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What Is Classified As Poplar Species Found Common In Woodworking

Common Poplar Species Wood Worldwide

When we speak of the Poplar species it is a general species which covers a wide spectrum of more specific trees.  This is in part what can become confusing for those who do not recognize the general categorization.

For example the scientific name for White Poplar is Populus Alba and can be found worldwide.  This species is not native to North America but was introduced as an ornamental tree.

The native habitat for Populus Alba ranges from Europe to Asia.  It is a species which has thrived from the Atlantic to the Pacific across continents.

Within North America the general catch all for Poplar species is called genus Populus.  Most of these species are Aspens and Cottonwoods.

Hybrids can be created between these species.  This will occur where two species of Poplar intersect within their natural habitats.

Natural Habitat For Common Poplar Species

Within North America the common Poplar species that can be found are as follows: Bigtooth Aspen (Northeast), Quaking Aspen (Northern US, Canada), Black Cottonwood (Northwest), Balsam Poplar (North US, Canada), Eastern Cottonwood (Central and Eastern US).

Within Europe and Asia the most common Poplar species are as follows: Black Poplar, Lombardy Poplar, Mappa Burl, European Aspen, and Common Aspen.

As you can see there are many variations of the general Poplar species of wood.  Each will have similarities but also their own properties and characteristics.  There are some common threads among the species which can be considered.

Is Poplar Hardwood Or Softwood?

Technically all Poplar species are considered hardwood.  Nevertheless, know that they are not very hard.  This general classification comes from the wood being considered angiosperm making it a hardwood.

The interesting part is that most conifers are classified as gymnosperms which is softwood.  If you look at the Quaking Aspen, a Poplar species, it is a conifer but also classified as a hardwood.

With this understanding the Poplar species is similar to Cedar in this way, that while a hardwood, it is not very “hard”.

Common Traits Among General Poplar Species

As previously discussed the “hardness” of this species is relative.  Having said this, a harder species such as Black Poplar ranks in at 460 lbf while a softer species like Balsam Poplar ranks at 300 lbf.

There is little difference between the species in Janka hardness.  Other similarities can be found as well.

Grain color from species to species will also vary somewhat yet generally the heartwood is brown.  The outer layers of the grain will be more yellow or white.

These colors can be darker or lighter depending on the Poplar species but they can provide a beautiful contrast for wood art.  Spalted variations can create stunning visuals with great depth of character.

Common Uses Of Poplar Wood

While the Poplar species of trees have been used ornamentally the wood itself has been used for a wide range of industry.  Cabinetry, toy making, furniture, and plywood are just a few of the common uses.

The species is not hard enough to be used for things like flooring.  Despite this, when used in laminates it adds flexibility to its partnered composites.

How Easy Is Poplar To Use With Wood Carving?

Wood carving with Poplar is rather easy.  It is a softer wood fiber that allows for easy separation when cutting with a wood chisel.

Router and cnc bits also make quick work with this species.  Fine details are easy to achieve with minimal tear or breaking.

If there is any damage to the wood be aware that carving will be more difficult.  Harder species manages to retain some integrity while Poplar being softer will give.

Carving knives will make quick work of the wood.  Keep all blades sharp for Poplar is not as soft as other species like Balsa.  Though Poplar is easier than other hardwoods sharp blades are essential.

If a blade is dull you will begin to see the grain tear out rather than be cut.  Cross grain cutting will become a challenge.

Stain Color And Finishing For Wood Art

When working with this species for wood art it is as always preferable to finish so that the grain is visible.  Thus painting or similar finishing is undesirable.

The one caveat with Poplar is that its wood grain can sometimes bleed if using multiple colors of stain.  If there is higher contrast between the brown and white grain colors a greater contrast in stain is needed.

While the wood is beautiful, creating contrast with multiple stain colors becomes a challenge due to the natural contrast of the wood grain.  When attempting to highlight carved reliefs or sculpted portions considerations must be made.

Mobile Art And Sculptures Made With Poplar

Poplar under normal conditions will have more than enough structural integrity to support wood art mobiles or sculptures.  Considerations must be made when a foundation is out of proportion to the load it will support.

Ensure that you scale with proper proportions and if needed use denser wood for support while wrapping Poplar around the exterior.

Poplar In Furniture Making

Poplar has long been used in furniture making so there is little here that is new or to be surprised with.  The one exception to the rule is when art is added to furniture.

The issue here is not a problem of support, but rather grain color contrast allowing for the relief work to show the desired detail.  Selecting the proper wood pieces for the project intended needs to be considered.

Which Species Is Best For General Woodworking And Art?

Due to how close the species are in density and hardness there is little difference in most varieties of Poplar.  Nevertheless, Bigtooth Aspen or Black Poplar can be preferred.

More importantly select lumber which is sound with no splits, minimal knots, and good grain lines.

While the species with its hybrids are easy to cut, if there are splits the wood it can splinter easily.  There is no doubt that this wood is a favorite for many woodworkers, just ensure the material is sound.