Cherry stained kitchen cabinets- Poplar in the kitchen?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

 Disadvantages

  1. 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.

Good Luck

Jason

J Carsten Homes & Remodeling

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