Poplar and pine are both popular woods in woodworking projects. However, while the two have comparable features that can make it difficult to choose between them for your next woodworking project, they aren’t the same.
Poplar is a tropical hardwood, while pine is a softwood. So, when deciding which wood is better, you would likely ask: poplar vs pine—is poplar stronger than pine?
The answer to this question isn’t straightforward. The best approach is to analyze the individual qualities of each wood and see which one has the best mix of characteristics for your purposes.
Is Poplar Stronger than Pine?
Despite being a soft tropical hardwood, poplar is still a stronger wood compared to pine. It has a Janka hardness value of 540 pound-force (lbf), while white pine wood has a 420 lbf Janka value—translating to relative strength.
However, pine wood exists in various types. Some are stronger than poplar wood. For instance, poplar is considered softer and weaker than southern yellow pine, with a pound-force count of 80 lbf.
What is Poplar Wood
Poplar is a tropical hardwood whose lumber is creamy and white-colored with red-brown to gray hues streaking through its grain. The woods come from deciduous trees whose leaves fall off during winter season.
The wood is sometimes called yellow poplar due to the light cream to the yellow-brown color associated with that species.
Is poplar a hardwood?
Yes, poplar is a hardwood with a lower Janka hardness value, which falls on the lower end of the hardness spectrum. Despite being a soft hardwood, poplar still ranks above most softwoods, such as white pine but lower than standard hardwoods like oak.
Poplar wood pros and cons
- Poplar wood is preferred for industrial uses such as packing crates and pallets due to its strength and relatively low cost.
- It has excellent workability making it easy to cut dovetails on it.
- It’s an affordable hardwood.
- Poplar is lighter than pine despite being stronger
- It has an even texture, unlike pine that’s full of knots
- The wood is stable and doesn’t warp or shrink
- Poplar is resilient to fungi, bugs, other disease-causing pests.
- Some people consider the multiple color variations of poplar to be problematic for staining.
- The wood requires a primer to stain or paint properly.
- It can be labor-intensive to treat since it requires thorough sanding.
About Pine Wood
Pine is a coniferous tree that remains green throughout the year. Like all coniferous tree species, pine is a softwood. Pine wood typically has visible defects, including knots and knot holes which are distinctive characteristics for recognizing it.
Pinewood is primarily pure white in color or reddish-brown. However, there’re multiple varieties with different colors from these popular varieties, including light brown and pale yellow pine. Whichever color, true pine tends to darken with age.
Pine wood pros and cons
- Pine is generally inexpensive
- The wood has adequate structural strength making it a popular choice for indoor rustic furniture and other uses.
- Pine is eco-friendly since it’s a renewable resource
- Pine boasts an appealing range of grain patterns
- The wood is highly workable
- Pine is susceptible to swelling and shrinking if untreated
- The lumber contains distinctive knots and other defects
- It requires treatment and regular care to withstand weather elements
Pine vs Poplar—Which is Better for Woodworking?
While pine is generally considered the cheapest wood in making furniture, poplar is easier to work with. It’s lighter and with less sap and fewer knots to deal with in woodworking.
For these reasons, poplar makes a better wood choice in most woodworking applications. Nonetheless, pine is still highly popular in wooden rustic furniture, building, fencing, and countless other applications.
Poplar vs Pinewood side by side
Knowing the individual characteristics that set pine and poplar apart should make it easier to decide between them. This section provides an in-depth breakdown of the main distinctive features likely to influence your choice.
1. Poplar wood vs pine: common uses
Poplar is mainly used for making paper and crafts. However, it is also used to make packaging boxes and matchboxes due to its low cost. In addition, the tree grows relatively fast for hardwood, leading to an adequate supply necessary in papermaking.
Poplar is commonly used to make bodies of electric guitars due to its flexibility. In addition, its excellent workability and clean, uniform look make it a favorite choice for crafting decorative items like pocket watches and photo frames.
On the other hand, pine wood is used mainly in indoor applications such as indoor furniture, paneling, window frames, roofing, and floors due to its vulnerability to weather elements and low resistance to insect damage.
However, pressure-treated pine is a common sight in deck building, fencing, and other exterior applications.
Many pinewood species are also used in making attractive ornamental plantings for parks.
Verdict: it is a tie.
2. Poplar vs pine: price
Pine typically grows faster than poplar, which is partly why it is lower priced than hardwood.
Pinewood generally costs less than poplar, even though the two are both inexpensive and popular for that reason. Pine trees tend to grow straight grain, leading to less millwork requirement.
