People often confuse hardwoods to be harder than softwoods. The hardness of wood depends on how much they rate on the Janka hardness scale. The Janka rating of wood tells us how easily a wood can dent with pressure. Poplar is a wood that is not coniferous but deciduous, meaning it is categorised as hardwood. However, it is rated pretty low on the Janka rating, which means it is soft. Though, how does it fare against other hardwoods and softwoods? Is poplar a good choice if we compare it to other types of woods? In this article we will find out how strong poplar wood is.
Poplar is not that strong of lumber, it rates 540 on the Janka hardness scale. It is quite stronger than a lot of softwoods though. To name a few commonly used woods, poplar is stronger than: pine, cedar, cypress, Western red cedar, and cedar. It, however, is weaker than oak, maple, douglas fir, teak, cherry, and ash.
Poplar is not chosen usually because of its strength though, but because of its character. It has quite a unique grain colour, which depends on the minerals it has absorbed from the soil the tree grew in. So you can find poplar in brown, green, purple and even rainbow coloured grain. Not to mention it is very inexpensive and is still strong enough for many projects. The poplar with the unique shaded grain is slightly more expensive though. The unique colours of poplar make it the go-to wood for projects that require an artistic touch.
How Strong is Poplar Wood Compared to Other Woods?
If you compare poplar to hardwoods, it falls way behind in strength. It is one of the softest hardwoods that you can find. However, if you compare it to woods in general that are used commonly, then it is moderate. It also has great workability, which is one of the pros of using poplar for your projects. Let us compare a few woods with poplar and see how it competes with them in strength.
1. Poplar Vs. Red Oak
The first go-to hardwood for most people is red oak, and that too for a good reason. It is on the higher end of the Janka hardness rating, coming at about 1290. Red oak is slightly less expensive than white oak, though white oak has superb water resistance. Depending on the use people opt for either red or white oak, for instance, if you are building kitchen cabinetry and flooring, white oak is the way to go. For indoor furniture and woodworking projects, red oak is more than enough.
Poplar is super weak in comparison as it can be dented if you press your nail against it with enough strength. However, price-wise, poplar is clearly more reasonable. Not to mention, poplar has more options in the shade of the grain. Also, it has narrow pores, which aren’t as visible as the pores on oak which are pretty big and can be seen with the naked eye.
So in terms of how strong poplar is compared to red oak, red oak is the clear winner.
2. Poplar Vs. Pine
Pine is one of the most commonly used softwoods for furniture and other projects. It is very readily available and is very cheap compared to other woods. There are other species of pine that are more expensive and hard to source. These also have a lot higher Janka hardness rating making them pretty strong. Though we are talking specifically about the common pine, which has a Janka rating of 420.
In terms of strength, if you compare poplar to pine, poplar comes out on top. It has a higher rating on the Janka scale and it is also more colourful. Pine is pretty pale and does not have a lot of character. Though pine does take stains and other finishes better than poplar, so there is that in its favour. Poplar is slightly more expensive, since it is harder and stronger than pine.
3. Poplar Vs. Maple
Maple is one of the best hardwoods for flooring purposes. It is very dense and can take abuse pretty well. It is the choice wood for making basketball courts and bowling alleys. Both of these sports can put a lot of stress on any other wood. So maple is pretty strong and can hold its own against other lumber with higher Janka rating. Not to mention maple has an array of unique grain patterns. The tiger wave grain pattern on maple is much sought after for artisan furniture.
So when it comes to which is stronger between poplar and maple, then maple takes the win. Poplar has a lot of character, it has a beautiful grain pattern that can be found in various shades. So it has that advantage over maple, but other than that, it is pretty strong compared to poplar.
4. Poplar vs. Red Cedar
Western red cedar is the go-to lumber for outdoor fencing and roof cladding. It is extremely durable against weather conditions and can outlast most other softwoods. People use cedar for a variety of purposes, which includes but are not limited to making birdhouses, fencing, decking, and making tool handles. People have been using red cedar for years now for its weather-resistant qualities.
Compared to poplar when it comes to strength alone, poplar is better than red cedar. The red cedar wood is only popular because of its qualities, not due to its strength. It is decent and can withstand weight but poplar has the advantage as it is much tougher. Though since poplar is very weak against water and moisture in general, red cedar is the more popular choice of wood.
5. Poplar Vs. Southern Yellow Pine
Yellow pine is from the same species of softwood as white pine. However, it is much stronger compared to it, with a Janka rating well over 800. It is very strong and can withstand abuse quite well. It also has other qualities which put it ahead of white pine in a lot of situations. Though it is slightly more expensive and harder to source compared to the more common species of pine.
On the Janka hardness scale, the yellow pine is ahead if you compare it to poplar in terms of strength alone. However, that is not all, it is much better when it comes to finishing as it takes it evenly. Meanwhile, poplar always ends up blotchy with most finishes unless you use something like wood conditioner to help.
Pros and Cons of Poplar Wood
- It has a reasonable price, it is slightly more expensive than pine, but it is very cheap compared to oak and maple.
- The grain of poplar can be found in various shades, from green, brown, and purple to rainbow. The colour of the grain pattern depends on the minerals it has absorbed from the soils, which is why some poplar woods that have exotic colored grain are more expensive than the plain ones.
- It is very workable, it cuts easily, and you can drive nails and fasteners into it without effort whatsoever.
- It is a paint-grade wood, so it is great for projects that require you to paint them.
- It has terrible water resistance, it absorbs water very readily. It has soft spongy spots all over the grain which absorb moisture.
- It does not take well to stain and can end up blotchy if you don’t take care.
- Sanding poplar causes it to fuzz up unless you use a high enough grit to smoothen it out.
- It can warp quite easily, even if you just apply paint on a thin sheet of poplar. However, it does come back to its true form quite easily as well.
Poplar is a very underestimated lumber and a lot of people don’t use it for their woodworking projects. However, as we have said multiple times, it has a lot of character thanks to its colourful grain patterns. It is an inexpensive choice in hardwoods and if treated properly can be a pretty good alternative for softwoods that are commonly used for woodworking projects. It is tougher than most softwoods that people prefer, like pine.