If there is an underrated workhorse in the wood shop, it might just be poplar. Now, before the grumblings start, hear me out! Yeah, poplar has its cons, but there are also plenty of pros that make it worth your consideration.
Con—Poplar is soft. With a Janka hardness rating of only 540, Poplar is surpassed by most every other common hardwood. This makes poplar more vulnerable as table tops or areas of high usage. I explain it to customers this way: when you’re picking up the dinner dishes and the butter knife falls off the plate, that’s gonna leave a mark!
Con—Poplar blotches. Yes, this is true. Poplar is notorious for staining issues. But at the same time, I’ve seen countless items made with Poplar that overcame this challenge with stunning results! So, with a little planning, and maybe a little YouTube, this “con” can be managed. (The sample in the header is stained poplar! So is the headboard below.)
Pro—Inexpensive. Even though we’ve seen a recent price increase on Poplar (as with most woods), Poplar is still one of the most affordable hardwoods available.
One last photo before this Poplar loft bed makes way for more grown-up furniture. This sturdy structure held up beautifully for over 10 years (as evidenced by the collection of dust between the slates).
Pro—Grain. Poplar is not just for painting! Poplar has a mild grain pattern that is easy on the eyes and easy to integrate into great, new designs.
Pro—Easy to work with. Unlike Red Oak—another low-cost, woodworking staple—Poplar resists tear out and is easier on bits and blades.
“But Poplar is green!” as in it, literally, has bold streaks of green running through it—and often purple, red, and black. Boards with these characteristics are often referred to as Southern Poplar or Rainbow Poplar. Here’s the thing… Those colors won’t last. Wood naturally darkens with age and these bold (and beautiful) shades will turn brown over time. (Except for black. The black will stay.)
Some years back, we built a 16’ long cabinet in the shop—mostly from scrap woods. 95% of the face frames are poplar (with a piece of red oak and ash thrown in). ALL of the doors and drawer faces are Poplar. Since it was just for us, we didn’t bother putting finish on it. 1) All the greens are now brown--some, very brown! And 2) it’s held up surprisingly well to a lot of abuse over the years.
The bright green streaks in this poplar have aged to a golden brown. (Our shop cabinets, unfinished, and heavily used!)
Don’t be afraid to add this underrated workhorse to your projects. You’ll surely enjoy the ease of working with Poplar and might just surprise yourself with the finished results!