Pine Vs Poplar- A Comprehensive Guide

Poplar and pine are popular woods in the woodworking space. However, although they are not the same, they have various incomparable features, making it difficult to choose one. Therefore, you must be wondering which one is better in the pine vs poplar options.

Poplar is a soft tropical hardwood stronger than pine, featuring a Janka hardness of 540 pound-force. On the other hand, pine’s hardness value is 420 lbf, but different types have varying strengths. Thus, both wood categories are excellent, depending on the intended project.

The verdict is not always straightforward, and the best approach involves analyzing each wood’s attributes and determining what works for your project. Read this guide for more insight.

What Is Pine Wood?

Pine is a coniferous wood species that remains green throughout the year. In addition, it is a softwood and typically has visible knots and knot holes as distinctive characteristics.

The wood is pure white or reddish-brown, and the color tends to darken over time. So, you can use it to make attractive ornamental paintings for parks, furniture, paneling, floors, window frames, and roofing.

Pinewood is easy to shape and stain and works best for indoor applications. But it has no decay- or insect-resistant attributes, making it rot with soil exposure. Therefore, you can only get a lasting result with pressure treated pine.

Interestingly, particular pine species feature large seeds, useful for cooking and baking. So, the wood has multiple uses; and it boils down to what you need.

Let’s check out some advantages and disadvantages for more clarity.

Image of polished wood furniture but How Often Should You Polish Wood Furniture?Pros

  • Pine is environmentally friendly as it is a renewable resource.
  • It is highly workable.
  • Pinewood is generally inexpensive.
  • The wood boasts an appealing variety of grain patterns.
  • You can use it for indoor rustic furniture and related projects thanks to its adequate structural strength.


  • Pine contains distinctive knots and other imperfections.
  • It is vulnerable to shrinking and swelling when untreated.
  • The lumber needs treatment and regular care to resist weather elements.

What Is Poplar Wood?

Poplar is light and soft and a genus of 25 to 30 species of deciduous flowering plants. Moreover, it is native to the Northern hemisphere and grows very fast. The tree’s length ranges from 25m to 50m, and it lasts 100-150 years.

Also, poplar is a hardwood with a lower Janka hardness value, falling on the lower end of the spectrum. However, though the lumber is a lower grade than standard hardwoods, it ranks above most softwoods like white pine.

The wood is available in cream and white but features red-brown to gray hues streaking throughout the grain. Sometimes it is called yellow poplar due to the light cream to their yellow-brown tone.

Poplar is famous for making paper as it grows very fast. The paper market needs a lot of wood supply, and it can only work with a readily available species. In addition, this lumber comes as cheap plywood and inexpensive hardwood timber.

Besides, the wood is flexible and foldable, thanks to its reasonable moisture amount. So, you can comfortably use it for electric guitar bodies, drums, and other complex structures.

The free wood knots deliver excellent workability and a uniform look, perfect for decorative projects like pocket watches and photo frames. In addition, poplar’s tree back has a sufficient tannic acid amount and is thus ideal for tanning leather in Europe.

Poplar’s benefits and drawbacks are as follows:


  • Thanks to its relatively low cost and strength, the wood is suitable for industrial applications like pallets and packing crates.
  • It is affordable to most woodworkers.
  • Poplar features excellent workability, making it easy to curve dovetails.
  • It is resistant to bugs, fungi, and other disease-causing pests.
  • The lumber is stable and does not shrink or warp.
  • You will enjoy working with its even texture and light structure.


  • Poplar requires a primer to paint or stain properly. 
  • Treating the wood is labor-intensive due to the demanding sanding needed.
  • Some users find the multiple color variations problematic for staining.

Pine Vs Polar Wood

Although pine is the cheapest wood for furniture applications, poplar is easy to use. Moreover, it is lighter and has fewer knots and less sap to deliver better woodworking results.

