Is Poplar Good for Outdoor Use?

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Poplar is a popular choice for many woodworking projects due to its affordability, versatility, and ease of use. 

However, when it comes to outdoor use, there are several factors to consider, such as durability, resistance to decay, and ability to withstand harsh weather conditions. So, if you’re curious if poplar is good for outdoor use, keep reading to find out.

Is Poplar Ideal to Use for Exterior Furniture?

In most cases, poplar is not ideal for exterior furniture due to its low natural durability and susceptibility to decay and insect damage. However, it can still be used for outdoor furniture if properly treated and maintained. 

For example, a poplar outdoor bench can last several years if coated with a protective finish and regularly sealed against moisture and other outdoor elements.

Benefits of Using Poplar for Outdoors

While it may not be the most durable or naturally resistant wood for outdoor use, poplar still offers several benefits that make it a popular choice for many woodworkers. Let’s explore some key advantages of using poplar for outdoor projects.


High Density

Poplar is a dense hardwood with a tight, uniform grain structure, making it resistant to water penetration and less likely to swell or shrink with changes in humidity. 

The high density of poplar wood makes it less susceptible to moisture absorption, warping, and splitting. It is an excellent choice for outdoor projects that require stable and durable wood.

Closed Grain Wood

Compared to open-grain woods like oak or ash lumber, poplar’s closed grain means that it has a smoother surface that is less likely to trap dirt, water, or other outdoor debris that can lead to decay or rot. 

This makes poplar easier to clean and maintain and less likely to be affected by moisture-related problems that can compromise the wood’s structural integrity. 

milling Poplar wood

Furthermore, poplar’s closed grain makes it a great candidate for painting or staining, allowing the wood to have a more uniform appearance with a smooth finish.

It’s Softer Compared to Other Hardwoods

The fact that poplar is a relatively soft hardwood compared to other popular outdoor wood choices like oak or cedar may not seem like an advantage at first. However, this characteristic can make poplar more desirable for certain outdoor applications.

For example, the softer nature of poplar makes it easier to work with using standard woodworking tools, such as saws, drills, and sanders, which allows woodworkers to shape and customize poplar for their specific outdoor projects easily. 

Besides, the softer nature of poplar can also make it more forgiving when it comes to expansion and contraction due to changes in temperature and humidity. 

This can be especially important for outdoor furniture or structures exposed to various weather conditions.

Poplar rough cut

Overall, while the softness of poplar may not make it the most durable choice for outdoor use, it can offer some benefits in terms of ease of use, customization, and appearance.

Light in Weight

Poplar’s light weight is a benefit for outdoor use because it makes the wood easier to work with and handle during construction, which can save time and effort. It can also make transporting and shipping more economical, reducing the overall cost of a project. 

Finally, poplar’s lightweight can be advantageous for projects that require a lightweight material, such as outdoor furniture that needs to be moved around frequently or structures like treehouses or swing sets that require a sturdy yet lightweight frame.

Drawbacks of Using Poplar for Outdoors

Prone to Water Damage

Poplar wood is prone to water damage due to its low natural resistance to moisture. When exposed to water, poplar can absorb moisture, causing it to swell and potentially warp or crack over time.

Poplar bookshelves

The softness of poplar wood can make it more vulnerable to dents, scratches, and other types of damage from water or moisture, especially when it has not been properly treated or sealed to protect against water damage.

Prone to Scratches and Dents

While poplar wood can make it easy to work with and shape, it also means it’s more vulnerable to damage from everyday wear and tear. So, poplar may not be the best choice for outdoor projects requiring high durability and resistance to physical damage. 

However, if properly treated and maintained, poplar can still be a viable option for outdoor use, especially for projects less likely to be heavy wear and tear. 

