If you are looking for some good types of wood to use for a variety of construction purposes around your home, then two very popular options include poplar and walnut. Both of these types of wood have certain advantages and disadvantages that are worth considering.
Today, we are going to compare both to see which one is best used for a variety of construction and woodworking purposes, so you can make an informed decision between the two.
What Is Poplar?
First, we have the poplar tree, and today we are focusing specifically on the yellow poplar tree, as this is one of the most popular types used for construction in North America, as well as one of the most commonly occurring. There are well over 35 different types of poplar trees that are found all throughout the Northern Hemisphere, mainly in North America, Northern Europe, and Northern Asia.
The yellow poplar tree is a deciduous hardwood, although it is technically quite soft and lightweight, and it doesn’t have the best structural integrity. It is also not very rich in oils or resins, so it is not the best option when it comes to outdoor purposes, as it is not very resistant to pests or moisture.
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, and it usually doesn’t have many voids, gaps, or knots. This wood features a yellowish or creamy white color.
Yellow poplar is generally used for various utilitarian purposes, such as for making slabs, plywood, pallets, low-end furniture, other low-end applications, and more. Many people also appreciate yellow poplar due to it being very affordable.
What Is Walnut?
We then have the walnut tree. Specifically, today we are talking about the eastern black walnut, as it can be found all throughout the Eastern United States and Eastern Canada, and is one of the most popular for construction. This tree can grow up to 150’ in height and up to 8’ in diameter.
This is a deciduous hardwood tree, and it is quite hard. Not only is walnut wood very hard and resistant to physical damage, but it is also quite dense and structurally sound. It does also contain some natural oils and resins, so it is somewhat resistant to fungus, pests, and moisture.
However, in the grand scheme of things, walnut wood is generally used for indoor purposes, because it is not the number one most moisture-resistant type of wood out there. Furthermore, it grows very slowly, so it is very expensive.
This means that it is generally reserved for higher-end purposes, and is usually kept indoors to keep it in good condition. It is often used for making things like gunstocks, furniture, cabinets, carvings, flooring, and more.
Walnut wood features a very deep brown color, something like coffee or chocolate. It is in fact one of the only types of wood in North America that naturally grows very dark, and it actually gets lighter with time, as opposed to getting darker like many other types of wood. The wood from the walnut tree features a straight and tight grain, and it may contain some voids, gaps, or knots, as well as some curves.
Poplar vs. Walnut: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both yellow poplar and eastern black walnut tree are, let’s take a closer look at what makes them different from each other.
Although yellow poplar may technically be defined as a hardwood, it’s actually fairly soft. Yellow poplar features a Janka hardness rating of just 540 lbf. On the other hand, the eastern black walnut comes in at 1,010 lbf. As you can see, black walnut is much harder than yellow poplar and is therefore much more able to resist denting, scratching, and other forms of physical damage.
In terms of density, the eastern black walnut tree comes in at 38 lbs/ft3. On the other hand, yellow poplar comes in at just 29 lbs/ft3. Eastern black walnut is therefore much heavier and denser than yellow poplar. This does in part lend to its higher durability, but due to its heavier weight, it’s also a bit harder to work with.
Pest and Moisture Resistance
One thing that needs to be said about yellow poplar is that it is just not very resistant to moisture, decay, rotting, fungus, or pests. It is not an ideal type of wood to use for outdoor purposes. On the other hand, strictly speaking, eastern black walnut may be used outdoors, as it is somewhat resistant to moisture and pests, especially when properly treated and sealed. With that being said, because walnut is such an expensive type of wood, most people still wouldn’t use it for outdoor purposes.
Overall Strength and Durability
When it comes down to it, yellow poplar just isn’t the strongest or most structurally sound type of wood. If we look at the various factors that determine how strong wood is, including the compressive strength, the modulus of rupture, and the modulus of elasticity, eastern black walnut scores much higher in all of these categories. This means that walnut can handle more weight and pressure, and is more structurally sound overall, than yellow poplar.
Although eastern black walnut is definitely the stronger of the two kinds of wood, it is also harder to work with, which is precisely because it is much stronger, harder, and heavier. It just does more damage to your saw blades and is harder to screw together. That said, neither of these types of wood is overly hard to work with.
Appearance – Color and Grain
Yellow poplar features a very basic appearance with a straight grain, not many knots or voids, and it has a creamy white or yellowish color. Walnut on the other hand features extremely beautiful wood that is chocolate or coffee-like in color.
It also has an interesting grain pattern that may at times be wavy. Generally speaking, people agree that walnut is the much better looking of the two, which is why it is often used for high-end indoor decorative purposes, furniture making, and other pieces that need to be aesthetically pleasing.
The good thing about yellow poplar is that it is not going to cost you more than $6 or $7 per board foot, whereas black walnut is going to cost you $25 per board foot or more.
When to Use Poplar?
If you are just looking for a very basic and affordable type of wood that works well for utilitarian purposes, such as for making slabs and pallets, crates and boxes, and for basic indoor furniture, then yellow poplar is just fine. Just remember that it’s pretty soft, so it should not be used in high-traffic areas, and it’s also not very moisture-resistant, so you shouldn’t use it outdoors.
When to Use Walnut?
If you are looking for a type of wood that is extremely beautiful, hard, dense, structurally sound, and durable overall, then walnut is a fantastic option. Just keep in mind that it is rather expensive, so you probably want to keep it indoors.
Alternatives to Poplar and Walnut
Although walnut is a fairly hard type of wood, there are still much harder. If you want extremely hard wood that is structurally sound, options such as teak, mahogany, ebony, and ironwood are all fantastic options to consider.
In a separate article, we detailed some of the best alternatives to walnut wood.
As you can see, one of these types of wood is very affordable and ideal for basic indoor use, whereas the other is very expensive and better reserved for high-end applications.