Poplar is a species of wood popular in making cabinets, furniture, plywood, wooden toys, and more. Although considered one of the hardwood types, poplar wood is easy to work with – just like pine boards and similar softwoods.
As this wood is a great option for interior work, many people wonder why is poplar so cheap?
High-quality woods are better for legacy furniture or custom projects whereas cheap woods are selected for experimental or mass-produced projects. Besides being cheap, is poplar fit for high-end works?
Reasons For Poplar Being Cheap
Poplar falters when it comes to density but it also makes this wood a good option for delicate works. This wood is flexible but features a uniform texture and straight grain.
Since it seems so great on paper, you may be confused about its low-end price tag.
Let’s discuss the primary reasons poplar is so cheap.
- Fast-Growing Tree
The Poplar tree grows like a weed – incredibly fast. There are about 25 to 30 these deciduous flowering plants in the world that are commonly used and farmed as ornamental plants. Each year a tree gains up to 3-5 feet in height.
By its maturity, which comes in only 8 to 9 years, a poplar tree can be 70 feet. Thanks to its growth rate, poplar is one of the most commonly used woods in the world.
Originating in the Northern hemisphere, poplar has a distinct set of traits.
It is easy to farm and can be used to build almost anything. Since there is no pruning necessary, poplar has gained popularity amongst farmers.
Poplar is widely available globally, mainly due to how easy it is to grow and nurture these trees. Unlike fussy trees that require certain conditions to grow, poplar demands less and grows well.
Naturally, rarer woods are priced on the higher end of the spectrum.
While poplar is a cheap hardwood, it is not the cheapest.
A big reason behind its pricing is its softness which makes it less stable and less durable than its competitor hardwoods.
On average, a board foot of poplar wood goes for $5.00.
Keep in mind that the price of lumber is based on numerous variables, such as the kinds of poplar wood, quantity, and quality.
Another factor that weighs is whether the lumber is native to your region.
Despite being a hardwood by nature, poplar is amongst the softest woods used to make cabinets. You can as much as look at poplar lumber the wrong way and it would bend.
Poplar’s features include less dense, wider annual rings that take away its stability. Given its weed-like formation, poplar has a habit of warping, swelling, and twisting with humidity and moisture.
In addition to the expansion and swelling, it also constricts upon drying. Constant movement like that causes the paint to chip and crack.
Over time, you may notice that your doors are not latching properly.
Moreover, poplar does not get a nice stain. Its natural unique blend of colors is not considered pleasant and does not bode well with stain.
That also means that poplar is not a suitable substitute for pricier woods.
Is Poplar Good?
Poplar is frequently overlooked because of the name and fame of its two cousins: Oak and Pine.
Pine is generally used as softwood since it is easy to work with and affordable; many carpenters and woodworkers exclusively get Pine for mid-range furniture.
Manufacturers can claim the finished product is completely wood at the cheapest price.
On the other hand, oak has been used to make high-end projects for ages and is appreciated for its excellent durability and finish.
When carpenters and woodworkers think of poplar, the first word that they associate with the lumber will certainly not be “quality.” Poplar displays an interesting multi-colored grain design that has a strong hint of green.
As a result, stains do not go on easily as the two colors reflect it differently. You would not consider the final results “aesthetic” in any case.
Additionally, poplar is prone to denting, scratching, and tearing, and therefore not the best to build high-quality furniture. All these factors contribute to its low pricing.
However, this type of wood continues to be in high usage across the world. Why?
Because poplar wood is one of the easiest and nicest materials for newbie woodworkers to polish their skills. Its malleable nature makes it a primary choice for domestic woodworking equipment.
Plus, since it is so cheap, it is a great lumber to practice on.
The density of wood increases with its hardness. The greater the density and hardness, the more the strength. A big con of this is that “harder” wood is also harder to cut into.
Thankfully, even though it qualifies as a hardwood, poplar is relatively soft and easy to maneuver.
Since poplar is still a hardwood, it does not warp or shrink as much as regular softwoods do, so it is more stable.
Poplar would be a wise choice for projects that require precision and is an excellent wood to make toys, cabinets, and ornate furniture projects.
Stains might not agree with poplar but paint surely does. Its medium density trait allows glue and paints to stick very well. Overall, poplar is a leading utility hardwood for a reason.
Poplar wood cannot tolerate a lot but that does not mean it is a bad wood. Lumbers vary in their uses and poplar is something you would not get as a primary frame for structures that need a lot of strength.
A beginner woodworker will surely enjoy the benefits poplar has to offer.
And from an environmental point of view, its fast-growing nature makes poplar wood a renewable and sustainable option. If you are interested in this wood, I really want you to watch this beginners guide.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
No, poplar is not a high-grade wood, but its uniform texture and straight grain facilitate high-quality finishes.
Regardless of its soft tropical characteristics, poplar is a stronger wood than pine. Its Janka hardness value rounds up to 540 lbf (pound-force), while white pine wood’s Janka value stands at 420 lbs.
Having said that, there are multiple variants of pine wood and some are stronger than its poplar counterparts.
A few of the cheapest hardwoods are Poplar, Maple, Oak, Ash, and Alder.
Poplar is a durable species and can be used to create different shapes and sizes of cabinets.
Birch is more resistant than Poplar. Owing to its attractive pattern and durable build, birch is preferred for furniture that does not require paint coating.
With every feature we went over above, it is clear why is poplar so cheap. Poplar has a few characteristics that make this lumber a no-go when it comes to high-quality, high-end woodwork.
But it does better as secondary lumber – for cabinet structure, moldings, and hidden furniture parts among others.
That being said, there are plenty of options on the market that are cheaper, easier to work with, and more durable.