October 24, 2021

Carving Poplar Wood | A Clear Guide

Is poplar good for carving

Carving poplar wood is quite popular in the home woodworking world. It gives an affordable alternative to more expensive hardwood species like oak or maple. Carving poplar wood is not easy, so if you’re serious about it, you should try to learn the basics of the trade before you start. 

In this post, we will explain how to carve poplar wood. This is a popular subject in school projects, and it is a straightforward process, but you should be aware of a few things before starting.

What is Poplar wood

Versatility and affordability describe Poplar wood. Durability is one of its features that allows it to hold onto detail. It is a softwood that also belongs to the hardwood. In other words, it is soft hardwood. The Yellow poplar is for carving bowls and spoons, amongst other carvings. It is of its highest quality in lumberyards. It is a native tree of the East Coast,

Carving Poplar wood

Poplar wood is easy to work with, get a hold of, and affordable for low-budget users. Poplar is great for carving because of its grain. The grain is uniformly straight, making it easy to cut into. 

The durability makes poplar wood attractive since it holds intricate designs well. Poplar for spoon-making can be the best choice if you want to make spoons. The fine grain makes carvings beautiful, making it easy for you to whittle away at the hardwood block. 

The beauty of Poplar wood makes it ideal for ornaments. However, using wood to make bowls and spoons is tricky since they are not safe for consumption, and it cannot be a practical kitchen utensil. Poplar wood is porous and has numerous open-air pockets known as pores. Porous woods make poor kitchen utensils. 

Avoid using porous wood when making food prep or contact items. That way, you avoid the risk of food cross-contamination. These items include cutting boards and bowls. However, Poplar wood cannot be dismissed for food-contact items but use timber with small dense pores, known as diffuse-porous woods.  

Poplar spoons should be for decoration rather than serving food. The lumber gained popularity in making pallets, paper, and plywood since it is not for food prep items. It makes chair frames that you find underneath layers of sofa upholstery. 

The tools you need

  • Gouge.
  • Chisel.
  • Carving knife.

Carving the wood

If Poplar is the only wood choice available, make the best carving. If you are into bowls and spoons, make sure they are for decorative purposes. However, when choosing between Poplar wood and Basswood, Basswood takes the trophy since it is safe and beautiful for food prep items. You need more knowledge of the wood’s properties before use. Using suitable wood for your carving item reduces the chances of making ugly items. 


Prepare an outline or sketch of the woodwork

Outlining gives you a summary of the whole project. That is a brainstorm on paper just in case you need a reminder of what you are about to do.  Preparatory sketches are a way of preparing for the carving project. 

If you are working on simple designs, outline the image of the item you want to make. Draw it directly on the Poplar. That means tracing and drawing it on the wood piece. The level of detail depends on your experience with wood carving. 

Starters should work on simpler and fewer details, whereas experienced woodcarvers work on more complex projects. A whole sketch allows you to visualize the end product. When not satisfied, you can still edit and make amendments. 

Pick carving tools

At this stage, that is when you decide on the tools you want to use. Make use of the chisel as you define the shape of the sculpture. Poplar does not give you a hardwire when carving wood since it is soft hardwood. 

If working with a more two-dimensional pattern or image, start by etching its outline to a depth of about 3/16th of an inch using a small carving knife. A utility blade is an alternative to a carving knife.

Switch to detail-oriented carving tools 

That is when you begin the fine work of the carving. Make use of gouges as you create curves and rounded crevices.  That is necessary when your carving has a more rotund quality. Switch to V-tools for angular sections, rectangular shapes, and defining lines. These help you pattern your work. A carving knife allows a versatile fine carving that relies on your skill.

Start using a vacuum

Use a vacuum or brush to clear off debris regularly. That keeps your workplace clean and increases visibility. Try to work in phases as you define your sculpture.

Finish up your carving 

Finalize your sculpture by sanding your wood. Since  Poplar wood does not stain evenly, avoid staining your carvings. Make use of a pre-applied varnish to change its color. Another option is to let it naturally oxidize over time to a rich brown hue.

Things to make with poplar wood

  • Bowls.
  • Spoons.
  • Furniture.
  • Picture frames. 
  • Cabinets.
  • Ceiling molding and trim.
  • Pallets.
  • Boxes.
  • Crates.

Does poplar splinter easily?

Since it is soft, it is bound to splinter and dent easily. That is why you should not apply more pressure. However, it is easy to handle. 

Is Poplar wood expensive?

Poplar wood is an affordable wood type, making it ideal for beginners since they can gather as much wood as they need for multiple trials. Poplar wood for furniture is more affordable than the rest, and you can get it for less than a third of the price of Walnut. However, the price suits the quality of the wood since it is not exceptionally beautiful. 

Poplar wood does not take on stain evenly when it comes to staining, making it pale lumber which is challenging to finish. It comes as light-creamed wood with a bare surface that does not hold up over time. If exposed to sunlight, Poplar starts to turn pale green over the years, which looks ugly on a carving. However, the low price makes Poplar perfect for testing your early carving skills without using more money. 

Difference between Basswood and Poplar Carving

Although Basswood and Poplar are almost the same, they have notable differences. Their differences evolve around density. Basswood is much softer and lighter than Poplar, and that makes cutting Basswood easier than Poplar.

Basswoods have knot-free grain that rarely splinters, whereas Poplar sometimes starts to crack when you carve into it, and that usually happens when the wood is quite dry. Above all, the bare wood grain of both Basswood and Poplar is not impressive. 


In conclusion, there is no substitute for experience, and no amount of reading and research can replace hands-on learning. Creating something by hand is an unexpected joy, and it’s often best to get working and see what you make of it. Enjoy carving poplar wood.

David D. Hughes

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