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Is Poplar Wood Good for Timber Framing? Pros & Cons


Framing with Poplar Wood: Pros and Cons

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Poplar wood is often considered for timber framing due to its straight, unblemished trunks. Timber framing is where wood is carved to fit like puzzle pieces and put together like Lincoln Logs.  The ideal wood to use is straight and structurally sound as this wood acts as the bones of your building.   

Poplar wood is good to use for timber framing.  There are about 30 species of Poplar wood.  Tulip Poplar (Yellow Poplar) has the necessary characteristics to sustain and strengthen a structure and is regarded as a structurally sound wood for timber framing.  

In previous centuries, settlers and pioneers built their homes with wood that was readily available to that region.  Today, we have a wider selection of woods that can be utilized for timber framing.

But not all the 30 species of Poplar is ideal for the framework. Let’s delve into what is seen by many as the species of choice: Tulip Poplar (Tennessee’s State Tree).

But first, if you are not clear on the differences between timber framing and stick framing, this video is very insightful:

Timber Frame vs Conventional Stick Frame

Pros of Using Tulip (Yellow) Poplar Wood For Timber Framing

There are several reasons why you would want to consider using Tulip Poplar for the timber framing of your structure, here are just a few of them:

Tulip Poplar Is In Plentiful Supply

The Tulip Poplar is plentiful throughout the Eastern and Southeastern United States (source). The cost of a project can drop considerably if the wood is highly available in the area.

Tulip Poplar Has Rapid Growth & Height

Tulip Poplars grow rapidly in their youth and can actually obtain up to 5 feet of height per year. Tulip Poplars grow to a significant height of about 80 feet (source).

This tree is a delight to arborists everywhere because the resource can be replenished quite quickly.  They do require a fair amount of room because of their immense size.

Easy Conversion to House Lumber

The Tulip Poplar grows straight without a lot of knots.  This makes the wood preferable for use as it is easier to work with.

Tulip Poplar wood also dries relatively quickly, helping with molding it for the puzzle frame at a faster pace.

Poplar Framing Kits Are Available

In some parts of the country with a more significant Amish population, you can take advantage of Poplar framing kits.  This can be a real benefit in the cost department and save time on measuring and cutting end of things. 

These are the true Lincoln Logs for today’s timber framing.

Tulip Poplar’s Are Easy To Assemble

Tulip Poplar’s grade allows it to accept stains and paints readily.  It also welcomes nails and binding materials well, helping you build a sound structure.

The grain offers a straight surface that will take nails without splitting.  This is important in any timber framing project.  Having a solid structure promotes the longevity and life of the frame.

Building a structure is hard work, so anything that increases the probability of a more manageable job without sacrificing the quality of the structure is of paramount importance.

Working with Tulip Poplar for timber framing offers an attractive option for a modest budget.  The question becomes if the Pros outweigh the Cons of using Tulip Poplar.

This YouTube video really delves into the benefits of this wood choice:

Beginners Guide To Wood Species - Everything to Know About Poplar

Cons of Using Tulip (Yellow) Poplar Wood for Timber Framing  

As with any woodworking project, there are some downsides of the wood used.  The same holds true of Tulip Poplar.  Here are a few reasons why Tulip Poplar may not be the ideal solution for you:

Tulip Poplar’s Are Not Native to Western United States

The Tulip Poplar is prevalent in the Eastern and Southeastern United States.  If the Western side of the country wants to utilize Tulip Poplar, they will need to incur the costs of shipping the resource to their side of the world.

Tulip Poplar’s are relatively cost-effective which is why they have long-standing appeal for building structures, furniture, fences, and other items. 

If the Tulip Poplar is not native to the area, it requires the wood to be shipped in which is an added cost that should be taken into consideration.  Building a frame from Tulip Poplar requires more wood than building a piece of furniture.  

Tulip Poplar Wood – Warps, Cracking & Shrinkage

Poplar wood, in general, is highly preferred for the softwood characteristics it holds.  Woodworkers enjoy Poplar because it is pliable and easy to work with.  Tulip Poplar specifically has been used for:

  • Floors
  • Siding
  • Furniture; and
  • Fencing

Since Tulip Poplar is a grained wood, paint adheres nicely.  Poplar can have a tendency to warp and crack if not processed with greater care (source), which is not something you want to see in structural wood.

If using Tulip Poplar to build your structure frame, you will want to be sure to check the beams frequently for cracks.  Tulip Poplar wood is prone to shrinkage, which makes it a little unpredictable to work with.

Some States Prohibit Poplar Use for Framing

Some states do not allow Poplar wood to be used for framing structures.  Poplar is considered to have integrity issues.  Before framing, you will need to check your specific State’s building restriction and requirements.

Although it is not allowed for framing in certain states, it is suggested as a use for siding or interior applications.  It is also in high demand for flooring and furniture.

Decay Issues with the Tulip Poplar

The Tulip Poplar has zero resistance when it comes to decay and is actually prone to it.  Decay can destroy a structure if introduced to the framework and would need to be replaced immediately.

The age of the tree does play a factor in decay; the older the tree, the more likely it is to hold some resistance to decay.  The level of decay is something that would need to be checked with some frequency.

Conclusion On Using Tulip Poplar In Timber Framing

The Tulip Poplar is budget-friendly, especially if readily available, which makes it an appealing choice for timber framing.  What is somewhat less appealing are the integrity issues that the wood may have due to its pliability and tendency to warp.

Tulip Poplar has been used throughout centuries by settlers and pioneers.  Several of those homes are still standing today. And restorations to those homes are still done with Tulip Poplar.

This couple built a sauna using poplar and timber framing techniques:

Sauna Build - Cutting Poplar Lumber

The United States is not the only country that uses Poplar when the job requires a robust and durable wood.  The Romans and Greeks both used Poplar wood for their shields, so you could say they bet their life on the fact that Poplar would hold true.

Tulip Poplar is a beautiful wood and has many uses.  Many of the wood cabins in the Eastern United States are constructed from start to finish from Tulip Poplar and are considered to be the most beautiful, sturdy homes in the world.

The cost-friendly feature and pliability are its two most considerable benefits and deficits if you are in a place that the wood is not readily available.

If you settle on Tulip Poplar, it can be structurally sound with the right amount of maintenance.

Conclusion

Poplar wood is considered to be a hard and softwood, which means that it is versatile.  Different opinions will surround this type of wood for years to come.

Depending on who you ask, Poplar is the premier wood for framing or substitutes such as Oak or Redwood take its place, each of which is significantly more expensive.

Tulip Poplar has successfully been used in timber framing and is considered a strong, dependable wood for this purpose.

Paul

As a homeowner, I am constantly experimenting with making the structure of my house more energy-efficient, eliminating pests, and taking on DIY home improvement projects. Over the past two decades, my family has rehabbed houses and contracted new home builds and I've learned a lot along the way. I share my hard-learned lessons so that you can save time and money by not repeating my mistakes.

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