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Thread: Poplar Dining Table - Bad Idea?

  1. #1

    Poplar Dining Table - Bad Idea?

    Is poplar a bad choice? I'm getting ready to build my first dining table. I'm concerned that poplar is either too soft or too boring.

    Personally, I've always like poplar pieces with creamy sections next to heart wood sections. I think it's soft and pretty once it ages. It's great to work with, stable, has a variety of dimensions at my lumber yard, and best of's cheap!

    However, I couldn't find any examples of Dining tables (for 6 people) built with poplar. I'm just wondering why. I'll probably finish with minwax wipe-on poly. Would that beef up a poplar table top enough to withstand writing on a piece of paper with a pen directly on the table top? Will poplar table legs get excessive dents from metal chairs and shoes banging into them? Will Birch, Maple, or Cherry do significantly better?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Leesville, SC
    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Jacobson View Post

    Personally, I've always like poplar pieces with creamy sections next to heart wood sections.
    If you like it, go for it. I have made some nice pieces using poplar. A lot of people consider it a secondary wood, but I like it and it works good.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Mar 2003
    Redwood City, CA
    Poplar is softer than almost all other hardwoods. Here's a link to a list of species hardness: I'd expect poplar to take an impression from a ballpoint pen. Putting a varnish on it doesn't change the hardness much. You'd do better with a harder species. If budget is the big issue, check out ash. It is a whole lot harder than poplar. And in my dealers, it is presently not much more expensive than poplar.

  4. #4
    Thanks for infos.

    So, using that hardness chart, about what hardness would be considered the minimum if I wanted a table that could support writing on paper with a ballpoint pen, without creating an impression?

    Is this even a practical goal?

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Rochester, NY
    I guess it depends on the poplar, but I personally wouldn't go thru all the effort (or expense) of building a table from poplar. In our area poplar is very plain with a lot of ugly yellow/green streaks, and just isn't a pretty wood IMO...though I have seen other examples that looked ok. Considering the amount of time it takes, and all the other excellent choices, I'd be inclined to choose something else.

    Happiness is like wetting your pants...everyone can see it, but only you can feel the warmth....

  6. #6
    In my experience, poplar varies widely in hardness. I've worked with some that's not very hard and with some that's very hard. I don't know how to explain it.

    I do know that in the rural South poplar was used a lot for making dining tables (aka harvest tables), cupboards, meal chests, etc. by local craftsmen. Most of the pieces that I've seen wouldn't be considered high end stuff, though they were built with simple integrity. That being said, many pieces survive in good condition that are 100+ years old.

    Personally, I think it's an under rated wood. I'm beginning to see more of it used now in high end kitchen cabinets, at least in this area.

    To me, it looks better and ages to a prettier color if no stain is applied. In fact, I prefer, if I have the time, to let it age for a few months after building a piece before applying a clear finish of choice.

    Again, I have no idea why some of it is harder than other, all the same specie.

    Just my opinion............
    Stephen Edwards
    Hilham, TN 38568

    "Build for the joy of it!"

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Chevy Chase, Maryland
    I personally like poplar. Those greenish areas turn to chocolates and carmels pretty quickly with exposure to air and light.

    As far as hardness, it all depends upon what sort of table you have in mind. If you are making a shaker trestle table with a farmhouse kind of feel - maybe thinking some milk paint and looking forward to the patina (dents, scratches, etc.) that devlops from use, poplar is fine. If you are making a fomal dining table that you hope will resist such patina, you are probably better served going for a harder wood.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Sean Hughto View Post
    I personally like poplar. Those greenish areas turn to chocolates and carmels pretty quickly with exposure to air and light....
    Yes, that's what I was trying to say in my previous post. Thanks for saying it better than I did!!
    Stephen Edwards
    Hilham, TN 38568

    "Build for the joy of it!"

  9. #9
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Iquitos, Peru


    I am sitting here in the middle of the Amazon with the most expensive woods in the world around me on all sides and being from Northern Wisconsin wish I had some Aspen to work with.

    I processed a lot of Aspen for Menards and it became my favorite wood up there. I did make furniture with it and it worked out very well.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Dec 2007
    Sacramento, CA

    Wink Poplar is fast growing, sustainable, etc

    Depending on the finish you use and your expecations, poplar will do just fine. A gloss finish viewed by side-lite might fail the test if not backed by tool steel.

    While the persuit of perfection is worthwhile I wouldn't do a high speed chase through a set of ulcers.
    Ageing is a gradual process in which we become increasing irrelevant.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
    As for writing on paper with a ball point pen... try that on a piece of maple, that is a lot harder than poplar and you will see some marking. So whaen you write, put some thing under you piece of paper!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Apr 2008

    Your wood choice should be at least partially determined by the style of the table; I don't think much of poplar as a primary wood but if you're thinking rustic or farmhouse then poplar would be much more appropriate than in a more high-style design.

    To me, the problem with all the poplar I've ever seen, and this might be related to its softness, is that even under finish the wood never "glows", there's not a lot of life to it. Visually, it kind of just sits there.

    It's easy to work, though.

  13. #13
    Where abouts in Northern Wisconsin. I live in Eau Claire and the LOML works Menards corp here in town. I'll ship you some popple and you ship me some of your woods, eh?

  14. #14

    I had a popular table for years....

    I used a popular table for years inherited from my grandmother. It held up 'fine'. Meaning, this was a table that we pretty much abused (eating, crafts, writing, cards, etc etc.... everything imaginable was done of this table).

    Of course it showed wear and tear over the years. But it would not have mattered what wood was used. It is highly unlikely it will 'wear out', and if you use it pretty much any wood is going to look used.

    If you like the look of the wood, that is all that matters (dont get caught up in what others might deem secondary wood or not). In my opinion, some of the nicest pieces I have seen have been made from whatever material was readily available in that region (early construction revolved around the materials at hand), and even wear down as its used which adds to its charm.

    Let us know how it comes out!

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