I was recently asked about using Poplar as a wood species for kitchen cabinets. Apparently there are several builders who are promoting “Cherry stained cabinets”. They are staining Poplar in colors that make the cabinets look cherry-like. Is this a good idea?
Let’s look at a couple advantages.
- Poplar will definitely be cheaper than Cherry cabinets. My custom cabinet maker charges 40% more for the Cherry material than he does for his standard cabinets made from Oak.
- Poplar is good material for paint-grade projects. I will commonly use poplar for mouldings or crown moulding where there is little chance of being damaged.
- Poplar is a softer wood than oak or cherry. Hardness of a wood is measured via the Janka rating. The Janka rating is a measure of the amount of force required to push a .444″ diameter steel ball half way into a piece of wood. In laymans terms, it is a way to measure a woods resistance to denting. The higher the number the greater its resistance to denting. Here are some Janka Hardness ratings for commonly used wood species:
- Balsa- 100
- Poplar- 540
- Alder (red)- 590
- Southern Yellow Pine- 690
- Red Maple- 950
- Cherry- 950
- Red Oak- 1290
- White Oak- 1360
- Hickory- 1820
- Brazilian Cherry/ Jatoba- 2350
- Ipe/ Brazilian Walnut- 3684
2. As a softer wood, Poplar has a tendency to stain unevenly or blotchy if not treated correctly.
3. Over the life of the cabinets, Poplar cabinets will be less likely to hold up to wear & tear and dents. There may also be issues with screws stripping out of the wood over time.
Overall, I wouldn’t recommend using Poplar for kitchen cabinets. For painted cabinets, we use Maple. It is much harder and holds up better. For stained cabinets, I recommend the real stuff, whether it be cherry or some other wood. It may be a little more money, but if you factor in the cost of the cabinets with the cost of installation and finishing, the cost of the upgrade is relatively small.
J Carsten Homes & Remodeling