Does Poplar Warp Easily?

Warping is one of the biggest issues woodworkers face when working with lumber. Some woods warp a bit more easily than others. Their natural water resistance is what determines whether a species of wood will warp more easily than others. While most hardwoods don’t warp as easily, poplar is one of the softest hardwoods.

Not to mention it is very spongy and absorbs moisture readily. So it is natural if you are curious whether poplar will be subject to warping or not. To help you avoid any mistakes, we did the research for you and answered the question: does poplar warp easily?

Yes, poplar warps easily due to having less amount of annual rings on it. This in turn leads to the wood being less rigid and stable. Wood that has naturally water-resistant properties are also less likely to warp. This is why most hardwoods like oak and teak don’t warp easily because they are naturally water resistant. There are also softwoods like redwood that resist moisture. On the other hand, poplar is very spongy, it absorbs water very easily. This can cause poplar to warp, shrink, decay, and rot if not taken care of.

Due to poplar’s nature, people avoid staining it and paint it instead. This is because it absorbs stains unevenly due to the soft spongy spots throughout the grain. It becomes very difficult to finish poplar wood because of this property. This is why it is called a paint-grade wood because it paints better than other finishes. Though at times if the poplar sheet that you are painting is thin it might end up warping. Though in a few days it will go back to its true form. You might need to fasten it with a screw or two to help straighten it as well.

How Easily Does Poplar Warp?

When it comes to hardwoods, poplar is one of the softest due to its low Janka hardness rating. You can easily dent it and it has plenty of soft spongy spots throughout its body. These spots soak moisture so when you apply a finish like a stain on poplar it ends up uneven. Even if you apply oils, it will also absorb them unevenly. There are high chances that poplar will end up warping if you paint it. If the sheet of poplar you are working on is thin, there is a significantly higher chance it will end up warping if you try to finish it with paints or any other water-based finish.

The good news is, that after the paint or finish dries off, poplar will go back to its original form. So if you are worried about whether you should paint your poplar or not, then just make sure you straighten it using fasteners and let it dry. It will go back to how it was before it warped when it dries off in a day or two. It might take slightly longer depending on the conditions, but the average it will take to dry off is 2-3 days.

What is Stronger: Poplar or Pine?

If you take the strength of wood based on the Janka hardness rating, then poplar is ahead of pine. Though the gap isn’t too big, which is why poplar is still considerably softer. Both of them dent easily, however, pine can be stained and painted without problems.

On the other hand, you have poplar that does not take well to stains at all. It ends up with uneven blotches which is why it is called a paint-grade wood.  However, depending on the species of pine, it can be harder than poplar. Yellow pine is harder than white pine and poplar both. It rates higher around 690 in Janka hardness rating making it much stronger than both kinds of wood.

Poplar only stands at 540 on the Janka hardness scale while white pine is at 420. Though since we are comparing white pine and poplar, poplar wins in terms of strength. In terms of how easy either is to finish, pine is the clear winner. Not to mention pine is highly resistant to warpage which gives it a significant advantage over poplar.

Alternatives to Poplar

There are many alternatives to poplar that do not warp as easy and take finishes much better than it. Pine is one such wood, then we have the classic American lumber oak, and lastly, we have maple.

1. Pine

Pine is one of the best softwoods to use as an alternative to poplar. People have been using this coniferous lumber to build furniture and even use it in construction. It is very pale in colour, so aesthetically it is pretty much dull. However, pine wood takes well to stains, paints, and other finishes. So you can customize your pine furniture to your heart’s desire using various shades of stains and paints.

Not to mention it is very inexpensive and is readily available compared to most other woods. If taken care of and maintained properly, pine can last a long time. It is very easy to work with, and cutting it is pretty easy whether you use power tools or hand tools.

2. Oak

Oak is a very strong hardwood that can be used for a multitude of projects. You can use it for both furniture and cabinetry. It is a hardwood that rates higher than 1000 in Janka rating so it does not dent. Not to mention it is very resistant to water so it does not warp easily. It has large open pores that are spread uniformly. It takes well to stains, oils, and other clear coat finishes. This makes it a great alternative to not just poplar but most other woods.

The only issue is that oak is pretty expensive if you are comparing it to poplar wood. However, it is well worth its price since you are getting a lot of benefits. It is harder, it takes finishes well, and it resists warpage and shrinkage. Availability is not an issue when it comes to oak wood, the only problem is its price. So if you have the extra money, we would suggest going for oak instead of poplar.

3. Maple

Maple is one of the strongest hardwoods out there that can withstand plenty of abuse. It is the choice wood for hardwood flooring because it does not dent very easily. In fact, it is used in basketball courts and bowling alleys. If that alone does not give you an idea of how strong maple is then we don’t know what would. It is not too expensive either, however, it is harder to work with compared to poplar. So workability is slightly more difficult.

It is water-resistant and does not warp as easily as well. Though maple does not stain very well and absorbs it unevenly due to having a tight grain and narrow pores. So if you are planning on switching to maple just because poplar does not stain well then you should probably just stay with poplar and save a little money. Though as we mentioned before, maple resists warpage and is more durable than poplar.

Final Thoughts

Poplar is great lumber, but every wood has its own set of pros and cons. It is just that poplar has a slightly bigger list of cons than most other alternatives out there. Though if you know how to tackle those, it is a very beautiful wood to work with. The colourful grain patterns that you can find on poplar are aesthetically pleasing to look at. If you want to prevent poplar from warping just make sure that it does not come in contact with any moisture. In case it does end up warping, just fasten it to a straight surface and it will straighten up after drying in a day or two.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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