Nonetheless, pine is still a common alternative in rustic wooden furniture, fencing, building, and countless other jobs. Therefore, it is advisable to know individual attributes that set poplar and pine apart for easier decision-making.

This section gives an in-depth breakdown of the primary distinctive characteristics to influence your choice.

  • Durability

Pine beats poplar in terms of wood durability. Besides, the latter has relatively poor resistance to denting, damage, and scratching. Therefore, it is suitable for only interior construction projects, not heavy-duty outdoor purposes.

Generally, although we have various pine species, the wood is better than poplar in some cases. But you have to treat it with chromate copper arsenate, copper azole, or another suitable chemical preservative for long-lasting results.

Finally, please note that pine is not as strong as oak, but it gives sufficient durability. In addition, the lumber is durable in multiple exterior woodworking projects after chemical treatment.

  • Application

Both wood types are suitable for your work, depending on your project needs and expectations. For instance, poplar comes in handy in making paper and crafts. And thanks to its low cost, you can also use it to make matchboxes and packaging boxes.

In addition, poplar is perfect for making electric guitar bodies due to its versatility and flexibility. In addition, this wood features outstanding workability and a clean, uniform look, making it a favorite choice for crafting decorative objects.

Conversely, pine works well for interior projects like window frames, roofing, paneling, furniture, and floors as it has low resistance to insect and mold damage. Also, it is susceptible to weather elements and will succumb to harsh outdoor conditions.

However, when treated, you can still use the wood for fencing, deck building, and other exterior woodworking projects. The lumber type also makes attractive ornamental plantings for parks.

  • Color/Appearance

Poplar is a white to light cream and gray or brown streaks through the grain. The sapwood features white to yellow hues, whereas the Heartwood is of light cream to yellow-brown. In addition, you will enjoy a uniform texture thanks to the wood’s straight and medium-textured granule.

On the other hand, pine colors are usually pure white to reddish-brown. The sapwood version is a pale yellow to nearly white, while Heartwood is light brown. Also, the color tends to darken over time.

  • Price

Typically, pine grows faster than poplar and thus is relatively cheaper. Moreover, the wood costs much less than its counterpart and grows in a straight grain, resulting in fewer millwork requirements.

Poplar is more expensive than pine despite it being significantly cheap. Unlike pine, the wood is easier to work with and more transparent, with little or no blemishes. But still, pine makes a perfect choice for projects with cost as a primary factor.

Therefore, despite the woods’ surprisingly comparable pricing, it is wise to assess your project needs. And you’ll get the best material for a durable and professional project.

  • Wood Workability

Poplar and pine are highly workable and perfect for various applications. However, the former emerges top after comparison as it is more straightforward to work with despite close similarities with pine.

Poplar has a low density, making working with machines and tools easy. In addition, it does not need prior drilling for fasteners, and glues spread on the surface nicely. But you’d need sharp cutters when planning to avoid a fuzzy texture.

The wood has enough moisture in its structure, making it easy to trim and carve. Poplar also shrinks after drying, and it is advisable to use it after you are sure of its dryness.

Conversely, pine is medium-weight and soft. It features excellent workability with handheld tools or machines and accommodates glues, screws, nails, and various finishes.

  • Staining

Interestingly, neither pine nor poplar receives stains well. You need a pre-stain wood conditioner before adding the stain coat for a satisfactory outcome. Otherwise, the entire job will flop.

In addition, pine has an uneven grain pattern, resulting in ununiform stain penetration. And as a result, the wood will experience blotchiness after staining.

Similarly, poplar is a paint-grade lumber type as it receives paint formulas well. However, stain formulas are different from paint, which primarily sits on the surface. Therefore, they will not soak unevenly in the wood, resulting in a dull and splotchy surface.

So, what’s the best way to stain poplar and pine for a durable, professional finish.

  • Poplar Wood

The first step is to smooth out rough areas or imperfections on the wood’s surface. These blemishes compromise the surface’s overall appearance. So, grab grit sandpaper and gently rub the wood.

