The poplar tree, which is also commonly called the cottonwood or the aspen, is native to the Northern Hemisphere. It belongs to the group of flowering deciduous plants, can reach 50-165 feet tall and up to 8 feet in diameter. Some of the most common representatives of the trees are white poplar, black poplar, Lombardy poplar, balsam poplar, eastern poplar. The wood is light, having low density. But is poplar a hardwood? It is.
You can recognize the tree by the light brown, grey or greenish bark. Sometimes the bark’s smooth, but most of the time you will see it’s rugged and covered with x-cross pattern. Since the trees can provide shade and are easy to take care of, they are grown for decorative purpose. However. There are other uses of this material, too.
What kind of wood is poplar?
There are many ways to classify woods. Still, you can sort them into two categories: hardwoods and softwoods. Both come at various sizes and prices.
It’s not that all types of wood which are soft can be seen as softwoods. Overall, they come from pine, spruce, and redwood. More precisely, they have a simple cellular structure. They don’t have vascular pores whose function is to bring water through the trunk. Softwoods grow fast and straight, so they are often inexpensive. In term of usage, people use them as a versatile building material.
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Different from the cellular structure of softwoods, that of hardwoods is much more complex. They also have pores to transport water throughout the trunk. The plants grow more slowly and branch out in various directions. Due to the long-time development, it’s not surprising that the cost for this kind of wood is higher. Most hardwood trees are deciduous. Some notable examples of the category are oak, maple, and poplar.
Hardwoods vs Softwoods. Or Wood vs Pine
Many people blur the definitions of the two categories by naming softwoods “pine” and hardwoods “wood” in general. That’s because pine wood has most features of the former: light, having low density, easy to be cut, and grow fast.
Clearly, you can find a chunk of softwood which is heavier than a type of hardwoods available. Since there is more than one feature based on which we determine the kind of woods, and people often classify them based on the cellular structure and growing characteristics, telling which category one belongs to is not easy.
So is poplar a hardwood? It is. Although you can find it light and easy to be cut, the plant’s inner structure is really what we expect to see in a chunk of hardwood. Some people call it soft-hardwood, which is fair enough since it’s softer than others belonging to the same category.
Poplar is used in producing furniture, especially cabinets. Owing to the cellular structure, its grain is finer and looks more beautiful than that of softwoods. But is poplar wood strong enough to be found in flooring production? We doubt it. The material’s hardness is pretty modest compared to other woods of the same group.
Is Poplar an excellent wood to burn?
Surely, poplar can be used as firewood. The material is light, inexpensive, and easy to split, which makes it an ideal fire starter. Since poplar burns fast and relatively hot, you should use it when you’d like to cook something just for a short time.
Besides, people often mix the wood with other high-quality hardwoods to create the perfect firewood. Since other hardwoods are often denser, it’s difficult to start the fire with them only. Adding some poplar enhances the fire-catching speed and boosts the overall temperature.
Can poplar wood be stained?
Poplar is a common material used in furniture production. It’s rather low-cost, but people can make the products made from it look more “expensive” by staining the wood to imitate the appearance of cherry, walnut, or oak. You can even make it rainbow if you want. However, staining poplar requires not only skills, but also patience, and a bit tactfulness; or else the finish cannot look as good as what you expect.
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Firstly, the wood surface needs sanding with a piece of sandpaper to get rid of any rough edges or spots. The smoother the surface is, the better it can accept the staining. Then, apply some wood conditioner, wait for about 30 minutes, and make the first coat of wood stain. After that, repeat the process, and finish the task with polyurethane clear coat to keep the staining in its prime.
Staining Poplar to look like walnut
You may wonder whether only poplar can look like walnut after staining.
Well, to be honest, it is possible to use other kinds of wood.
But in order to get the best result or get the most walnut finish, nothing can be compared with poplar.
Taking into account the price, the quality and the output, poplar is the best option as far as I know.
Things you will need
Staining poplar to look like walnut may not be as easy as you expect. It involves quite a few tools to bring out the best look. Here are at least the things you should prepare:
- Sandpaper of different grit: 80, 150, 220 or 320
- Some cotton cloths
- Powdered aniline wood dye (To mimic walnut, you should choose a dark brown stain or the one with walnut color in the label)
- Paint lacquer
- A container (bottle or can, tin)
- Some sticks for paint stirring
- A pair of chemical-resistant gloves
- A fine-bristle paint brush
Step 1: Use 80-, 150- and 220-grit sandpaper to sand the poplar.
Remember to sand along with the grain. If you are sanding against the grain, it will make ugly scratches. After dying, the scratches become even more obvious.
Step 2: Use a dry cotton cloth to wipe off any dust.
Step 3: Wipe the poplar again, using a tack cloth this time.
If possible, you should soak a cheesecloth in beeswax and use it. This will help to remove all the sanding dust more easily
Step 4: Get a container, pour an appropriate amount of powdered aniline wood dye (dark brown color or walnut-like color).
Add lukewarm water according to the ratio of dye and water on the label of the dye. It is the most perfect proportion.
With a specialized stick, stir the mixture well until the dye powder is completely dissolved.
Step 5: Get another cotton cloth. Dip it into the mixture.
Wipe it onto the poplar as quickly as possible.
Remember to wide alongside with the grain
Step 6: Leave the poplar dry completely.
Step 7: Get your clear lacquer. Stir it well with a paint stir stick.
Step 8: Use a fine-bristle paint brush to create an even, nice and smooth coat of paint lacquer onto the poplar.
When the first layer is completely dry, apply the second layer.
Let it dry overnight.
Step 9: Use 320-grit sandpaper to sand the lacquer layer. Following the rule of “alongside with the grain”.
This step is a bit more like polishing so it is necessary to use very fine and light sandpaper which has greater grit.
Step 10: Soak a dry cotton cloth into the lacquer. Squeeze to get rid of the excess lacquer. Wipe it onto the wood. Do nice strokes like polishing according to the grain of the poplar.
For a darker finish, you can apply the second layer of lacquer but you have to leave it dry overnight first.
Bonus Tips For Staining Poplar To Mimic Walnut
#1: Gel stain on raw poplar for the best finish look.
After trying and failing several times, I find that oil stains bring out a blotchy look. A kind of stain conditioner before staining gives a smoother look but the color is too light.
So stick to gel stain and raw poplar
#2: How to deal with streaks?
Streaks appear when you are applying the stain.
To remove them effectively, use a clean cloth while the stain layer is still wet.
#3: Wipe in a circle
Actually, circular motion instead of straight line motion is the way to get maximum coverage.
Therefore, you should wipe in a circle to achieve an even result.
Is Poplar harder than maple?
The hardness of poplar as far as we concern is nothing so significant. Is poplar wood strong? Yes, but not too impressive. Poplar is a soft-hardwood, so you can’t expect its hardness to outweigh many types of woods.
To tell the truth, maple’s strength exceeds poplar’s, even when we are talking about the softest maple, silver maple. Poplar can become vulnerable to stress and significant weight. If you are considering a material for making flooring, maple, especially sugar maple, works much better than its soft-hardwood brother.
So is maple a hardwood? Yes, it is. But it is one of the softest in the category. Poplar wood resembles other hardwoods by the cellular structures, but its density is much lower, making it lighter and easier to split. Owing to its low cost and considerable quality, poplar is used vastly in making furniture. People often stain the material so it can look more expensive. Poplar can also be used as firewood because it’s easy to catch fire, burns fast, and gives remarkable temperature.
However, poplar is not suitable for making flooring or other products that require hardness. Staining the wood also require much patience and efforts.