Poplar vs. Birch: Which One to Use?

Poplar vs. Birch: Which One to Use?

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If you need a good type of wood to use for your next big construction or woodworking project, then you have come to the right place. Today, we want to do a side-by-side comparison of two very popular types of wood often used in North America for a variety of purposes. These are poplar and birch.

Let’s figure out what makes these two types of wood different, so you can then decide which one to use for your next big project.

What Is Poplar?

First, we have poplar, and here we are talking specifically about the yellow poplar tree, which is a deciduous and hardwood tree that is found all throughout the world, mostly in North America, North Asia, and Northern Europe.

There are in fact over 35 different species of the poplar tree that can be found worldwide. We are focusing on the yellow poplar, as this is one of the most commonly used in North America for building purposes.

Although this tree is technically a type of hardwood, it’s actually not very hard at all. It’s also not very dense, durable, or structurally sound in general. Furthermore, yellow poplar doesn’t contain many oils or resins, so it’s not very resistant to pests, fungus, moisture, or decay.

It is therefore not an ideal choice for outdoor use. With that being said, many people do appreciate the fairly basic appearance of yellow poplar, as it has a straight grain along with a tight and uniform texture. It also doesn’t have many voids, gaps, or knots, and it features a creamy white or yellowish color.

It is generally used for utilitarian purposes, especially indoors, for things like making slabs, plywood, pallets, low-end furniture, and for other basic indoor applications. One of the biggest advantages of yellow poplar is the fact that it is extremely affordable.

What Is Birch?

We then have the birch tree, and here we are focusing on the yellow birch, as this is one of the most commonly used varieties in North America for a variety of purposes. Technically speaking, in North America alone, there are over a dozen different species of the birch tree.

The yellow birch tree, which is our main focus of the day, can be found from the eastern edge of Manitoba all the way over to the Atlantic provinces, as well as in some of the northeastern parts of the United states.

The birch tree has a relatively tight and straight grain, although it can have some waves or irregularities. It has a fine and even texture and a low natural luster, although it may have some knots, voids, or gaps.

Birch tends to feature a brownish-reddish-yellowish color, with the sapwood being mostly white. However, it is the heartwood that is usually used for construction, and it tends to be somewhat light in color.

This wood is somewhat hard, moderately heavy, and quite easy to work with. It is one of the harder types of wood that can be found in North America, and it is ideal for many different construction purposes. With that being said, it is not very resistant to pests or moisture, so it’s not something that you should use outdoors.

Yes, it does resist pests better than moisture, but it’s still not ideal for either. Birch is a good choice for indoor purposes, especially for lower-end furniture, floors for low-traffic areas, cabinets, decorative pieces, and more. It is also quite cost-effective, which is another reason many people like it.

Poplar vs. Birch: What Are the Differences?

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


Yellow poplar is a fairly soft type of wood, as it features a Janka hardness rating of just 540 lbf. On the other hand, yellow birch features a Janka hardness rating of 1,260 lbf. As you can see, yellow birch is therefore much harder than poplar, meaning that it is far more resistant to various forms of physical damage such as denting, scratching, and more.


Not only is yellow birch much harder than yellow poplar, but also much denser and heavier. Yellow poplar comes in at just 29 lbs/ft3, whereas yellow birch comes in at 43 lbs/ft3.

As you can see, yellow birch is therefore significantly heavier than yellow poplar. This does in part lead to its higher durability, but can also make it harder to work with because it’s much heavier and more difficult to maneuver.

Pest and Moisture Resistance

In terms of overall pest and moisture resistance, yellow birch might be a bit better than yellow poplar, although neither of them is ideal for outdoor use. Yellow birch is a bit more pest-resistant, although neither is very resistant to moisture. Generally speaking, neither of them should be used for outdoor purposes.

Overall Strength and Durability

If you are looking for a type of wood that is very durable, hard, structurally sound, and ideal for various weight-bearing applications, then it is yellow birch that you should use.

When it comes to all of the different factors that work towards determining how strong a piece of wood is, such as the compressive strength, the modulus of elasticity, and the modulus of rupture, yellow birch scores much higher on all of these fronts.


Both of these types of wood are fairly easy to cut, screw, and paint. In fact, yellow birch is well known for being fairly easy to work with, as is yellow poplar. The big difference here is that yellow birch is much heavier and harder, which means that it can cause your saw blades and other tools to dull more quickly.

Appearance – Color and Grain

When it comes to appearance, most people would agree that yellow birch is the better-looking of the two, as the wood has a bit more depth in terms of color. Furthermore, most people would agree that birch has a better-looking grain and texture, which is why it is used for decorative purposes, whereas yellow poplar is generally reserved for utilitarian purposes.


Poplar usually won’t cost you more than $6 per board foot, whereas yellow birch will usually top out at around $10 per board foot.

When to Use Poplar?

If you need a very basic type of wood that is ideal for indoor utilitarian purposes, such as for making slabs, crates, pallets, boxes, general repairs, low-end furniture, and for any application that does not necessarily need to be weight-bearing, then yellow poplar is just fine. Remember that it’s also very affordable.

When to Use Birch?

If you need a type of wood that is very strong, hard, durable, structurally sound, and able to bear decent amounts of weight, then yellow birch is the better option. Just keep in mind that yellow birch is also not ideal for outdoor use.

Alternatives to Poplar and Birch

If you need a type of wood that is great for outdoor use, red cedar is one of the best possible options as it is extremely moisture-resistant. Oak, cherry, maple, teak, and mahogany are all also fairly moisture-resistant.


As you can see, both poplar and birch are fine for indoor use, with poplar being better for utilitarian purposes, and birch being better for weight-bearing and higher-end applications. Just keep in mind that neither of these types of wood should be used outdoors.