Besides, sanding the wood enhances stain absorption and leads to more uniform coverage. Thus, gently smooth the surface after staining to deliver a better and cleaner finish.

Next, apply the stain with a paintbrush or rag and work back and forth. Also, please note that bristles are too rigid to allow staining poplar in one pass. Therefore, it is best to use a rag or cloth and work on one wood section at a time.

The other step involves applying a polyurethane sealer. And although it is optional, it is advisable to have the topcoat for added durability. Moreover, polyurethane helps protect bare wood if the job involves other building materials like metal or glass.

Ensure that the sealer soaks into all the wood’s bare areas. Then, give it enough time to dry to the touch before applying the stain.

It is okay to add more stain layers on the surface for a deeper and richer color. In addition, there is no limit to how many coats to apply, but too much makes it harder for the lumber to absorb and cure properly.

Allow every coat enough time to dry before adding another, or you risk wiping away or smearing the previous layer. Also, ensure that you follow the same pattern for all the layers regardless of the application tool.

Remember to wipe off excess formula after each application. This step is straightforward, but sometimes woodworkers fall into the temptation of applying the stain before it fully dries.

Let the project dry overnight before resuming regular use. This way, you’ll ensure that the finish is dry and won’t scrape or peel off later. It will also help avoid the likelihood of permanent smearing on other items.

Finally, clean up your tools and avoid using them in the next project while dirty. The formula may become permanent and ruin other projects. Also, the harsh chemicals in stains and sealants can damage the tools.

  • Pine Wood

It is prudent to acquaint yourself with the needed materials and application process by practicing on scrap wood pieces. Experiment on the face grain, end grain, and veneered stock until you are comfortable.

Fix any loose knots by filling them with an epoxy formula, keeping it off surrounding areas for easier clean-up. Next, wait for the paste to set and sand it flush with the wood for a uniform finish.

Please note that a good-looking surface always begins with a thorough sanding job, especially for softwoods. So, consider working with a block, change the paper often, and sand up to 220-grit.

Orbital sanders leave some swirl marks, making the stained surface look muddy. In addition, sanding with finger pressure alone wears away the surface and creates an uneven surface. Next, consider sanding by hand after power sanding before going to the next grit.

Change the sanding paper often as pine gums regular sandpaper with pitch-laden dust, rendering it useless. Moreover, dull pieces mash the lumber fibers instead of cutting them, leading to a cloudy appearance.

Always level the surface with 100-grit sandpaper. Then, work through the grits up to 220-grit for finer scratch patterns. Also, be careful not to go across the grain to avoid having unnecessary scratches.

The other step is to apply two wood conditioner coats on the surface. Spread it over every exposed area, including the ends. In addition, the first coat penetrates the wood instantly, while the second coat begins to pool on the grain. So, only apply the required formula amount.

Let the wood dry and blot your preferred stain formula onto the surface. Soak up a small amount with a chisel-tipped brush or scrap cloth and transfer it to the piece. Then, use back and forth motions or eccentric circles for a professional finish.

Finally, add one or two transparent coat layers to the surface to protect the upgraded piece. Moreover, a good topcoat locks in the rich finish and safeguards the lumber from moisture and general wear.

  • Weight and Density

Most hardwoods feature a higher density than softwoods. But poplar is not in this category as it is lighter and less dense than standard hardwoods. In addition, all poplar species have relatively low-density and a diffuse-porous structure.

Poplar has lower moisture content and is lighter than pine. The lumber gives a better result for projects where weight is considered. So, use it for chairs, drawers, chests, tables, or other movable furniture.

  • Strength and Hardness

The wood’s Janka hardness refers to how the material withstands dance, dents, and wear. In addition, it predicts the difficulty of sanding, nailing, screwing, or stain and paints application of a given lumber type.

Yellow poplar has Janka’s hardness of 540 lbf, and white poplar is about 410 lbf. In addition, Balsam poplar ranges at 300 lbf and is softer than its white and yellow counterparts.

