Poplar not so popular


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Hey now,

You often hear of poplar being used "under the hood" where it won't show, or for strictly utilitarian purposes... I gather it's otherwise frowned upon for fine woodworking... I've only used one or two pre-surfaced boards from the Borg, and they seemed fine for what I was doing, jigs and such... but I didn't really work it in any meaningful way, being pre-surfaced... or finish it...

So what are people's thoughts about poplar? Is it strictly for "practicing"? Or only if you plan to paint it? What are its main weaknesses? And strengths (aside from being cheap)? It seems pretty hard for a softwood... Does it machine well?

Cheers,

Bob.

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The current issue of American Woodworker magazine (Oct/Nov 2010), has an article called "Make Poplar Look Pretty". They even show how to remove the heartwood green cast.

Hey now,

You often hear of poplar being used "under the hood" where it won't show, or for strictly utilitarian purposes... I gather it's otherwise frowned upon for fine woodworking... I've only used one or two pre-surfaced boards from the Borg, and they seemed fine for what I was doing, jigs and such... but I didn't really work it in any meaningful way, being pre-surfaced... or finish it...

So what are people's thoughts about poplar? Is it strictly for "practicing"? Or only if you plan to paint it? What are its main weaknesses? And strengths (aside from being cheap)? It seems pretty hard for a softwood... Does it machine well?

Cheers,

Bob.

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I like to play with poplar - It machines well, and is a dream for hand tool use. Plus, it's price let's me experiment with designs, without going broke. When you let it age, it does develope a brownish patina, and sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll find pieces with purple streaks. I've actually found many people love the look of it.

SweetBenchMD.jpg

Here's a Poplar bench I made, with ebony accents. The top is aged 10 years, while the structure below is new stock. All with a wipe on oil finish.

-gp

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I like to play with poplar - It machines well, and is a dream for hand tool use. Plus, it's price let's me experiment with designs, without going broke. When you let it age, it does develope a brownish patina, and sometimes, if you're lucky, you'll find pieces with purple streaks. I've actually found many people love the look of it.

SweetBenchMD.jpg

Here's a Poplar bench I made, with ebony accents. The top is aged 10 years, while the structure below is new stock. All with a wipe on oil finish.

-gp

Gregory,

That is a really nice bench! Are the legs one piece or two? Thanks for sharing that.

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Ace will no doubt chime in with a table he made an finished to look like cherry.

You can deal with the green streaks with dye. The ones with a black streak are more difficult, I've found. I've ebonized it before and it looks great. I also made a small TV stand recently from it mostly because it was a commission and my car was in the shop for a week so... had to use what was sitting on the rack. Finished it to look like maple with a honey-brown stain (dyed out the green). Can't beat the price, the wood is plenty strong, machines easily, and usually you'll use a dye to set a base tone to your project anyway so you can deal with eliminating streaks pretty easily.

For the question about poplar varieties, I dunno. Sometimes when I go, I find a stack of boards with green streaks. Other times, I find boards with grey streaks and the white portion seems to look more greyish as well. I used to think it was two subvarieties of Poplar, but I'm wondering if green ages into grey. Regardless, same stuff.

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I don't believe the wood always has to be the focal point. If you want some part of the design to pop, I think going with a "plain Jane" wood is OK.

Bitchin' little bench, Greg!

Thanks for the kind words - You're right about Plain Jane woods though - That's the main reason why Greene and Greene were persuaded to use the no figure Mohagany, rather than the crazy grained ash they had called for on earlier pieces. Sometimes the wood's figure can get in the way.

-gp

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Gregory,

That is a really nice bench! Are the legs one piece or two? Thanks for sharing that.

Each end has two legs, and they are made from 3/4" stock, laminated into 1 1/2" thick slabs, with the grains opposing each other, that way the slabs will stay straight & flat, rather than cup over the years.

-gp

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I used Poplar at home for paintgrade cabinets that I also applied some glazing and distressed. I was pleased how Poplar took the color but when I distressed the drawer fronts I was a little dissatisfied and learned a lesson. If you are going to distress wood that in theory is paint grade and reveal uninteresting wood underneath those cabinets are no longer paintgrade and you should choose better wood so the character pops out.

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Poplar: love it, use it, live it! Great stuff. Easy to work with hand tools, straight grain so it doesn't interfere with your designs. Cheap, and takes paint and/or color beautifully. Yes it was used a lot as a secondary, non show wood in period pieces but it can be disguised easily to look like the show wood. I'm build a chest of drawers right now entirely from Poplar that will be dyed to look like Cherry. The test boards I have so far look just like an aged Cherry. In summary, buy Poplar and buy it often.

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Hey now,

You often hear of poplar being used "under the hood" where it won't show, or for strictly utilitarian purposes... I gather it's otherwise frowned upon for fine woodworking... I've only used one or two pre-surfaced boards from the Borg, and they seemed fine for what I was doing, jigs and such... but I didn't really work it in any meaningful way, being pre-surfaced... or finish it...

So what are people's thoughts about poplar? Is it strictly for "practicing"? Or only if you plan to paint it? What are its main weaknesses? And strengths (aside from being cheap)? It seems pretty hard for a softwood... Does it machine well?

Cheers,

Bob.

Uh Poplar is a hardwood. Density of the wood has no bearing on whether it is a hardwood or not. All broad leaf trees are hardwood, all conifers are softwood. Which even makes balsa wood a hardwood.

