Different types of construction projects call for different kinds of timber. The choice between poplar vs pine appears to be a no-brainer when it comes to constructing furniture. Pine is generally inexpensive, so it must be better, right?
No, it’s not necessarily so. Various things must be taken into account before making the right decision about wood for flooring, furniture, and cabinets. Let me explain!
Poplar vs. Pine: General Comparison
I think the pine species beats out poplar every time if you wish to make outdoor furniture and flooring, thanks to its long-lasting durability. However, poplar wood is the obvious choice for cabinets and tiny handcrafted objects because it is easier to work with and machine than soft pine.
Still, having said all of that, one needs to consider many factors, including durability and workability, when picking between the two timbers. Continue reading to learn what distinguishes poplar from pine and which material is better for your next woodworking project.
Pinus is the name of a group of several pine species that are categorized as softwood. On the other hand, Poplar (Populus) are deciduous trees of a specific species. Though classified as a hardwood, they are light and soft.
Look at the table below to get an overall idea about pine and poplar. After general comparison, some critical factors should be considered about wood before deciding on its usage.
|(Yellow Poplar) Pale yellow to yellowish-brown
|(Eastern White Pine) Pale yellow to light brown
|540 lbf (2,400 N) (Yellow Poplar )
|380 lbf (1,690 N) (Eastern white pine)
|Cabinets, matchboxes, and packaging boxes.
|Interior furnishing, furniture, building, construction
Pine vs. Poplar: Workability
The workability of wood is an important factor to consider. Let’s have a look at both poplar and pine, further breaking down the latter into soft pine and hard pine varieties.
Workability of Pine
I find both hard pine and soft pine easy to work with, whether with machinery or by hand. They are good in gluing, nailing, screwing, and finishing. Southern Yellow Pine, considered one of the hard pines, is still very forgiving. The same goes for Western Yellow Pines which are easy to cut, shape and sand. Sugar Pine, is a soft pine that is favored in California construction.
Workability of Poplar
As a result of its low density, working with tools and machines is simple. If you want to avoid fuzzy surfaces, you’ll need sharp cutters. Screw and nail application does not demand prior drilling.
Poplar binds and finishes nicely. There’s enough moisture in it. So, carving and trimming it is a much easy task.
After drying, it begins to shrink. It is recommended to use it after it has completely dried for optimal outcomes.
Pine vs. Poplar: Durability
The durability of wood makes it an excellent option to go for. I’ve set out the comparisons between pine and poplar wood durability below.
Durability of Pine
When it comes to durability, pine woods beat poplar in many scenarios. Pine varieties such as Southern Yellow Pine and Western White Pine for example are particularly durable and sturdy. Remember that, as already stated, there are various varieties of pine. They are not as sturdy as a White Oak or a Red Oak but still a longlasting material.
Pine needs to be treated with a copper azole, chromate copper arsenate, or any appropriate chemical preservative for exterior use.
Durability of Poplar
Poplar does not have a high durability rating. Scratches, damage, and even denting are all possible. It does crack easily, especially when dry. As a result, polar is usually advised to be used in interior construction.
Pine vs. Poplar: Hardness
Janka’s hardness tells us how well the wood will stand up to denting, dancing, and wear. It also indicates how challenging it will be to apply, sand, nail, or screw a particular wood species. I’ve described the hardness of both pine and poplar is described below.
Hardness of Pine
Southern Yellow Pine is commonly used in indoor furniture, and has a hardness of 870 lbf (4,120 N). The hard pine, with four species (Longleaf Pine, Shortleaf Pine, Loblolly Pine and Slash Pine) is also ideal for roof trusses.
Although Eastern White Pine has a hardness of 380 lbf (1,690 N), it is a pretty soft pine. Radiata, another hard pine, has a hardness of 710 lbf (3,150 N), while Scots Pine has a hardness of 540 lbf (3,150 N) (2,420 N). Western White Pine has a Janka hardness of 420 lbf (1,870 N).