On the other hand, longleaf pine has 870 lbf, Eastern White Pine is at 380 lbf, Radiata pine is 710 lbf, and Scots pine is 540 lbf.

Poplar is not a strong lumber type despite being a tropical hardwood. In contrast, although pine is a softwood, some varieties are significantly more rigid than poplar.

Also, on average, pinewood is more likely to dent than poplar as it is soft by Janka standards and may not hold up for long. But neither wood type is suitable for hardwood requiring projects. 

Lastly, several pinewood varieties will beat poplar hands down if we get into the above comparing details. However, standard poplar features a higher strength and hardness rating than pine.

Let’s look at the wood types in different scenarios to determine the best for each case.

Poplar or Pine for Shelving?

It is prudent to watch for shelf sagging when working with various wood types. Sagging shelves are shelves that start to sag and bend in the middle due to stress by weighty objects.

These shelves look ugly and pose safety hazards as you risk them crashing down at any time. To avoid sagging shelves, consider reinforcing them, adding supporting brackets, and using a stiff and stable wood type.

We measure lumber stiffness using the Modulus of Elasticity, and the higher the statistic, the stiffer the lumber. Pine has a lower elasticity modulus and thus is less rigid. Therefore, poplar beats out pine in hardness.

In addition, it is better to use poplar for shelving projects. But you are not limited to this option. Manufactured wood types like plywood are excellent shelving materials and assure superior stability.

Pine or Poplar for Outdoor Use

Both wood types feature low natural resistance to rot and decay, making them unsuitable for outdoor use. However, it is possible to deliver a durable project with prior surface treatment.

Untreated poplar lasts only three to four years in outdoor conditions. Similarly, untreated pine lasts about five years. Therefore, you cannot rely on both lumber species for exterior applications.

Conversely, pressure treated poplar or pine is more water damage and moisture resistance. Hence, you can use the wood outdoors for several years on various projects. In addition, pressure treating infuses the lumber with rot, insect, and even fire-resistant preservatives, increasing resilience.

Pressure treated pine holds up generally well against harsh environmental conditions, making it a favorite choice for outdoor furniture, fences, and decking projects. You can also use it as construction-grade lumber.

Pine or Poplar For Indoor Furniture

Indoor projects such as crafting cabinets require more finesse than simple shelving. Besides, you need to accurately install and fasten the cabinet joints, needing a workable and machine-friendly wood type.

Poplar is easy to handle, straightforward to plane down shapes, and only needs one paint coat. Also, the wood does not have knots like pine. Therefore, you do not have to worry about a nightmare during work time.

Pine or Poplar for Water Resistance

Treated poplar features more moisture resistance attributes than untreated lumber. But it does not hold up well if you regularly drench it in water. Therefore, ensure that you use the wood in interior construction areas or areas it won’t get direct rain.

Oppositely, pressure-treated pine withstands exterior weather elements. Besides, it is a relatively decent alternative for outdoor furniture and applications.

Pine or Poplar for a Crib

Both wood species are a good choice for a crib. However, poplar wood is less likely to splinter, thanks to its uniform and straight grain. Therefore, consider it for making children’s toys and the like.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions on the subject include:

  • Which Is Better, Poplar or Pine?

It is difficult to say in one word which wood is better. Besides, poplar and pine have multiple varieties and have different attributes. Therefore, you can only make a choice after determining your project needs.

In addition, the lumbers’ strain, hardness, color, and density make them different. In some cases, pine is better, while poplar is suitable in others, and only your application can dictate which option is better for you.


Knowing how Poplar and pine compare goes a long way in simplifying your work and guarantees a suitable choice for your work. In addition, a detailed comparison of the lumber types clarifies the dilemma:

Pine Vs Poplar

Poplar wood is an obvious alternative when working on small handcrafted items and indoor furniture. It is easier to machine and craft than pine. On the other hand, pine is better for outdoor furniture, thanks to its durability.

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Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.

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