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Poplar: love it, use it, live it! Great stuff. Easy to work with hand tools, straight grain so it doesn't interfere with your designs. Cheap, and takes paint and/or color beautifully. Yes it was used a lot as a secondary, non show wood in period pieces but it can be disguised easily to look like the show wood. I'm build a chest of drawers right now entirely from Poplar that will be dyed to look like Cherry. The test boards I have so far look just like an aged Cherry. In summary, buy Poplar and buy it often.

All right all right, I'll stock up! You've converted me!! :P

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I just purchased the DVD "It's All About the Color" by Charles Neil, and one of the DVD's was on Poplar and how to disguise it to look like any wood species you like. Charles says he loves the wood, and that is good enough for me. I am new to woodworking, and after watching those videos from Charles I am going to be a waterbased finishing guy.

Rick :blink:

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Love working with poplar. Machines and works very nicely. Yes the grain is a bummer, I agree boring is better put. It can be a blotchy wood, also, you need to contend with the various colors of the heartwood. Finishing is easy once you give it a try and plays a big part in “working” poplar.

The table Paul mentioned, the top is a mix of heart and sapwood, hard to tell :) Notice how clear the grain is (the pic is before I shot the lacquer topcoat). I sprayed Gemini coatings products and a Sherwin Williams pr-cat lacquer, the key to finishing poplar is the base coat of dye.

On the Lowboy, I will be using all water-based products by General Finishes.

Here is my schedule on my test board:

Take the GF High Performance water-based topcoat and thin it 50% with water. This will serve as my blotch control (wash coat).

Scuff the dry wash-coat with 320 foam-backed paper to knock down any raised grain from the wash-coat.

Spray the GF water-based Cinnamon dye over the wash-coat for an even background color, bringing in the sapwood to the heartwood (looking for even color) could take about 3 light coats.

Once the dye is dry, spray a wet coat of GF High Performance straight from the can (no thinning) over the dye to lock the dye down.

Once dry, a very light scuff with 320 foam-backed paper to give the topcoat some teeth for the stain to bite into.

Then I stain over the topcoat (called glazing) with GF Black Cherry water-based stain. Looks very crisp and clean without blocking the grain.

***note****

Test board left side is stain directly over top of the dye. Right side is the glazed side.

Hope this helps.

Sorry if the thread is going a little off topic. :unsure: :unsure: :unsure:

-Ace-

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I will say that Poplar or Tulip is a hardwood and not as soft as some people like to think. I know of one place where it has been used as flooring. The green has turned a wonderful shade of brown and the floor has held up wonderfully even under high traffic.

I will jump on a bit of soap box here. Just about everything we find in our lumber yards named poplar should really be labeled Tulip (Linodendron tulipifera) it is not in the genus Populus at all. Its only living relative is native to the China and Vietnam region of the world. Trees in the Populus family include the Aspen and Cottonwood and are much softer in Janka hardness than Tulip. Plus I think if we as woodworkers market things as being made of Tulip wood versus Poplar you might see it adopted as a more primary wood instead of the minor role it plays as a secondary. Its time for Tulip's turn on Cambium Idol.

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I will say that Poplar or Tulip is a hardwood and not as soft as some people like to think. I know of one place where it has been used as flooring. The green has turned a wonderful shade of brown and the floor has held up wonderfully even under high traffic.

I will jump on a bit of soap box here. Just about everything we find in our lumber yards named poplar should really be labeled Tulip (Linodendron tulipifera) it is not in the genus Populus at all. Its only living relative is native to the China and Vietnam region of the world. Trees in the Populus family include the Aspen and Cottonwood and are much softer in Janka hardness than Tulip. Plus I think if we as woodworkers market things as being made of Tulip wood versus Poplar you might see it adopted as a more primary wood instead of the minor role it plays as a secondary. Its time for Tulip's turn on Cambium Idol.

You're right on about Poplar being Tulip wood - Actually a relative of the Magnolias. On occasion, you'll still find lumber yards that list it as Tulip Poplar - But the slang Poplar is pretty much the norm.... Good call

-gp

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Another good inexpensive species to try is alder. In my area it's about the same price as poplar, but you don't get all the funky green sapwood. Alder is often times referred to as the poor man's cherry, since its grain pattern is strikingly similar to cherry, but without the color. It's very easy to dye to look almost indistinguishable from cherry, with a lot less work than poplar. I've had some bad experiences with case hardened poplar (likely because they churn it out in such mass production) so I'm switching to soft maple and alder for my secondary from now on.

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Another good inexpensive species to try is alder. In my area it's about the same price as poplar, but you don't get all the funky green sapwood.

Interesting. My dealer's price list shows only "Red Alder" (origin Western USA) at $6.00/bf for 4/4, which is exactly double their price of poplar at that size. And alder's only listed in 4/4 and 8/4, where poplar seems available in up to 4" thicknesses. Geographic thing, I guess... the poplar is listed as from "Eastern North America".

So let me ask you this: If I bought, say, 2" or even 3" poplar boards, could I avoid the whole green sapwood thing by just trimming it away? At $3.25/bf for the 2" I can afford to be a little wasteful... it jumps to $4.25/bf for the 3", so might not go there...

Also, why do thicker boards cost more per bf? You'd think they'd need less handling (cutting) so would be the same or cheaper...

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