Poplar is a species of wood that is commonly used in woodworking. You can find poplar in many furniture projects, toys, and wood-turnings because it is fairly workable and takes nails, screws, and glue well. We use poplar as a secondary wood in many of our kits.
Early woodworkers started using secondary woods around the time mahogany began to show up in the Queen Anne style of furniture. Because Mahogany was so hard to come by and very expensive, furniture makers saved the best wood for the visible areas of furniture pieces and used more plentiful woods such as pine, poplar, or oak in the interior areas and for drawer parts.
Poplar (also referred to as Populus Balsamifera) is taken from the poplar tree, which grows particularly in the Eastern United States. The trees are known to be one of the tallest, reaching heights of 160 feet and diameters of 8 feet. Its sapwood has a light cream to yellow color, while its heartwood has a greenish brown color with streaks of gray. It is very popular because the wood is typically straight grained with a fine texture, and is known for having very few knots, if any.
Poplar is considered a hardwood by species, but this can be somewhat confusing as poplar is typically softer than pine, a common softwood. Poplar lumber has many qualities that make it a beneficial hardwood. Due to its versatility, it is great for commercial uses. Poplar lumber is most commonly used for furniture and cabinet framing construction. It shows little shrinkage and has excellent gluing qualities. It is soft and lightweight, which helps it accept nails and screws without splitting.
Poplar is relatively easy to work with, as it is easy to manipulate with a saw, lathe, or router. One key to success with poplar is to make sure that your cutting tools are sharp, as the wood can tend to tear if the cutting edge is less than optimal.
Renowned for its ability to take paint well, poplar is commonly the wood of choice when building woodworking projects that will be painted. It is relatively resistant to decay, and when sanded, primed and painted thoroughly, should hold up well to normal wear and tear for many interior projects. Bartley does suggest applying at least one clear coat (of your choice) to all exposed interior parts, such as both inside and outside all drawers.
When sanding poplar, because of its relatively soft nature, be sure to use progressively finer grits of sandpaper, and coarser grits will leave sanding marks that need to be removed with the next finer grit of sandpaper. Typically, sanding with 80 grit, then moving to 150, 220, 300, and finally 400 grit sandpaper is a process that yields good results.