Is a hardwood a hard wood?
That may seem like a silly question, but it is a fair one, and the answer depends on something called the Janka test. It also depends on the wood to which one is being compared, and it has something to do, also, with a wood’s species.
Let’s cut into this wood business.
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The Hardness of Wood
When we refer to hardwoods, we are generally referring to species of deciduous trees, those that lose their leaves in winter. All hardwoods come from these trees, but not all hardwoods are hard wood.
Hardwoods are slower growing than softwoods, and most hardwoods have a higher density than most softwoods. Examples of hardwoods include maple, oak, and walnut.
On the other hand, softwoods come from conifer species, trees that are evergreen and don’t lose their leaves in winter. All softwoods come from these trees, and all softwoods are soft by comparison to most hardwoods.
Softwoods are quicker growing than hardwoods, and most have a lower density than hardwoods. Examples of softwoods include fir, spruce, and pine.
Distinguished another way, if the trees produce seeds that have a coating or are in a shell, they fall into the hardwood category; if the trees produce seeds that have no coating and simply fall to the ground, they are in the softwood category.
As confusing as this may seem to say, not all hardwoods are harder than some softwoods. To make these distinctions clear, we have the Janka test to measure hardness.
This test measures the force necessary to punch a .444 steel ball halfway into a piece of wood. The greater the force required to do so, the harder the wood. In essence, this test is measuring the density of the wood and thus its hardness.
So, the terms hardwood and softwood will identify the species of woods and not their density or hardness.
Let’s Talk About Poplar
Poplar is a deciduous tree (its leaves fall off in the winter), and we now know that wood from a deciduous tree is a hardwood. Its wood is creamy and white-colored and with streaks through the grain of brown and gray hues.
Poplar is a hardwood, but it is not considered to be a hard wood by the Janka test. In the hardwood family, poplar is one of the softer hardwoods, ranking less hard than some species of cedar woods, and cedar woods are softwoods.
That being said, though, poplar is a strong wood. It can be a good choice for furniture, but only if it is painted, as it is not considered to be a pretty wood, with too many color variations. As such, it does not stain well. It’s used well for drawers, where it won’t be seen because it is stable (it doesn’t warp or shrink) and inexpensive.
Its strength and lower expense also make it suitable for framing and industrial uses such as making pallets and packing crates.
Let’s Talk About Pine
Pine is a coniferous tree, an evergreen. As we now know, the wood from evergreen species of trees is softwood. Pinewood lumber is characterized by knots and knot holes and other visible defects, making it an easily recognizable wood.
Softwoods in general are less expensive than hardwoods because they grow more quickly and usually straighter (thus requiring less milling). Softwoods such as pine make up about 80% of the world’s lumber production.
Pine is widely used in furniture making, window and door framing, and even floors. For outdoor use, open to the elements, it is pressure-treated to stand up well against those elements for a longer time. It is not as durable or as long-lasting outdoors as teak or oak, much denser hardwoods.
Common Comparison Questions for Poplar and Pine
Now that we know a bit more about poplar and pine let’s break it down with some specific questions and see what we find.
- Is poplar lighter than pine? Poplar is much lighter than pine. Your woodworking projects using poplar will be much lighter than if you had used pine. Chairs, tables, chests of drawers, and other poplar furniture will be easier to lift and set in place.
- Which is a harder wood – pine or poplar? It depends. On the Janka scale, standard poplar is rated harder than Eastern pine. But, other pines, such as Radiata, Southern Yellow Pine, and True Pine, are much harder by a magnitude of 2 and 3.
- Poplar vs. pine strength. We know that poplar is a hardwood, but not necessarily a hard wood. And we know that pine is a softwood. As for strength, though, neither is suitable for projects requiring hardwood. Poplar is less likely to dent than is pine, but there is little difference between them as for strength.
- How strong is poplar compared to oak? Both poplar and oak are hardwoods (both are deciduous trees). Poplar, though, is among the softest of the hardwoods, whereas oak is among the harder. Red oak, for instance, is more than twice as strong (on the Janka scale) as yellow and white poplar.
- What is poplar good for? Among other things, furniture. It doesn’t take well to staining because of its color variations, but paint and upholstery are used to cover them. In short, any furniture where its use can be hidden – – drawers, frames, etc. As mentioned earlier, poplar also has suitable industrial applications for boxes, crates, pallets, and cheap plywoods.
We started with a simple question: Is Poplar Stronger Than Pine? But now you know so much more about hardwoods and softwoods, hard woods, soft woods, wood density, wood strength, and the Janka scale.
You’re in a better position to make a more informed decision for your next woodworking project as using poplar or pine. Each is comparatively inexpensive, and each has its appeal depending on the project.