If you are looking for the best type of wood to use for your next construction project, you have many good choices to go with. Two species of hardwood trees that are commonly used for a variety of applications include mahogany and poplar. Both are popular for a variety of reasons, but they aren’t at all the same.
Let’s compare poplar and mahogany to see what makes them different and which one you should use for your next big project.
What Is Mahogany?
Mahogany is a deciduous hardwood tree that is native to the Americas, particularly in the warmer regions, although it was exported to various parts of Oceania and Asia, where it can now also be found. This is a tropical species of hardwood tree that is generally not found in colder regions.
Mahogany features a straight and very tight grain, combined with a deep reddish-brown color. Mahogany is very dense, heavy, and hard, which means that it not only looks amazing but is also very durable and resistant to both moisture and pests.
Because it is both durable and good-looking, it is a go-to choice for high-end and luxury furniture, doors, cabinets and dressers, windows, and outdoor amenities. However, keep in mind that this does come at a cost, as mahogany is somewhat hard to find and expensive too.
What Is Poplar?
We then have the poplar tree, which is another deciduous hardwood tree, although one of the softest varieties of hardwood out there. There are actually 35 species of poplar, and they are all in the willow family, and native to the northern hemisphere, or in other words, generally in the cooler parts of the world.
Although poplar is technically a hardwood, it’s one of the lightest, least dense, and softest hardwoods. It also doesn’t have much sap or resin, which means that it is not very pest or moisture-resistant.
Poplar does have a straight and somewhat tight grain with a uniform appearance, and very few to no knots or voids, along with a creamy-yellowish-white color. Poplar is often used for practical purposes, such as making wooden slabs and pallets, plywood, low-end trim, furniture, windows, drawers, cabinets, and more.
Mahogany vs. Poplar: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both mahogany and poplar are, let’s take a closer look at what makes the two different from each other.
As mentioned above, although poplar is a hardwood, it is one of the softer varieties, with a Janka hardness rating of just 540 lbf. It’s not very hard at all, which means that it is rather susceptible to scratching, denting, and general damage. On the other hand, mahogany comes in at around 900 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, therefore making it the much harder of the two, and hence much more resistant to denting and scratching.
Density and Weight
Mahogany is a fairly dense and heavy wood, as it features a density of 800 kg per cubic meter. This does also help make it very durable and strong, although its high weight can make it a challenge to work with. Poplar, on the other hand, is much less dense, as it has a density of 450 kg per cubic meter. Therefore, it’s just over half as dense and heavy as mahogany, therefore making it a bit easier to maneuver, although also less durable.
Mahogany is a very dense and hard tropical tree, which means that it is accustomed to humid conditions, and yes, it does stand up to moisture quite well. In fact, this is one of its main advantages. Although it doesn’t contain much resin or sap, it’s still a great option for outdoor use.
Poplar, however, is not very dense or hard, and it doesn’t contain much sap or resin. Poplar is actually one of the least moisture-resistant hardwoods out there and is not suitable for outdoor use.
Related to the above point, mahogany is quite resistant to pests, whereas poplar is not, therefore also making poplar impractical for outdoor use.
When it comes down to it, mahogany is just the far more durable of the two kinds of wood, and this is true on all fronts. It’s more resistant to pests and moisture, it doesn’t snap or break as easily, and it’s hard to dent and scratch. However, as far as poplar is concerned, it’s just not very durable or long-lasting.
Color and Appearance
In terms of appearance, mahogany has a very tight and dense grain that is straight, combined with very few or no knots and voids, and a deep reddish-brown color. Most would say that it’s one of the best-looking woods out there. Poplar is also straight-grained and uniform, with little or no knots, and a creamy-yellowish-white color. Poplar is typically considered nothing special to look at.
Mahogany could cost you upwards of 15 dollars per board foot, whereas poplar will cost you about a third as much. Poplar is one of the least expensive hardwoods out there.
When to Use Mahogany Wood?
If you plan on making high-end exterior or interior furniture, you want some beautiful cabinets and dressers, some good-looking doors and windows, or some great decorative pieces, then mahogany is the choice to go with, as long as you are willing to pay for it.
When to Use Poplar Wood?
If you need to make plywood, slabs, pallets, low-end furniture, relatively cheap cabinets and dressers, or anything else where the quality and durability of the wood is not the number one concern, then poplar will do just fine, especially if you are working on a limited budget.
Alternatives to Mahogany and Poplar Wood
If you need some high-quality hardwood that is ideal for furniture making, then ash, oak, walnut, and maple are excellent options to consider. If you are looking for something more affordable to make some decent furniture with, we recommend checking out a variety of softwoods, including fir, pine, and cedar.
You should also read our article about mahogany alternatives for more ideas.
Now that you know what the differences between mahogany and poplar are, you can make an informed decision between the two. As you can see, although they do have some big differences between them, they both have their own set of advantages that need to be taken into account.