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Oak vs. Poplar Wood (for Furniture, Flooring, and Cabinets)

This is a close look into oak wood and poplar wood showcasing the major differences that give them advantages and disadvantages when it comes to durability and design.

This is a look at the laying of poplar hardwood flooring.

When building projects in your home or having someone helping you to make new wood furniture around your home, you need to know the best wood to use. A common issue faced by many newcomers is choosing between affordable poplar wood and expensive oak wood.

Oak cabinets are hardier and will be dent resistant when used for furniture, flooring, or cabinets but will be heavy and expensive. Poplar wood is affordable, lightweight, and will usually be used as the support structure in furniture and cabinets; however, it is easy to dent and scratch. (Source: Hunker)

You will need to know how both types of woods are usually used to get your projects’ best possible result. Using the wrong wood at the wrong place can mean that your projects, cabinets, and even flooring will have a much shorter lifespan overall.

Related: Oak vs. Beech | Oak vs. Cedar | Oak vs. Cherry | Oak vs. Birch | Oak vs. Pine | Types of Oak Wood | Maple vs. Poplar | Maple vs. Cherry Wood | Poplar vs. Pine Wood | Poplar vs. Walnut | Types of Poplar Wood

What is Oak Wood Traditionally Used for?

This is a dark wood oak veneer plank.

Oak wood is traditionally used to build cabinets, furniture, and flooring because of its durability and scratch-resistant properties. Most people prefer to have oak because of its ability to be stained to reveal a grain that is prized around the world without having to use veneers. (Source: Vermont Woods Studios)

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Further, common usage for oak wood is in the construction of barrels in which liquors are aged, with many wineries, whiskey distillers, and rum distilleries only using oak. This has made oak wood one of the most sought-after woods globally as there are multiple ways to be used.

When used for furniture, oak is known to last an extremely long time, with most owners of oak furniture enjoying a piece that can last a lifetime. As the wood has become harder to find, many cabinets and furniture pieces are built with oak and other woods combinations to save costs.

What is Poplar Wood Traditionally Used for?

This is a window trimwork with ornate carvings.

Poplar is one of the most affordable woods currently on the market due to the trees’ fast-growing speed. With many countries growing poplar trees rapidly due to the low care needed to grow the trees and the relatively small space they use.

Poplar wood is used in furniture as a support material or when building upholstered furniture and the support wood in cabinets. Moldings and trims are also usually made out of poplar, with most common picture frames now also being made out of poplar. (Source: Hardwood Supplier)

Because of its ease of growth, poplar has become one of the woods most commonly used for industrial purposes. Creating wood that can be used as crates, pallets, and boxes that won’t be breaking the bank or almost literally be throwing money in the fire.

How is Oak and Poplar Wood Different from Each Other?

While these two types of wood are often used together or made the same furniture, they have some very differing properties. Knowing how they are different and their exact strengths and weaknesses will allow you to use them effectively without wasting or overspending.

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We are taking a look at the material features, the capabilities, the durability, the costs, the benefits, and the general features of both oak and poplar woods. Several things will help you use both kinds of wood in the right places, using the right structural supports.

(Source: Two Make a Home, Hunker, h2ouse.org, Real Simple, WoodWorkly)

The Features of Oak And Poplar Wood

These are sturdy ceiling beams made from oak wood.

Oak wood is a hardwood that is denser than most other wood; oak usually measures around 1290 on the Janka scale. Because oak is such dense wood, it usually weighs a lot more than other woods, making it a lot more brittle than other woods, making it prone to snapping under stress.

Poplar wood is one of the softer wood on the market, with the wood measuring 540 on the Janka scale, making it hardy enough to handle being used for building material. Poplar is prized for its flexibility, allowing it to bend when under stress, making it perfect for being used as support in other structures.

Design Capabilities of Oak and Poplar

This is a trunk being made from poplar wood with ornate carvings.

Poplar is easier to work with than most other woods, retaining some strength when shaped, being easy to shape into almost any shape that you may need. You can shape and create poplar wood using essential woodworking tools made out of steel and carbide steel.

Oakwood is one of the hardest woods to work with because of its strength and weight, requiring that you use tungsten or carbide steel exclusively. Failing to work as a support structure because of its brittleness but works perfectly when used as the primary wood for most projects.

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Overall Durability of Oak and Poplar

This is a close look at a wooden dresser made of oak wood.

Oak wood is one of the most durable woods when used for flooring, furniture, or cabinets, as it can handle scratches and dents without a worry. However, oak will fail when used as the only material when building furniture; the wood does not bend easily and will break when bent.

Poplar wood is the most common wood used to support other wood structures, often used in oak furniture and cabinets to add some flexibility. However, it does not work well when used as the only material used for normal furniture, being scratched and dented with the most basic everyday functions.

The Total Costs of Poplar and Oak

Oak wood will usually cost a lot more than poplar wood, as good oak trees have become harder to find and mill. With a global shortage that has started in 2020, most hardwoods like oak have become rare, causing the price to spike a lot.

Poplar is still one of the most low-cost woods you can find on the market, often being part of the reclaimed wood you can find around the world. Depending on your location, the prices for the wood will differ significantly, changing depending on the availability of lumber in your area.

What is the History of Oak Wood?

This is a large old gnarled oak tree.

Oak trees are some of the oldest living trees globally and are now protected in many countries around the world. It has been used in furniture making since the 9th century when the Vikings built their ships out of Oak, with the wood continually being used for shipbuilding until the 19th century.

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The rarity and costs of oak have prevented it from being used for large constructions, usually being used for furniture and trim pieces. Some older homes around the world are still built with oak beams in the roofs, causing high costs when repairing them. (Source: oaksofchevithornebarton.com)

Only recently, with the diversity of some oak trees becoming endangered, has the cost of oak trees become so high. Most commonly, oak will be used and reused until the wood can no longer be saved, with most furniture manufacturers preferring to use veneers to make oak wood last as long as possible.

What is the History of Poplar Wood?

This is a row of mature poplar trees.

There are between 25 to 30 species of poplar wood in the world that are commonly farmed or used as purely ornamental trees. The tree grows fast, growing three to five feet each year, reaching maturity in only eight to nine years, reaching a total height of 70 feet for the tallest trees.

This has made poplar wood one of the most used woods globally because the tree is easy to farm, and it has been used around the world to build everything. Owing to the vast majority of the species rotting away quickly, it is hard to know how long the wood has been used. (Source: Vermont Woods Studios)

The trees are native to the northern hemisphere, growing across Europe, Northern America, and Asia. Currently, it is being farmed in India, Europe, South Africa, and parts of the Americas, with the most significant danger to the wood being termites that destroy thousands of trees each year.

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Conclusion

If you are building furniture, cabinets, or installing wood flooring, we recommend using oak wood as it is more complicated to ensure the finish stays nice for longer. If you want to save on costs, you can use poplar as a support structure, but the wood may rot away faster than the oak around it.

FAQs

Is poplar good wood to build furniture with?

Yes, poplar is a good and affordable wood to build furniture with if you are looking for cheap and easy to work with. However, if you are producing high-end furniture, it is recommended that you only use poplar to support the surrounding table.

Is poplar wood stronger than oak?

No, poplar wood is not stronger than oak; however, it is much more flexible, allowing the wood to bend when flexed.

Should you paint oak wood?

No, oak wood is okay with being varnished, stained, or waxed but will not look good when being painted. However, the wood will not absorb the paint and can be sanded clean to reveal the wood underneath.