns, and it makes drum shells, fine furniture, and veneer.
Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
Here we have another poplar species that is native to North America. Eastern cottonwood grows mainly in central and eastern United States. The trees are huge at a maximum height of 165 feet with trunk diameters up to 6 feet.
The heartwood is light brown with a pale, almost white sapwood. It has a straight grain with slight irregularities or interlocked grains. It is a rapid-growing tree which makes it easily available and reasonably priced.
Eastern cottonwood is a reasonably soft wood with a Janka hardness rating of 460 lbf. It is easy to work with though it may need sharp blades while planing or machining to avoid fuzziness on the surface.
Although it responds well to glues and finishes, you cannot do steam bending, and this wood also doesn’t hold nails and screws well because of its inherent softness.
Native North Americans used eastern cottonwood to build canoes. Later, European settlers used it for construction. Today, woodworkers use this wood to make Boxes/crates, veneer, plywood, and various utility purposes.
Balsam Poplar (Populus balsamifera)
You will find balsam poplar growing in the southern regions of North America on the flood plains. The trees are tall up to 100 feet, with the diameters of the tree trunks reaching up to 5 feet.
Balsam poplar is extremely soft with a Janka hardness rating of 300 lbf. The wood has limited use for furniture or fine woodworking objects and does not make good flooring due to its extreme softness.
The wood pulp of balsam poplar is used in the construction, wood making, and manufacturing industry. We also use balsam poplar to construct pallets, crates, and light furniture (non-load bearing) parts.
Balsam poplar contributes to manufacturing oriented strand board (OSB), wafer board, and plywood. It also plays a critical role in the veneer manufacturing process.
Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Also known as tulip poplar, yellow poplar is among the largest hardwood trees in the eastern region of the North American forests. These trees grow up to 160 feet with tree trunks of up to 10 feet in diameter!
The lumber of yellow poplar is clear, wide, and straight. The heartwood is pale cream to yellow-brown, punctuated with a few grey or green streaks. The sapwood is light yellow or white, with no contrasting transition from the heartwood to sapwood.
Sometimes, mineral deposits may form purples, reds, yellows, or greens in the wood grain. We call this variation rainbow poplar.
The wood becomes dark over time with exposure to light. The wood grain is straight and uniform, with a medium texture and low luster.
Yellow poplar is moderately durable to not durable at all and does not resist insect attack. This wood is moderately soft with a Janka hardness rating of 540 lbf. making it easy to work with.
The downside of yellow poplar is its softness which creates a tendency to form fuzziness when worked upon. You may resolve this issue by sanding the surface with fine-grit sandpaper.
Although yellow poplar is easily available and highly affordable, it is seldom used for its appearance, except for rainbow poplar.
We use yellow poplar for pallets, crates, upholstered furniture frames, pulpwood, and plywood. It also makes veneer for a variety of applications. Yellow poplar even makes siding for homes, as it serves as a cost-effective option to expensive woods like oak, teak, and cedar.
Thanks to its exceptionally linear growth, yellow cedar is good for making outdoor decks and especially deck posts and rails, which need to be as straight as possible.
Today, Poplar has become a number one option for woodworkers. We have featured the five best types of poplar wood that have properties favorable to a variety of woodworking projects.
However, you would have noticed that each variety of this wood has unique features of its own. Once you are familiar with the characteristic of each variety and know where you can use it best, you will find that poplar wood has much to offer.