Is Poplar Good for Carving? Is it Hardwood or Softwood?

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Given its soft and lightweight characteristics, Poplar wood is commonly chosen by woodworkers for decorative projects. It’s indeed a handy type of wood to keep in the workshop, but when it comes to wood carving, one might wonder about its suitability.

In this article, join me in delving into whether Poplar wood is a good fit for carving and will also categorize the type of lumber it falls under, providing you with comprehensive insights.

Can You Carve Poplar Easily?

You may not know, but Poplar is a soft hardwood. Because of this, you won’t experience much resistance when shaping and making intricate designs with carving tools. Its flexible construction becomes more evident, especially when compared to other hardwoods.

Besides the surface’s softness, its straight and uniform grain pattern makes it easier to carve Poplar wood.

These combined attributes certify this material’s value when used in a carving project. However, using a sharp knife and cutting along the grain is still recommended to avoid damaging its fibrous structures.

Carving using Poplar wood

The Hardness of Poplar Wood For Carving

So, is poplar wood strong? While it’s true that Poplar wood pairs well with carving tools, highlighting its hardness level can provide more insight into what projects it can handle better than other woods. 

Here’s a table detailing why this lumber differs from porous woods and most hardwoods.

Lumber Species

Janka Hardness 

White Cedar

320 lbf


510 lbf


490 lbf

Poplar Wood

540 lbf

Red Alder

590 lbf

Pros of Poplar Wood When Used for Carving

Strength & Durability

As you can see from the table, Poplar ranks lower on the hardness scale than other hardwoods. However, it features the strength that most softwood wood types lack.

Because of its combined softness and durability, you can ensure that this lumber is easy to carve and strong enough to withstand sharp tools. So even if you have early carving skills, this wood block can be an excellent practice material.

Poplar wood’s notable bending and compressive strength make it an excellent choice for constructing chair frames, such as those commonly found beneath the upholstery of sofas.

Finishes Easily with Wood Conditioner

Although it’s a favorite wood carving material, Poplar isn’t the best wood for staining. Applying stains over its bare wood grain won’t stain evenly, mainly because the lumber will absorb the finish before it can spread.

Staining poplar wood bowl

If you ask me, you can avoid staining mistakes by applying wood conditioner after the Poplar carving process.

Great Detail Work

Carving wood using softer lumber pieces won’t achieve the same intricate details Poplar can. It’s durable enough to hold its form as you crave rounded crevices and complex curves on its bare surface without breaking.

Easy to Work With (Soft)

Poplar isn’t as fragile as most softwoods and not as tough to cut as hardwoods, so it has the perfect density for wood carving and other shaping techniques. Its workability is highly ideal for newbie wood carvers.

Straight Grain Uniform Surface

In contrast to certain hardwoods, this wood possesses a straight surface grain that lends itself to easy slicing with a carving knife. When employing the appropriate cutting technique, it is unlikely to splinter during material removal.


A significant part that makes carving Poplar wood easier is its lightweight construction. Its lack of heaviness gives the woodworker more control over the construction process without exerting too much effort.

piece of poplar wood on a table

Affordable & Accessible

Another reason that makes Poplar wood good for woodworking projects is its affordability. And since it’s a cheap wood, it’s not hard to find in local hardware and home improvement stores. If you plan on using this wood, here’s a quick guide on the poplar wood prices

Beautiful Looking

Besides being easy to carve, this hardwood block has a fine grain and stunning color. Many woodworkers use this light-creamed wood because it can give a distinct aesthetic to wood carving projects like decorative spoon-making and other fine work activities.

Cons of Poplar When Used for Wood Carving

Prone to Bruises

While Poplar is an excellent wood for carving, it isn’t the most resistant to visible bruises. Handle it with caution and care to avoid unsightly damage.

Prone to Cracking

Poplar tends to crack under stress and impact when not dried correctly. For such cases, what you can do is soften the wood first.

Uneven Finish

Its porous attributes make Poplar good at absorbing wood finishes. Because of this, you must apply the product quickly, or you’ll end up with an uneven stain.


Carving Poplar Wood: A Step-by-Step Guide

Step #1: Choose the Right Block of Wood

Carving Poplar starts with finding a suitable wood specie. Buying extinct types like Black Poplar isn’t advisable. You should choose ones that can hold a basic shape, not too big or too small. On top of that, dry surfaces can be more challenging to carve.

Step #2: Make a Sketch

Visualize your carving design through a rough sketch draft. By doing this, you can minimize mistakes and wasted resources.

Step #3: Start Carving (Chiseling Out The Shape)

Start shaping the material with a chisel based on the sketch you made. After pattern outlining, shift to using the V-tool to create more refined lines and rectangular shapes.

Step #4: Utilize Precision Tools

You can refine the tiny details with precision tools like sharp carving knives as the design yields its final shape.

Woodcarving using poplar wood

Step #5: Clean And Sand the Wood

Once the carving form is final, you must smooth its surface with sandpaper or a low-speed electrical sanding machine. You also need to clean the material to avoid damage in the long run. Without staining or painting, Poplar will yield a rich brown hue.

Poplar Wood Carvings Ideas

Because of its flexibility, Poplar can be an effective material for different woodworking projects such as:

Is Poplar Wood Good for Hand Carving and Whittling?

Carving Poplar wood by hand has been an ancient tradition of native tribes residing on the East Coast, so to say that it’s an excellent material for this task is an understatement. And since this wood holds its shape well, whittling [1] won’t be a problem if you properly utilize sharp tools.

poplar vase woodcarving

How About Spoons and Power Carvings?

Although Poplar can take any form through carving, it makes poor kitchen utensils mainly because its highly porous attribute encourages bacteria buildup.

For food prep items like spoons, the hardwood selections you can consider are the ones with small dense pores or diffuse-porous woods like yellow Poplar.

And considering its hardness and strength, Poplar can withstand machine carving procedures under power tools like routers and sanders.


Poplar is a suitable choice for carving. Yet, it’s crucial to handle the material with care to ensure it holds up well against intricate cuts and finishing procedures.

To optimize your carving results, choose a premium block of Poplar wood and make sure to apply a wood conditioner properly before starting any staining process. This step will contribute to a smoother, more uniform finish on your carved piece.

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.
Robert Johnson

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