Is Poplar a Hardwood? + Wood Hardness

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If you are a woodworking beginner, it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed because of the options to choose from. Why are some hardwoods soft, and why are some softwoods hard? What is the best lumber for the job? 

Worry not, I have compiled a guide to answer your questions on whether or not poplar is a hardwood.

What Kind of Wood is Poplar?

Poplar is usually mistaken for softwood because its hardness resembles pine or cedar. 

However, it has a finer grain and a more pronounced wood pattern than coarsely-grained softwoods. It is usually used as material for furniture making, such as frames for cabinets, dressers, and panels.

But to set things straight, poplar is a hardwood. It comes from a deciduous tree and is not evergreen like coniferous softwoods. Contrary to its name, it does not belong to the Populus genus. 

manufacturing poplar plywood

Instead, it is from the Liriodendron genus and is a dioecious plant, which means that male and female flowers are grown on separate plants, and the wind later pollinates the seeds.

In terms of hardness, it scores a bit higher than some soft wood variants like white pine but is well below most hardwood types. This ranks it as one of the softest hardwoods on the Janka Scale.

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Poplar Wood Hardness in the Janka Scale

To better grasp the hardness rating, we recommend the Janka Scale. It is a standard measurement used in the production industry. 

Poplar wood texture

The higher the number is on the scale, the harder the lumber is. For reference, common poplars sit at around 540 pound-force (lbf) [1], and below are some of the Janka numbers for other common woods:

What is Poplar Used For?

Poplars are usually used as framing for furniture hidden by upholstery. The most common is frames for cabinets and dressers that are later finished with plywood or other hardwoods for their exterior. 

It is also used for making pallets, shipping crates, and other utility equipment that bank on strength and durability rather than appearance.

Poplar wood

Unlike most hardwoods, it may not be renowned for its overall aesthetic appeal. However, certain species, like rainbow poplar, exhibit a diverse array of hues when stained or exposed to sunlight for an extended period. 

Woodturners often utilize them to craft plates, bowls, and other exquisite artisanal merchandise.

Projects Using Poplar Wood

You might be wondering which woodwork projects is poplar good for. Seasoned woodworkers use it for cabinets, toys, and wood turnings because it is easy to work with and highly affordable. 

Poplar wood furniture is the usual pick because it holds nails, screws, glue, and even paint well. It has a straight, muted grain and a cream to yellowish-brown color, making it ideal for cabinetry and interior trim. Its low density and porosity, however, make it hard to sand.

building furniture with stained poplar wood

Is poplar wood strong? The family handyman would go for this affordable hard wood because it is lightweight and easy to work with, as well as its high resistance to wear, tear, insects and rot.

Poplar Wood in the Yard

What is quite confusing about poplars is that their scientific classification is split in two. “True” poplars belong to the genus Populus, which includes aspens and cottonwoods, while common yellow poplar belongs to the genus Liriodendron.

As a yard tree, true poplars are tough and easy to grow. They are tall and upright, and their leaves change with the season. 

person stacking poplar wood

Once they mature, they have an impressive landscape appearance. Its aggressive root system needs usual tending as it can crowd out other plants in the area and even reach sewer and pipelines if left unmaintained.

During autumn, the female poplars produce many fluffy seeds that can litter the yard. If you have no time to look after them, it is best to get a male variety.

FAQ

Is poplar a strong wood?

Yes, poplar is a strong wood. It has greater compressive and bending strength and density than other woods, which makes it a usual pick for furniture making.

Is poplar as strong as oak?

No, poplar is not as strong as oak. Oak is a hardwood that is relatively more dense and durable and also more expensive.

Is poplar wood harder than pine?

Yes, poplar wood is harder than pine. Even though the former is a soft tropical hardwood, it has a Janka hardness value of 540 pound-force (lbf), which is higher than the latter in general. More of the poplar and pine comparison here!

Conclusion

Poplar is indeed a hardwood, as it comes from trees that shed their leaves each year. I understand why some might think it’s a softwood since it’s not as tough as some other hardwoods. 

But trust me, it’s definitely harder than softwoods like pine and cedar. Plus, it’s affordable and commonly used for cabinet and dresser frames.

(See Also: Is Pine a Hardwood or a Softwood?)

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Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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