Yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera, or tulip tree), the tallest hardwood tree in North America, also rates as the most valuable commercial species because its intolerance to shade stifles lower branches and produces a perfect, straight trunk with clear lumber even in small trees.
|furniture, mouldings, musical instruments, plywood cores (see “It’s a fact that…”), toys, and much more. In some locales around the|
|country, yellow poplar even finds its way into light construction and siding.|
|Where the wood comes from Principally an eastern|
|tree, you’ll find yellow poplar growing from upstate New York to the Carolinas, and southwest into Missouri, the United States. with nearly two-thirds of the nation’s old growth in the southeastern Appalachians. There, yellow poplar reaches 100'+ heights and 8' diameters, often free of branches for 80' or more. In total, the tree represents more|
|YOU MAY FIND IT SURPRISING
that yellow poplar has
yet another commercial value—as
a “honey” tree. The blossoms can
annually yield up to eight pounds
of nectar, equivalent to about four
pounds of delectable honey.
History in woodworking
Old yellow poplar trees develop
massive trunks. In fact, pioneers
hewed dugout canoes from those
big boles. They also learned to
make everything from fruit baskets
to boxes to trim and household
furniture and utensils called
“treenware” from the easily worked
and versatile wood.
Today, the wood of yellow poplar has a variety of uses no other tree can match. With enough strength for most applications, sufficient stiffness, stability, and wear resistance, it’s made into cabinets, doors,
POPLAR was used for this
classic step-back cupboard designed and
built by Steve Rigrish.
than 11% of commercially available hardwoods in the United States.
What you'll pay
|Although yellow poplar has high commercial value. A board foot of|
|4/4 (3/ 16") FAS lumber costs about|
|$2.60. Sorry, you won’t find|
|plywood available, nor veneer.|
part of the wood ranges in
color from pale green to tan, many
times streaked by deep blue, gray,
purple, all harmless
mineral stains that
won’t go away.
To some these
a clear finish But
if you like less
specify all sapwood
or sort through the boards
for uniform tone.
|Working yellow poplar
in the shop
Looking for wood that’s easy to work with hand tools? You’ll find it with yellow poplar, but keep the following in mind when using power tools to machine the wood.
• Ripping and routing. Yellow poplar does tend to burn, so cut it with sharp blades and bits. Always use a steady feed rate.
• Assembling. Hardwoods normally require a slower rpm when drilling and boring. With yellow poplar, speed it up to avoid burning. And frequently clean chips from the hole when using large-diameter bits.
Deciding on the right finish
The only finishing headache you’ll have with yellow poplar is staining. It has a yellow-green cast that you can neutralize by adding a toner to the clear coat, but the heartwood color variations make results unpredictable.
|So first test any stain on
scrapwood similar to your project
There’s no doubt that yellow poplar ranks as a top-rate paintable wood. For outdoor use, paint is absolutely necessary.
|However, near its source you can
expect to find boards in widths up
to 20", thicknesses to 3" or more,
and lengths to 16'! (Because wood
from magnolia, the cucumber
tree, is practically identical, it’s
sometimes mixed in.)
How to select the best stock
The wood of yellow poplar weighs about one-third less than walnut, is only half as strong and hard (see chart), and has similar texture and straight grain. In other words, it’s a great wood for working. The problem? Choosing the right boards— unless you’ll
|paint your project (the wood takes paint very well, by the That’s because the sapwood has|
|a pleasing creamy color but the heartwood can be a mixed bag.|