Hardness of Poplar
Yellow Poplar has a Janka hardness of 540 lbf (2,400 N). On the other hand, White Poplar has 410 lbf (1,820 N), which is slightly less. The hardness of the Balsam Poplar is 300 lbf (1,330 N). It has a softer texture than Yellow and White Poplar.
Pine vs. Poplar: Which is Better for Furniture?
Pine is an excellent material for furniture designs. Even categorized as a softwood, it is noted for its stiffness and stress resistance. Hardness, color, stress resistance, and grain are all essential characteristics of good furniture.
Pine has all these characteristics although some pine woods are not appropriate for furniture, such as Caribbean Pine with its low density. On the other hand, Lodgepole Pine or Sugar Pine do have the characteristics needed for fine detail work.
Neither poplar or pine are naturally decay-resistant. However, they, can be used to make furniture when pressure treated. And why is that?
Because after treatment the wood is loaded with wood preservatives that make it more resistant to termites and wood rot. Treated pine wood holds up better to moisture than treated poplar. However, it still fails to hold up when constantly soaked in water.
But it is still a fairly decent choice for outdoor furniture. The cost of pine makes it an attractive option for cheaper pieces of furniture, and if adequately finished with a protective layer, it should last for many years. So, based on furniture, pine is your best choice between these two types of lumber.
Pine vs. Poplar: Which is Better for Flooring?
Most projects will favor poplar for hardwood flooring. However in my opinion, pressure-treated pine wood, such as Sugar Pine or Caribbean Pine, can be a cost-effective alternative. Its lifespan can be as long as 15 years or longer if properly cared for.
Many advantages of pine include increased moisture resistance, fungal resistance, insect resistance, fire resistance, and durability. It costs slightly more than regular pine, but is less expensive than other hardwoods.
On the other hand, poplar would be a floor that can be readily dented, scratched, and worn. It has half, or even less, the hardness of domestic woods commonly used for flooring, such as heart pine.
Pine vs. Poplar: Which is Better for Cabinets?
Cabinet making takes more skill than simply putting up shelves. You’ll need a wood type that’s easy to deal with and machines easily if you want to get those cabinet joints just perfect. So, deciding between poplar and pine for your cabinets is a simple task.
Poplar is easier to work with, plane down to form, and paint, and it takes a coat of paint better than pine. A pre-stain wood conditioner is recommended when working with pine stain. Plus, unlike pine,poplar does not contain knots. Another factor is weight; though it is hardwood, it weighs less than pine.
It makes poplar a better choice for cabinets, shelving and, anything else you want to mount on the wall.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Disadvantages of Poplar Wood?
Poplar wood is softer than many other woods used for furniture like oak or maple, so it tends to dent and scratch more easily. Poplar also lacks distinctive grain patterns, resulting in a more plain look, and it is prone to warping and shrinking over time if not properly dried and sealed.
Compared to harder woods, poplar requires more care and maintenance to keep furniture made from it looking good.
Is Poplar Strong Wood?
While not as strong as oak, maple, or other harder woods, poplar has moderate strength properties that make it suitable for many furniture applications.
Poplar rates about 540 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, lower than 600-1000+ for hardwoods but high enough to be used structurally when properly dried and reinforced. Though softer than top furniture woods, poplar is stronger than pine and can hold up better to regular use when constructed well.
Does Poplar Wood Crack Easily?
Poplar wood is prone to cracking and splitting if not properly dried before use, as it shrinks more than harder woods during the drying process.
However, if dried down to an appropriate moisture content of 8-10% for furniture use, poplar is no more likely to crack over time than other woods. Proper drying and sealing is key for preventing cracks in poplar furniture, but with care, it can remain stable.
To sum up, despite being classified as a hardwood, I think poplar is, in fact, easier to work with and machine compared to pine. However, pine softwood types such as Yellow Pine and Radiata are much more durable and long-lasting than poplar lumber.