Even though poplar is still significantly cheap, it generally comes above pine in pricing. The comparatively higher price can be due to its relatively slow growth or the fact that it’s a hardwood.
Poplar wood is also clear with no imperfections such as knots that are common in pine. This characteristic could be another reason to keep its cost higher than pinewood. The other reason could be the fact that poplar is easier to work with than pine.
Despite the pricing of the two wood types being surprisingly comparable, pine would make a good choice for any projects that involve cost as a primary factor.
Verdict: pine is cheaper.
3. Poplar versus pine: wood workability
Both poplar and pine are highly workable, but poplar emerges top when the two are compared. It’s pretty easy to work with using machines or handheld tools due to its low density. You don’t need to drill the wood beforehand to apply nails or screws.
Poplar is also pretty easy to carve and trim due to its good moisture content. Often, it will shrink after drying as it loses this moisture—so you may want to let it dry well before using it for the best results.
Also, you typically get cleaner surfaces free of fuzziness when you use sharp cutters on this wood.
Pine wood is relatively soft with medium density. It has good workability with handheld tools or machines. And like poplar, it is easy to screw, glue, nail, or finish. Despite this close similarity, poplar is indeed more straightforward to work with and machine than pine.
Verdict: Poplar is the winner
4. Poplar vs pine: weight
As you may have noticed in the earlier sections, poplar has lower moisture content and is generally lighter than pine.
Poplar will make a much better choice if you’re working on a project where weight is considered due to its low density. Tables, chairs, drawers, chests, or any furniture made of poplar is way easier to lift compared to pine furniture.
Verdict: Poplar is the winner.
5. Poplar vs pine: strength
Even though poplar is a tropical hardwood, it’s not a strong wood. By contrast, pine is a softwood, though some varieties of pine are significantly harder than poplar.
On average, pine is more likely to dent than is poplar, but neither is a good candidate for any projects requiring hardwood. Both wood varieties are soft by Janka standards used to measure wood hardness.
Poplar versus pine, which is harder? The decision here depends on the specific wood varieties involved. Yellow poplar has a Janka hardness rating of 540 lbf, while white poplar is slightly softer with a 410 lbf rating. Balsam Poplar is the softest, with a 300 lbf rating.
Pine varieties follow a similar trend, with different varieties having different hardness levels. Longleaf pine and heart pine are the hardest, with a Janka scale of 870 lbf, followed by Radiata pine with a hardness of 710 lbf. Scots pine is also fairly hard at a 540 lbf rating, with Eastern white pine being the softest with a 380 lbf rating.
If you go into these details comparing species by species, several pine types will beat poplar hands down. However, standard poplar has a higher hardness rating than standard pine, making the soft hardwood the winner.
Verdict: Poplar is the winner
6. Poplar wood vs pine durability: which one lasts longer
In terms of wood durability, pine beats poplar. The latter has relatively poor resistance to scratching and denting. For this reason, poplar is often recommended only for interior construction purposes and not heavy-duty outdoor applications.
Pine isn’t the longest-lasting either, but it’s relatively more durable than poplar in many cases. However, bare pine wood is highly vulnerable outdoors, so pine has to be treated with either copper azole or chromate copper arsenate to offer better durability on exterior applications.
Verdict: pine is the winner
7. Poplar vs pine stain—staining poplar vs pine
Neither poplar nor pine accepts wood stain well. You must apply a pre-stain wood conditioner first before adding the stain if you want better results. Otherwise, the entire project will flop. Attempting to apply wood stain directly onto the surface of either wood only leaves behind unpleasant results.
Pine wood has an uneven grain that results in uneven stain penetration. As a result, pine is likely to experience blotchiness if stained.
On the other hand, poplar is considered a paint-grade wood since it handles paint well. However, unlike paint that primarily sits on the wood surface, stain needs to soak into the wood. If you stain poplar, it will absorb it unevenly, ending with a dull, splotchy surface.
Verdict: neither wood stains well; it is a tie.
Related Posts? Best Natural Finish for Poplar
8. Pine vs poplar: density
Most hardwoods have a higher density than softwoods. However, poplar isn’t one of these hardwoods. It’s lighter and less dense than standard hardwoods. All poplar species have wood of diffuse-porous structure and relatively low density.
On average, poplar is lighter than pine. As a result, furniture made of poplar is generally lighter and easier to move around, making it easier and stress-free to rearrange your home.
