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.


  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


J Carsten Homes & Remodeling


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