Walnut vs Poplar Woods Compared

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There are many substitutes to walnut wood but poplar is not one of them. It might seem a strange way to start a comparison post between these two diverse types of wood. But as you read on, you will realize why we compare both types of wood here.

Walnut wood and poplar need no introduction. They are both widely used across the United States, each one for particular reasons. While walnut has good looks and is an expensive wood, poplar is its plain distant relative. However, both woods enjoy wide popularity in woodworking projects, although we need to consider the varying properties while using them.

Walnut vs Poplar

If you don’t want walnut due to the cost factor, you can use some other types of wood also. There is a species of walnut called “rustic walnut” which can also be quite useful and looks good as well.

Poplar on the other hand is a cheap option not similar to walnut in a variety of ways.  Unlike walnut, poplar doesn’t take stain easily and tends to become blotchy when stained. However, it holds paint rather well.

Poplar is much softer than walnut. It is softer than most other hardwoods. Although walnut doesn’t present any challenges for handling and uses you would need to think carefully about handling poplar and where to use it.

Walnut: Background

Natural African walnut quarter cut wood texture background

Walnut trees come in several different varieties but you will find only a few of them growing in the United States. The most commonly-occurring species of walnut is eastern black walnut, (Juglans nigra) which we also call American walnut or American black walnut.

Walnuts are edible nuts and they make a tasty snack or garnish. They are consumed with great relish the world over. Walnut wood is fine with an attractive color and woodworkers covet it for its color and the varied wood grain patterns.

You can work with walnut easily but the wood can be either expensive or highly expensive.

Poplar: Background

unfinished poplar wood texture - horizontal narrow planks

You will find poplar trees growing in the eastern part of the United States. They play a prominent role in landscaping. These are tall trees and you will see them reach up to 160 feet with tree trunk diameters up to a whopping 8 feet!

Poplar is a very plain-looking wood but if you stain it appropriately you can make it look better. However, staining poplar also is a bit of a challenge and you need a bit of experience to do it.

With a Janka hardness rating of 540 lbf. poplar is one of the softest hardwoods you can find after perhaps balsa. Because of its inherent softness, you won’t find poplar used in any furniture parts which are subject to wear and tear. Instead, you may see this wood in upholstered furniture.

We also use poplar to make wooden toys, pallets, crates, and for making plywood and cabinets. Poplar can be dyed or installed in locations out of the line of sight. However, this wood is an easy one to work with and you can procure it easily.

It serves well as construction lumber and makes reasonably good plywood.

Walnut vs Poplar: Appearance

Walnut is a striking wood with a dark, chocolate color, but it also comes in lighter shades. You can occasionally see shades of red, purple, or gray in this wood. The sapwood is pale to the extent of even looking white.

Walnut’s wood grain is straight, but you may see figuring patterns sometimes like crotch, burl, and curl. The surface of walnut wood is smooth and it exhibits a natural luster. You won’t see walnut being stained with an opaque color because that would hide its natural beauty.

Poplar is light, with an extremely low density, and its greenish hue may not appeal to several people. It is not a wood well-known for good looks, so you will commonly find poplar used in combination with other better-looking woods.

Due to its “out-of-sight” location, poplar is frequently left on its own without a wood finish.

Walnut vs Poplar: Durability

We usually use black walnut for indoor purposes. Although walnut resists rot and moisture to a great extent, it will not withstand attack from insects. So, we don’t use it outdoors.

Poplar is more durable than walnut in quite a few ways, particularly if you use the heartwood. But it will not withstand insect attack.

Walnut vs Poplar: Maintenance

Walnut wood is not an easy wood to maintain unless you have some prior experience. You can perform some basic cleaning operations on it using soap water and a cloth. But if you have to reapply the finish then you would need a bit of experience. You can oil, wax or polish walnut to prolong its life expectancy.

Poplar also makes good furniture but it is not likely to stand up to heavy loads. So, you won’t find dining room or living room furniture made from poplar wood. However, if you want to make light furniture such as footstools or center tables, poplar is a suitable choice.

Walnut vs Poplar: Workability and Uses

Solid wood table isolated on white background

In terms of workability, you will find both walnut and poplar easy to work with. With walnut, the straight-grained sections work well with hand and machine tools. But in the parts where the grain interlocks, you may find some difficulty.

Walnut accepts staining, finish, and glue well. But as we mentioned above, it will only have a transparent or semi-transparent finish. This is so that the natural beauty of the wood can be highlighted.

You will get some of the best furniture in the world from walnut. It also makes good flooring, cutting boards, kitchen counters, and cabinets.

Poplar is an extremely soft type of wood but then, it is highly prone to wear and tear. Because of its low density, you may notice a fuzz developing on the surface when you cut or sand it with high-speed machines. You can remedy it by sanding it down with fine-grit sandpaper which eliminates the fuzz.

Poplar does not come due to its good looks but rainbow poplar is an exception. Due to its striking wood grain and contrasting colors, it is a variety high in demand and it is expensive too.

But generally speaking, poplar tends to exhibit dull, gray shades which do not attract much attention. The best way of looking at poplar is to consider it as a “utility” wood.

We use it to make upholstered furniture, and as backing material for the inside of wooden structures. Poplar also finds use in the plywood and paper industries.

Table top for a table made of poplar burl wood and transparent epoxy resin.

Walnut vs Poplar: Price

Walnut enjoys wide popularity across the United States and you can procure it easily. But as we mentioned above, you may not find too many sufficiently wide boards of this wood. So, you may find yourself looking for some substitutes like for instance, mahogany. Walnut is more expensive than many other hardwoods.

Poplar is a wood that is readily available all across the United States, just like walnut. However, it lacks the striking good looks of walnut and is infinitely softer. Therefore, it is much cheaper than walnut wood.

Walnut vs Poplar: Sustainability

Walnut wood is an expensive wood type. However, it does not feature on any of the lists of endangered wood species.

Poplar is one of the cheapest wood that you can find and it is sustainably harvested.

Walnut vs Poplar: Comparison Table




Botanical name Juglans nigra   Liriodendron tulipifera
Color Chocolate to dark brown Light grey with a greenish cast
Durability Moderately durable  Moderately durable but no resistance to rot or insects
Hardness (Janka Scale) 1,010 lbf.  540 lbf.
Strength Strong wood  Needs extra support
Maintenance Low maintenance  Medium maintenance
Price Medium to high-priced Cheap
Suitability for outdoors Not suitable for outdoors Not suitable for outdoors
Suitability for wood carving Suitable for carving No
Workability Easy to work with Easy but leaves fuzzy edges
Smell Faint odor while cutting Odorless
Availability Easily available Easily available
Special features if any No special features No special features



Between walnut and poplar, which type of wood would you choose? Well, due to the wide difference between the two types of wood it is less of a toss-up rather than using a combination of both woods to complement each other.

For example, let’s say you have a project that uses mostly walnut. Perhaps in places like the bottom of a drawer or the insides of a cabinet., you could use poplar to provide a backing to the walnut wood.

Having discussed all these facts about walnut vs poplar, you can probably now go ahead and use both of these woods equally well in your next woodworking project.