Pine is sturdier and heavier than poplar but much less dense than standard hardwoods like oak and walnut.
9. Poplar or pine for outdoor use
Both pine and poplar have a low natural resistance to decay and are not ideal for outdoor use without prior surface treatment.
Untreated poplar wood will last only three to four years outdoors. Neither will untreated pine fair to well outdoors. It is expected to last for about five years or only slightly longer in the outdoor environment.
As it is, untreated pine is slightly more durable than untreated poplar outdoors. However, both kinds of wood will last a lot longer outdoors if treated.
Pressure-treated pine or poplar is more resistant to moisture and water damage and can be used outdoors for several years on various applications. This increased resilience is because pressure-treating infuses the wood with preservatives designed to make it more resistant to rot, insects, and even fire.
Pressure-treated pine typically holds up well against the harsh weather elements outside, making it a relatively popular choice for decking, outdoor furniture, and fences.
When comparing the two types of lumber, pine is the better choice for outdoor furniture. In addition, when pressure-treated, pine makes better construction-grade lumber than poplar.
Verdict: pine is the winner
Is Poplar Wood Strong?
Despite being a hardwood, poplar ranks among the softer hardwoods in the classification. It is a deciduous tree like oak and walnut, but poplar is among the softest hardwoods; unlike oak, that’s among the harder ones. For instance, red oak is more than twice as strong as poplar in the Janka scale.
What is Poplar Good for?
Poplar is an excellent wood choice for making indoor furniture, wooden toys, cabinets, plywood, drawers, frames, and more. It is also a favorite choice for industrial applications, including making crates, boxes, and pallets.
Poplar’s wide range of applications is due to its relative ease of use that resembles pinewood or equally workable softwoods.
Related Article: What is the Difference Between Whitewood and Pine?
Is poplar harder than pine?
Yes, standard poplar has a higher Janka test rating than standard pinewood, making it a stronger wood than pine. For example, the Janka hardness test of poplar is 540 lbf, while that of white pine is lower at 420 lbf. On a broader scale, however, several pine woods are more robust than polar, with their Janka rating being higher. The southern yellow pine, for instance, is harder than poplar with 80 lbf.
Is poplar good for furniture?
Poplar isn’t considered the most beautiful wood. Therefore it’s not a favorite choice for making fine furniture. In most cases, it is usually painted when used in furniture making. On the other hand, poplar is typically a popular choice for drawers and other inconspicuous fixtures because it is inexpensive and stable.
How strong is poplar wood?
In terms of the wood hardness measured typically by Janka’s test that entails compressing a 1/2-inch steel ball into a wood sample, poplar scores 540 pounds per foot (lb-ft). This rating is higher than some softwoods but way lower than most hardwoods and some softwoods, such as cedar and fir.
Can you use poplar wood outside?
Yes, you can use poplar wood outside if it is pressure treated. However, untreated poplar has a low natural resistance to weather damage and shouldn’t be used outdoors. It is inherently at a disadvantage for any outdoor applications where the risk of dampening and decay is imminent.
How hard is poplar wood?
Poplar has a hardness score of 540 lbf. Like all woods, poplar wood hardness is measured by the Janka scale, which involves compressing a 1/2-inch steel ball into a wood sample. This hardness score is higher than some softwoods such as white pine but well below others such as douglas fir and cedar. Despite being a deciduous hardwood, poplar is a soft wood ranking below most other hardwoods.
Poplar vs oak strength
Yellow gold and white poplar are all hardwood species, but they are among the softest hardwoods in the family. As a result, they have a relatively low hardness score of 540 pound-feet (lb-ft). In comparison, various oak species are way above this score on the hardness scale. For instance, the red oak comes in at a whopping 1290 pound-feet (lbf) on the Janka wood hardness scale.
What is poplar wood good for?
Due to its excellent workability, poplar is good for various industrial applications, including crates, boxes, pallets, and cheap plywood. It is also a favorite wood choice for making indoor poplar furniture, wooden toys, cabinets, drawers, frames, and more.
Poplar Wood vs Pine Verdict
So, is Poplar Stronger Than Pine? Well, Both pine and poplar are comparatively inexpensive, but each wood has its distinctive appeal making it more suitable for one application and not the other.
Knowing how pine compares to poplar can go a long way in simplifying your choices and ensuring you get the suitable wood for your next project. Whether you have an indoor or outdoor project coming up, we hope this detailed comparison of poplar vs pine helps you decide better.