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

Birch and poplar are considered to be two of the most inexpensive hardwoods. In this article, we set out their differences along with pros and cons to help you choose the right wood for your furniture.

Kitchen with a bar and birch wood cabinets.

Not all wood is created equal, and when you’re looking for sustainable wood choices for your furniture needs, you may be drawn to the quicker growing species like Poplar and Birch.

Each wood has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to woodworking and furniture making, and you may be concerned about making the right choice. I’ll detail for you which is the best choice between Poplar and Birch for your flooring, cabinetry, and furniture.

Poplar and Birch are commonly used to make plywood. Birch is widely used due to its affordability and availability, while Poplar is less dense and used for most utility woodwork. Poplar is the more inexpensive choice for furniture and cabinetry projects, while Birch is better for flooring.

Although both have a fine grain and take stains and other treatments well, there are some differences between Poplar and Birch. Poplar tends to be the more inexpensive choice and more sustainable for the eco-conscious; however, its lower density makes it less suitable for flooring.

On the other hand, Birch is a relative hardwood that can take more knocks, so you’ll find that depending on whether you’re looking at flooring or furniture, the two kinds of wood will suit different projects.

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

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

Macro photo of a birch tree trunk with bokeh background.

Since birch trees are found all over the Northern Hemisphere, they have become a very popular hardwood tree. Their availability helps keep costs down, and the wood is even harder than oak, making it highly durable.

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Birch is known for its straight or slightly wavy grain, and the wood has tiny pores, making it smooth in texture. While the sapwood is very pale – almost white – the heartwood takes on a very light reddish-brown tone.

Birch is most commonly used in cabinets, furniture, crates, and for making harder plywood. As it can take all finishes, Birch is a versatile option, depending on whether you would like to paint, stain, or varnish and seal the wood.

Poplar trees have a shorter cultivation time than Birch, making them highly economical and sustainable. They are cultivated in seven-year blocks, and this quick turnover does mean that Poplar is a less dense wood than Birch. It is a pale yellowish wood, sometimes with streaks of green and gray.

Because Poplar is so easy to cut, woodworkers often use it for decorative elements such as trim. Poplar’s lower density and lack of knots also make it a popular choice for plywood. Although it’s a hardwood, it’s as easy to work with as softwoods like pine and fir.

Like Birch, it takes paint and stains very well, and its inexpensiveness and wide range of use make it a trendy choice.

Is Poplar a Good Wood for Furniture?

Poplar table topped with multicolored books.

Poplar is an inexpensive wood, but it doesn’t have the beauty of some of the more luxurious hardwoods, so it’s often used for interior drawers and cheaper furniture items.

It’s more durable than pine, making it a good option for inexpensive furniture, especially if you plan to paint it as the smooth grain provides a lovely surface for paints and stains.

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Poplar can be used to make strong, durable, and inexpensive furniture. Hence, it’s convenient for children’s bed frames and other budget furniture as it’s among the most economical and affordably priced hardwoods in the U.S.

Is Poplar a Good Wood for Flooring?

Laying out poplar planks in the white room.

Poplar is relatively soft, which makes it easy to work with. This lower density does put it at a disadvantage for use in flooring, as it is easier to dent and mark than other hardwoods.

If you choose to use Poplar for flooring purposes, I would suggest only using it in low traffic areas or for decking, and if you intend to paint it as the wood itself doesn’t have the luxurious or charmingly rustic look of other wood floors.

Is Poplar a Good Wood for Cabinets?

Poplar is often used for timber framing, making it useful and inexpensive to build interior cabinet frames. Poplar is an excellent choice for kitchen cabinetry as its smooth, fine grain takes paint very well if you want the look of painted wood.

It’s not recommended to use Poplar for high-end kitchens with exposed wood, as it is too soft, and the untreated wood does not have a very aesthetically pleasing look.

What are the Disadvantages of Poplar?

Fresh sawn poplar tree.

Because Poplar is one of the softer hardwoods, this can be a disadvantage for high-traffic areas that take a lot of knocks like flooring or work surfaces as it can dent easily.

Poplar is not known as a stunning wood and is often referred to as ‘paint-grade’ because it takes finishes well and looks better when painted. As an inexpensive utility wood, it’s excellent, but it is not a good choice for high-end furniture or quality flooring.

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Is Birch Wood a Good Wood for Furniture?

A round birch wood table topped with birch cutouts.

Birch is an excellent choice for modern furniture designs that require clean hard lines. Unpainted, the natural pale color suits Scandinavian furniture styles, while it also readily takes paint treatments, making it versatile.

Birch is more durable than Poplar and is often preferred for furniture that does not need to be painted, as it is considered a more attractive wood and is known to be more durable.

Is Birch Wood a Good Wood for Flooring?

Apartment with white walls and birch wood flooring.

Birch is a moderate hardwood, which makes it excellent all-purpose lumber for flooring. Some people have noted that it scratches and scuffs easily, which makes it not a good choice for very high traffic areas, or for those with pets that may claw the wood, or in areas where furniture is constantly moved, such as in a dining room.

Because Birch takes finishes very well, it can be stained to suit your color scheme and style, making it very versatile. Birch is better than most hardwoods at withstanding moisture, so it can also be a good choice in flooring for kitchens.

Is Birch Wood a Good Wood for Cabinets?

Kitchen with multicolored walls, black appliances, and birch wood cabinets.

Birch is often an extremely popular wood for making plywood, so it is often used to create highly durable and reasonably low-cost kitchen cabinets. Its ability to take stains and paint treatments makes it a top choice for many modular kitchen cabinet units.

The combination of durability and relatively low price makes Birch one of the most popular woods in making affordable plywood cabinets.

What are the Disadvantages of Birch Wood?

Close-up of birch wooden planks.

Birch can be prone to cracking if it has been stored in a dry area, and lumber should always be checked first. It is also more prone to fungal and insect infestations. It is a fairly perishable wood that needs careful maintenance if exposed to the elements.

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While it is a reasonably inexpensive choice for wood, it will cost more than Poplar, so you may prefer not to use it for interior elements such as cabinet frames and drawer interiors.

Conclusion

While both Birch and Poplar are relatively inexpensive compared to other hardwoods, they are best used for utility purposes in construction and making affordable furniture. Birch is denser and will be a better choice for modern-style furniture, while Poplar’s relative cost makes it suitable for cheaper painted furniture such as children’s bed frames and low-cost modular furniture.

Birch is the better choice for flooring, but Poplar’s softness makes it popular for decorative wooden elements like trims.

References:

The Wood Database: YELLOW POPLAR

BuildDirect: What is Birch Hardwood Flooring?

The Wood Database: DOWNY BIRCH