Steps to Finishing Poplar for Outdoor Use

Finishing poplar for outdoor use requires a few essential steps to protect the wood from the elements and enhance its natural beauty. We suggest following the steps below: 

Step #1: Polish and Clean the Wood

Start by using a soft-bristled brush or a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment to remove any dust or debris from the surface of the wood. Make sure to remove any debris from the pores and crevices of the wood.

clean wood surface

Next, dampen a soft cloth with water or a gentle wood cleaner, and use it to wipe down the surface of the wood. Make sure to wipe with the grain of the wood, and avoid getting the wood too wet.

If there are any stains or spots on the wood, use a wood cleaner or a mixture of water and vinegar to remove them. Apply the cleaner or mixture to the affected area, and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it away with a damp cloth.

Lastly, use fine-grit sandpaper to sand the surface of the wood lightly. Sanding helps to smooth out any rough spots or uneven areas on the surface of the wood.

Step #2: Coat With a Wood Conditioner

Coating poplar with a wood conditioner do ensures the wood absorbs the finish evenly and prevents blotching. 

Using a brush or a clean cloth, apply a liberal coat of wood conditioner to the surface of the poplar wood. Apply the conditioner evenly and work it into the wood fibers.

apply wood conditioner to Poplar

Allow the wood conditioner to penetrate the wood for the recommended amount of time, usually between 5 and 15 minutes, depending on the brand. Then, wipe off any excess conditioner with a clean cloth.

Step #3: Wait Until Dry

After the wood conditioner has dried, lightly sand the surface of the wood again with a fine-grit sandpaper. Doing so will help to smooth out any raised grain and prepare the wood for the finish.

It is best to wait until the wood conditioner is fully dry before applying the finish. This will ensure that the finish adheres well to the wood, absorbs evenly, and produces a smooth and beautiful final product.

Step #4: Stain the Wood

Staining poplar wood can improve its appearance, even out the color, highlight the natural grain patterns, and provide additional protection from UV damage. It is a simple and effective way to enhance the natural beauty of the wood and create a stunning finished product.

apply stain on Poplar wood

Using a brush or a clean cloth, apply the wood stain to the poplar wood, working with the grain of the wood. Be sure to apply the stain evenly and thoroughly, ensuring no drips or puddles.

Step #5: Allow the Wood to Fully Dry

In general, you should allow the wood to dry for at least 24-48 hours in a warm, dry, and well-ventilated area, away from direct sunlight or heat sources. You can check whether the wood is fully dry by touching it lightly and seeing if it feels cool or damp. 

If it does, you should allow it more time to dry before proceeding with the finishing process. Allowing the poplar wood to dry fully is an important step in the finishing process that helps to ensure a successful and long-lasting finish. 

Step #6: Stain Again and Wait for it to Dry

Depending on the desired color and intensity of the stain, you may need to apply a second or even a third coat, following the same process as before and allowing each coat to dry fully before applying the next.

dry stain on Poplar wood

Once the stain has fully dried, apply a sealer or topcoat to the poplar wood to protect it and enhance the finished appearance. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific sealer or topcoat product used.

Does Poplar Have Natural Rot Resistance?

Poplar does not have its natural rot resistance. It is considered a non-durable wood species and is susceptible to rot, decay, and insect infestation if left untreated and exposed to moisture for prolonged periods.

However, proper treatment and finishing techniques can make poplar wood more resistant to rot and decay. 

Outdoor Furniture Pieces You Can Do With Poplar

With its versatility and affordability, poplar can be a great choice for any outdoor project. Here are some ideas for outdoor furniture pieces that you can create with poplar:

deck furniture


Whether you’re a seasoned woodworker or just starting, poplar is good for outdoor use and your next project. While it may not have natural rot resistance, it can still be protected with the right finish and maintenance. 

So, if you’re looking for an affordable and versatile wood that can stand up to the elements, consider giving poplar a try. 

Robert Johnson is a woodworker who takes joy in sharing his passion for creating to the rest of the world. His brainchild, Sawinery, allowed him to do so as well as connect with other craftsmen. He has since built an enviable workshop for himself and an equally impressive online accomplishment: an extensive resource site serving old timers and novices alike.
Robert Johnson
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