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

Here's a detailed comparison between poplar and walnut wood. Knowing their differences will help you make an informed decision in choosing the right type of wood for furniture, flooring, or cabinetry.

Carpenter shaving a plank of poplar wood on a wooden desk.

With all the wood options available for furniture, flooring, and cabinets, the decision about what to choose is intimidating. Although walnut and poplar are both options,  how do they compare with each other?

Walnut is a medium-grain hardwood, and poplar is a fine-grain hardwood. Walnut can be used for flooring, furniture, and cabinetry. Poplar is a cheaper and practical option and can be used as a substitute for walnut as the grain patterns are similar. Poplar is not ideal for flooring.

Let’s explore the details so that you can make an informed decision about choosing these types of wood for furniture, flooring, or cabinetry.

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

All About Walnut Wood

A pile of American walnut planks on a walnut table.

There are many different varieties of walnut, but the Eastern Black Walnut, or American Black Walnut or American Walnut (Juglans Nigra), is the one that is typically used for woodwork.

This walnut wood is popular with woodworkers because it is a hard, dense, and tight-grained wood, and it polishes to a beautifully smooth finish. Over time, natural walnut wood develops a lustrous patina.

Walnut wood is usually straight-grained but can have waves or curls, which only enhance the character.

Density: 630 kg/m3, 38 lbs, 1010 on the Janka scale. (For comparison, cherry is 995 Janka, and hard maple is 1,450 Janka, while white oak is 1,360 Janka and red oak is 1,290 Janka)

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Cost: $2 to $38 per board feet

Is Walnut A Hardwood Or A Softwood?

Walnut is a hardwood, like cherry, maple, or oak. This simply means that it comes from a dicot tree. It is important to remember here that hardwood and softwood do not refer to the hardiness of the wood or its ability to resist damage from scuffing or denting.

Color Of Walnut Wood

A close-up of walnut wood.

In terms of color, it ranges from pale blonde or yellow-grey (from the sapwood) to dark chocolate or coffee color (in the heartwood). The heartwood may also have lighter browns, purples, greys, and reddish tints. The fact that it is the only true dark-brown domestic wood species has also increased its fanbase among wood lovers.

While woods like cherry, maple, and oak darken in color as they age,  walnut wood tends to lighten ever so slightly over time, especially with sun exposure. A stain will prevent this. An oil finish will also help avoid this lightening process and give it richer hues over time. 

Care Of Walnut Wood

The care of the wood depends on what finish is used to seal the wood. As a general rule, dust regularly and avoid commercial cleaners, which can leave a residue.

If the walnut piece has an oil finish,  apply a natural Danish linseed oil once a year or more often in a warmer climate.

Uses For Walnut Wood

Kitchen with walnut cabinets and island.

Walnut is used for upscale cabinetry, furniture, and natural wooden flooring. It is also used for gun stocks, paneling, veneers, ornaments, and more.

Sustainability Of Walnut

Walnut trees take more than 100 years to mature, and although not endangered, there are far fewer trees than years ago due to their popularity.

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All About Poplar Wood

Close-up of poplar plywood sheets.

Poplar wood is the wood that comes from the Liriodendron tulipifera or the tuliptree. It also includes names such as the American tulip tree, tulipwood, tulip tree, tulip poplar, whitewood, fiddle tree, and yellow poplar. It may also be known by its Miami-Illinois name, “Oonseentia”.

Poplar wood typically has a straight and uniform grain. It is sometimes used as a substitute for walnut and other finer hardwoods, although a trained eye will quickly pick up the differences.

Top tip: If you want to mimic the look of another wood, such as walnut, by using poplar, test your stain to make sure you have the right color. Use scraps of the same poplar boards you will be using in the project, and remember to apply a few coats of pre-stain wood conditioner before applying your test stains.

Density: 540 on the Janka scale.

Cost: $3 to $4.85 per board foot

Is Poplar A Hardwood Or A Softwood?

Poplar, like walnut, is a hardwood.

Color Of Poplar Wood

Poplar wood with light cream shade and natural pattern.

The heartwood ranges from light cream to yellow-brown, occasionally even green. The sapwood or outermost part is usually white to pale yellow. The colors darken or become yellower over time.

Poplar wood can also have mineral streaks of various colors – this is referred to as “rainbow poplar”. This happens because the poplar is very light and can soak up minerals from the ground, causing all sorts of colors to streak through the wood, from blue to green, purple, red, and yellow. Wood with these rainbow characteristics is often used for its beauty, instead of traditional poplar, which is used for utilitarian purposes.

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Uses For Poplar Wood

Native Americans used yellow poplar for canoes. It has also been used for dinnerware, coffins, toys, carvings, crates, and pallets. It often forms the frames of upholstered furniture and, as a veneer, in plywood. It is also used for the core of doors. In many cases, another wood is layered on top.

Although it generally has more practical purposes, it is occasionally used in some artisan furniture.

Poplar is defined as a “hardwood”, but it rates relatively low on the Janka scale, which means it is not ideal for flooring and is more prone to denting and other damage.

Sustainability of Poplar Wood

A bunch of poplar wood stumps

Poplar is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and can therefore be considered a sustainable option.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a fine piece of furniture or a beautiful floor, walnut is a great choice. The wood ages exceptionally well and will last a lifetime. If cost is a concern, poplar is an option under certain circumstances.

Rainbow poplar makes for a character-filled piece of furniture. And for the plainer pieces of wood, with the correct staining, and its straight and uniform grain, it can be turned into an attractive piece of furniture. It should, however, not be used for flooring.

References:

Vermont Woods Studios: Walnut Wood

The Spruce Crafts: Tips for Using Poplar in Woodworking Projects

The Wood Database: YELLOW POPLAR