06
May
2020

What is Poplar Wood? 

Also known as American Tulipwood, Tulip Poplar and Yellow Poplar, Poplar Wood is the most common name given to wood taken from the Tulip Tree, native to Eastern USA & Canada. Timber from this tree is also sometimes referred to as Canary Wood or Canary Whitewood in the UK and American Whitewood across the Atlantic. 

This is largely down to its colour; American Tulipwood’s sapwood is white, while the heartwood can vary from olive green to yellow. In some instances, the heartwood can even be brown or streaked with blue. 

The Tulip Tree itself can vary in size with some trees growing up to 160ft – or 50 metres – tall in height. Smaller Tulip Trees may reach 130ft – 40 metres – in height, with the majority of trees falling somewhere in between the two. This means trunk diameter can be as wide as 8ft, with smaller trunks being roughly 6ft wide.

Is Poplar a Hardwood?

There is a lot of debate as to whether poplar should be considered a hardwood or a softwood. So exactly what kind of wood is poplar? In truth, the answer to this question will often depend on who you ask, as the definitions of hard and softwoods can sometimes become confused.

To understand this further, we need to understand the very definition of the two terms, which can be differentiated based on the nature of their seeds. Softwood refers to “the open-grained wood of any of numerous coniferous trees, such as pine and cedar”, while a hardwood is defined as the wood of an angiosperm possessing true vessels, in contrast to the softwood of a gymnosperm, which lacks vessels”.

In simpler terms, example softwoods include trees that bear fruit and nuts, while example hardwoods include oak, maple and mahogany trees. By this definition, poplar is a hardwood.

Confusion begins to creep in when we think about hardwoods and softwoods in terms of ‘hardness’ as the name may appear to allude to at first glance, when in actual fact it is possible for a hardwood to be soft on the surface and vice versa. 

Poplar wood is one such example, scoring well-below most hardwoods on the hardness test, but higher than most softwoods.

Strength & Properties of Poplar Wood

Poplar wood is straight-grained and fine-textured. A lot of the confusion around Poplar wood’s status as a hardwood stems from its properties. Despite its soft feel and light weight, Poplar wood’s strength is particularly impressive and it offers a number of additional advantages when it comes to mechanical properties. 

American Tulipwood dries well with minimal degrade and is generally considered easy to work with a fine, smooth finish. Poplar timber also takes nails without being able to split and is easily stained, polished or painted, allowing for a customisable surface finish, which is why Poplar lumber is often a popular choice in joinery and the manufacturing of furniture.

What is Poplar Wood Used For?

Poplar wood has a wide variety of uses due to the qualities outlined above, with the most common use being in furniture production. From kitchens cabinets and drawers to fireplace mantel, skirting boards and architrave, poplar wood is becoming increasingly popular for internal furnishings around the home and its light weight means it is ideal for fixed wall furniture such as cabinets.

From the visual appeal of barn doors to interior fittings, Poplar wood doors are another common use and are a great way of adding some rustic charm to your home. Poplar can also be used to craft beautiful pieces of outdoor furniture such as garden tables and chairs, but the wood must be kept dry in order to preserve it as poplar does not weather particularly well. 

Commercially, Poplar lumber’s uses span multiple industries including construction, joinery and woodturning (e.g. artisan bowls, plates) and carving. The combination of their lightweight and notable strength has made poplar wood beams a popular choice for structural applications.

If you’d like any more information on whether poplar timber is the right choice for your next project, or for support finding an alternative timber, please don’t hesitate to contact our friendly and helpful team.