Is Poplar Wood Strong? Is it a Hardwood or Softwood?

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Poplar wood finds its place in various woodworking projects, but if you’re seeking long-lasting and robust lumber for a specific endeavor, you might question whether poplar wood possesses the strength required to endure.

To provide clarity on this matter, let me uncover its true capabilities, helping you discern whether it’s versatile enough to meet the demands of your indoor and outdoor woodworking projects.

How Strong is Poplar?

If you’re considering the strength of poplar wood, you’ll want to look at its compressive strength, density, stiffness, hardness, and bending strength. About the density, the higher it is, the stronger it is—which is why poplar’s specific gravity of 0.42 makes it a very strong wood. 

Poplar log

It has higher values than many softwoods and certain hardwoods. All these factors are put together to make it one of the strongest woods out there. Just be aware that compared to other hardwoods, poplar is slightly softer and not as strong. 

Compressive strength

5540psi

Density

0.42

Bending strength

10100psi

Hardness

540lb

Stiffness

1.58Mpsi

Is Poplar Wood Ideal For Furniture-Making Strength-Wise?

Despite being more delicate than other hardwoods, a poplar is good for furniture making. It offers a high degree of dimensional stability and is easy to work with, making it ideal for carpentry tasks. (But is poplar good for outdoor use? Read more here!)

building furniture with stained poplar wood

However, when working with poplar, ensure that your equipment is well-honed as using blunt cutting tools might cause the wood to tear readily. 

You should also feed slowly when drilling or doing alternative carpentry activities and use sandpapers with a fine grit beginning with 80 grit, followed by 150, then 300, and ultimately 400 grit for improved refinement before staining. 

Following these tips will allow you to create strong, poplar furniture suitable for both indoor and outdoor uses. 

Benefits and Drawbacks of Poplar for Furniture Pieces

In the realm of woodworking and furniture design, the choice of materials plays a crucial role in determining the final product’s functionality, aesthetics, and durability. 

Poplar wood surface making furniture

One such material, poplar, presents a unique blend of advantages and disadvantages that can impact the overall quality and longevity of furniture pieces. 

In the following section, let’s delve into the benefits and drawbacks of utilizing poplar for constructing furniture, providing an expert and informative overview to guide your decision-making process.

What I Like

What I Don't Like

Is Poplar Wood Strong Enough for Building Bookshelves?

Among the best wood for shelves, poplar is the perfect choice for bookshelves, as it is hard enough to fulfill the purpose without being too expensive. 

Its toughness surpasses white pine yet remains inferior to yellow pine, making it effortless to handle and paint. So, between poplar vs pine, the former is a good choice of wood. 

After building the shelf, I suggest finishing it with either polyurethane or paint, which will increase its lifespan. Poplar is also a fantastic option for bookshelves because of its high grade and strength. 

So if you are looking to use woodworking skills and create a bookshelf yourself, using Poplar is a great choice! Simply ensure to sand and apply the finishing product to achieve optimal outcomes.

Poplar bookshelves

The most effective alternatives to using poplar for bookcases are:

Is Poplar Strong Enough For Making a Bed?

Renowned for its robustness and enduring nature, poplar wood emerges as an ideal choice for crafting bed frames and other interior furniture pieces. But for other options, here’s a list of the best wood for bed frames and slats!

Poplar bed frame

This remarkable material boasts prominent grain patterns and can be found in lengths of up to 16 feet, simplifying the assembly process and minimizing difficulties. 

Furthermore, the exceptional resistance to shrinkage and impressive strength exhibited by poplar make it even more attractive for use in interior furnishings, particularly when compared to other types of softwoods.

Coupled with its consistent color and texture, poplar offers an attractive balance of aesthetics and functionality that lends itself well to a wide range of furniture applications.

How Hard Are Poplar Lumbers?

Although classified as a hardwood, poplar is comparatively softer than the majority of other hardwoods. It does, however, rank higher than softwoods on the test value of Janka’s hardness [1], which gives us an indication of its strength. 

In comparison to other hardwoods, poplar wood has a lower rating of 540. Because of this, it has poor resistance to denting and wear.

cutting poplar lumber

Type of Wood

Value of Janka Hardness

Grades

Balsa

310

Very Soft

White Pine

1900

Very Soft

Poplar

2400 N (540 lbf)

Soft

Chestnut

2400

Soft

Douglas Fir

2900

Soft

Mahogany

3600

Firm

Cherry

4200

Firm

Walnut

4500

Firm

Birch

5600

Somewhat Hard

Ash

5900

Somewhat Hard

White Oak

6000

Hard

Rosewood

7900

Hard

Golden Teak

10400

Extremely Hard

Ebony

14300

Extremely Hard

Cumaru

15470

Exceedingly Hard

Ebony (Brazilian)

16420

Exceedingly Hard

Poplar Wood vs Pine: Which is Stronger?

Poplar wood’s heightened durability, in comparison to pine, is underscored by its Janka hardness rating of 540 lbf, surpassing white pine, which boasts a rating of 420 lbf. 

It’s worth mentioning that there are different variations of pine, like yellow pine, with hardness values that can go as high as 870 lbf, demonstrating a wide range within the pine family in terms of hardness.

Although yellow pine’s strength approaches that of poplar, pine wood tends to be more prone to denting, cracking, and splitting during the drying process.

Poplar wood

Furthermore, pine’s susceptibility to temperature fluctuations renders it less suitable for various applications. As a result, poplar emerges as a more favorable choice for both exterior and interior furniture, owing to its superior durability and strength.

Poplar vs Oak: Which is Better?

Examining the Janka Hardness values reveals a substantial difference between oakwood and poplar wood, with oakwood boasting a robust rating of 1290 lbf in comparison to poplar’s 540 lbf. 

This disparity indicates that oakwood possesses greater durability and dependability for various applications. Nonetheless, poplar wood offers its own set of advantages, including its unblemished, straight grain free of knots. 

pine vs oakwood

This characteristic makes poplar more amenable to bending and shaping, which proves especially beneficial in crafting shelving, framing, and pathways. 

Consequently, despite oakwood’s superior hardness, poplar wood’s unique attributes make it an attractive choice for specific woodworking projects.

FAQ

What is poplar wood good for?

Poplar wood is good for furniture, cabinets, wooden toys, and plywood. Although it technically belongs to the hardwood family, it is easy to work with, just like pine boards or other softwoods.

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Conclusion

Poplar wood is undeniably robust and a favored hardwood choice for woodworking projects. Its exceptional workability makes it an excellent option for newcomers to the craft, and it can be skillfully employed in crafting a variety of items, from bookshelves to bed frames and more. Its inherent strength positions it as a credible substitute for more prevalent hardwoods.

Considering poplar wood for your upcoming woodworking project is a wise choice, and you can expect the results to meet your expectations admirably.

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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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