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A poplar choice

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A topic on one of the online woodworking forums recently asked for opinions on wood for drawer boxes. As always, I answered poplar.

The primary wood we choose for projects – oak, quartersawn oak, cherry, walnut, whatever – is probably what’s foremost in our thoughts in the planning stages of a project. That decision made, we turn to the material for internal components, drawer boxes and such. By its very nature this wood isn’t as important visually (hence the name secondary wood), but it still requires thought.

One of the posters said something to the effect that if the project is worthwhile you should always use a worthwhile wood even for secondary purposes. Sure, you can do that if you want; nothing at all wrong with that. But as a rule? I don’t think so. Just how do you determine the quality of “worthwhile” in a wood species?

There’s no such thing as a perfect primary wood, as the species you choose for the outside of the project always relates directly to the appearance you desire. But when it comes to what’s on the inside, you’d be hard pressed to find a better all-around perfect choice than poplar. It’s hard and sturdy, yet works easily. It has few defects. It wears well. It’s relatively inexpensive. Agriculturally speaking, it’s plentiful and grows fast. And as long as you avoid workpieces with that green or purple tint poplar can have (or relegate them to unseen portions of the project), it’s often indistinguishable from several other light-colored woods.

I’ve made drawer boxes with everything from the same species as the primary wood to plain utility plywood, and a lot in between. The key is to consider two things: appearance and suitability for use. For small drawers that see little rough use, light pine may be sufficient. For drawers that need to hold tons of stuff, something heavier and harder is called for. But I’ve found that poplar easily covers both ends of the spectrum in almost all cases.

That makes it plenty worthwhile in my book.

Till next time,


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