Maple vs. Poplar: Which One to Use?

Maple vs. Poplar: Which One to Use?

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Whether you are planning on building floors, walls, furniture, cabinets, or anything in between, there are many types of solid wood that you have to choose from. Two very popular types include maple and poplar.

That said, these two materials have some major differences between them that you need to be aware of. Therefore, today, we’re going to compare them on a side-by-side basis to see which one is best for your next big project.

What Is Maple?

First, we have the maple tree, and here we’re talking specifically about the sugar maple or hard maple. This is one of the most commonly found types of maple in North America, especially in Canada and the United States. It is a very popular choice for construction purposes, so this is what we will be focusing on today.

This is a deciduous tree that loses its leaves during the winter, and yes it is a flowering tree, meaning that it is also a hardwood. It is actually one of the harder types found in North America. In terms of appearance, hard maple has a fairly fine texture, an even and straight grain, and it may have some waves, curls, or ripples.

The heartwood of maple is reddish-brown, and the sapwood is cream-colored, almost white. What is interesting to note is that out of the different types of hardwood found in North America, maple is one of the few where the sapwood is generally used for construction and woodworking purposes, as opposed to the heartwood.

In terms of its physical properties, maple is quite hard and durable, and quite strong in general. It is known for being quite resistant to various forms of physical damage, such as denting and scratching.

However, it is not the most moisture or pest-resistant type of wood out there. Sure, it is better with water than it is with pests, but it doesn’t perform too well on either front. If you treat it properly with a good sealant, it may be used for outdoor purposes, although it’s still not recommended.

Because it’s not overly resistant to the elements, this wood is generally used for indoor purposes, but it is quite durable, so it does make for a good choice for walls, floors, furniture, decorative pieces, instruments, and more. It’s a structurally sound type of wood that can be used for all sorts of woodworking and construction projects.

What Is Poplar?

We then have the poplar tree, which is a deciduous tree found in North America. Technically speaking, there are over 35 different types of poplar trees, although today we will be focusing mainly on the yellow poplar. This is one of the most commonly found types in North America, as well as one of the most popular for construction and woodworking purposes.

In terms of hardwoods, poplar is actually quite soft. It’s one of the lightest, least dense, and softest types of hardwood in the whole world. It also doesn’t have much sap or resin, and it doesn’t contain many natural oils either. For this reason, poplar isn’t the most durable, resilient, structurally sound, pest-resistant, or moisture-resistant material around.

As for appearance, this wood has a fairly straight grain with a tight and uniform appearance and usually doesn’t have any gaps, knots, or voids. It has a medium texture.

Poplar wood has a creamy, yellowish, and white color, and it is a good choice for a variety of basic or utilitarian purposes, such as making pallets, slabs, plywood, low-end furniture, and a variety of other low-end applications, all for indoor use.

Maple vs. Poplar: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what both maple and poplar are, let’s figure out what makes these two types of wood different from each other.


In terms of hardness, maple is quite hard, as it features a Janka hardness rating of 1,450 lbf. On the other hand, we have yellow poplar, which comes in at just 540 lbf. As you can see, maple is almost three times as hard as yellow poplar. This means that sugar maple is much more resistant to scratching, denting, and other forms of physical damage.


As for the density, sugar maple is quite heavy, weighing roughly 44 lbs per cubic foot. On the other hand, yellow poplar is actually a fairly lightweight type of wood, as it weighs around 29 lbs per cubic foot.

Maple is the far heavier and denser of the two types of wood. This does in part lead to its increased durability, yet it does also make it more difficult to work with due to its heavier weight.

Pest and Moisture Resistance

What is interesting to note is that neither material is overly resilient when it comes to outdoor purposes. The simple fact of the matter is that while sugar maple is a little bit more resilient than yellow poplar, both perform fairly poorly when put outdoors.

Maple is somewhat moisture-resistant, although we definitely would not use it outdoors without sealing it first. Poplar, on the other hand, is not at all moisture-resistant, even if sealed. Both also aren’t very pest-resistant. The bottom line is that while maple will perform better than poplar for outdoor purposes, in the grand scheme of things, neither is ideal.

Overall Strength

When it comes to the overall strength of these two types of wood, yellow poplar just doesn’t stack up to hard maple. In terms of the modulus of rupture, the modulus of elasticity, and the compressive strength, hard maple is higher rated on all of those fronts. It’s just the much stronger, more durable, and more structurally sound type of lumber to use.


One of the upsides that you do get with yellow poplar when compared to hard maple is that it is a bit easier to work with, which is mainly because it’s not as hard, dense, or heavy.

Appearance – Grain and Color

Both types of wood look somewhat similar, although maple tends to be a bit lighter in color than poplar. They both usually have a fairly smooth or medium texture combined with a straight and uniform grain. That said, maple may have more knots and gaps. However, most people would agree that maple is the better-looking of the two. That said, it really all comes down to a matter of personal preference.


Sugar maple is moderately expensive, as it comes in at roughly $15 per board foot, whereas yellow poplar is much more affordable, usually topping out at around $6 per board foot.

When to Use Maple?

If you want to make some really nice-looking furniture, doors, walls, floors, or decorative pieces, and you need something that is very hard, durable, and resistant to physical damage, then sugar maple definitely makes for a good choice. Just remember that it is not a type of wood that you want to use for outdoor purposes. It is also structurally sound, so you can use it for basic construction use.

When to Use Poplar?

If you need an extremely affordable type of wood then poplar is always a good option to consider. Just remember that it isn’t overly durable, structurally sound, or resistant. However, if you need to make some basic low-end furniture, do some interior millwork, make some crates or pallets, or anything else of the sort that is very utilitarian and basic in nature, then poplar does make for a good option.

Alternatives to Maple and Poplar

Seeing as neither of these is very resistant to moisture or pests, if you are looking for a type of wood to use for outdoor purposes, we recommend going with red cedar. Red cedar is one of the most pest and moisture-resistant types of wood out there.

There are also others that are ideal for outdoor purposes, with mahogany, Ipe, and teak being some of the most popular options.


Now that you know what makes maple and poplar different from each other, you can make an informed choice between the two. If you need something cost-effective, it’s poplar that you want, and if you want something durable, maple will do the trick.