Will poplar make a good bench top?

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Forum topic by HamS posted 12-23-2011 05:24 PM 7289 views 0 times favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1829 posts in 2388 days

12-23-2011 05:24 PM

I have several logs from a large poplar tree we had to cut down two years ago. It is time to decide whether to turn it into lumber or firewood. I have had visions of splitting it and hewing it into the pieces for a workbench. I do not envision a Roubo bench, but more of a contemporary bench with features. I want to build it without using any machine tools.

Will the poplar be to soft to make a satisfactory bench top?

Is poplar too light to make a massive bench that will not move. My current thoughts are four by six inch legs and three by six inch stretchers and a three or four inch thick top. The top would be three by five and be something between a classic bench and an assembly table. I think a wagon vise would be very useful on the short axis of the bench and one on the long axis.

I solicit advise and if someone wants to send me a vise, I would gladly accept it :).

-- Haming it up in the 'bash.

14 replies so far

View Nomad62's profile


726 posts in 2957 days

#1 posted 12-23-2011 06:08 PM

Poplar is soft, like alder; very similar wood. Generally lighter in color, and somewhat flexable. But what the heck, if it doesn’t work it would be a fantastic base to lay a chunk of harder wood over someday if you thought it better. It will be perfect for the framework.
As far as weight goes it just depends on what you are going to do with it. If you are going to work with 10’ long 12×12’s then it’s too light; the same exaggeration could be made the other way. You could always add a shin-high shelf that could hold heavy things as a ballast but as you describe it it sounds like it will be nice and heavy.

-- Power tools put us ahead of the monkeys

View TCCcabinetmaker's profile


932 posts in 2354 days

#2 posted 12-23-2011 07:56 PM

Alder be softer than poplar, but at 4” poplar should be pretty stable, I would however makes some sections where the grain runs opposite of the rest, so that it has less likelihood of warping or cupping.

-- The mark of a good carpenter is not how few mistakes he makes, but rather how well he fixes them.

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Don W

18715 posts in 2567 days

#3 posted 12-23-2011 08:18 PM

And poplar makes terrible firewood. It may actually be worse than pine. As for lumber I love working with poplar. I almost made my bench out if it, but managed to scrounge up some harder wood. Most of the poplar I use is native and self saw. Some has some nice grain and a greenish tint to it.

It is a lot lighter than most other hardwoods. I believe the bench you describe will serve you very well however.

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View benchbuilder's profile


284 posts in 2449 days

#4 posted 12-23-2011 08:48 PM

I have a 7’ x 40” poplar workbench top that is about 22yrs old now, it has cupped a bit do to its 40” width but not in its length. It is very heavy, the color is gone do to many glue, oil and several other types of drips. It has dents, tearout for removing epoxy drips and dented, cut and missing chips along the front edge. The dog holes are still good and I use them a lot. I have never attached it to the base with any connectors as its weight is enough to hold it in place. I clean it off and add a coat of BLO every few yrs. So, will it make a good workbench top, yes.

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404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2968 days

#5 posted 12-23-2011 09:29 PM

There’s no reason why you can’t make the bench from your poplar and put an mdf top on – then if you destroy the mdf with saw cuts, drill holes, glue, paint, chisel gashes, knocks and dents etc, you can just turn it over and use the other side. Then burn it and start over again with a new mdf top.

View NJWiliam's profile


32 posts in 2566 days

#6 posted 12-24-2011 06:40 AM

I’m just finishing a Nicholson style bench out of 12/4 and 8/4 poplar. It’s plenty heavy between top and aprons. I picked it in good part since it will be softer than the wood being worked on it and less prone to damage projects.

View tomd's profile


2155 posts in 3769 days

#7 posted 12-24-2011 06:49 AM

I agree with renners, use a sacrificial top of hardboard, MDF or thin ply.

-- Tom D

View Diozark's profile


1 post in 213 days

#8 posted 10-24-2017 05:59 PM

Poplar Bench Works Great.
8’ Long
5 1/2 ’ Wide
21” Tool Well

Making Mods all the time, building an 8’ x 5’ x 8” drawer for the underside to store tools.
6’ Moxon Vise from bamboo plywood and poplar, Wood Holdfasts hold it in place.

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981 posts in 775 days

#9 posted 10-24-2017 06:09 PM


View jonah's profile


1702 posts in 3298 days

#10 posted 10-24-2017 06:15 PM

Poplar is pretty soft for a workbench, but boy is it easy to plane, cut, and shape. It’s like cedar in that regard.

I’d go at least four or five inches thick for the top. The more mass the better for a workbench. You can always toss a sheet of plywood on top if you find the poplar surface too soft to work on.

View bondogaposis's profile


4727 posts in 2350 days

#11 posted 10-24-2017 07:04 PM

My poplar Roubo workbench has held up great, I think it has been 4 or 5 years now. I did hedge my bets a little bit by using ash for the front edge of the bench, that is where most of the abuse occurs.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Lazyman's profile


1964 posts in 1386 days

#12 posted 10-24-2017 09:53 PM

When you say poplar are you talking about the greenish hardwood you find at the lumberyard which is really in the magnolia family (aka tulip tree or yellow poplar) or are you talking about true poplars such as cottonwood and aspen? I would think that true poplars would be annoyingly too soft and not very durable for a workbench.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View JayT's profile


5632 posts in 2210 days

#13 posted 10-24-2017 10:01 PM

Since this thread is six years old, I’m guessing the bench is probably done.

-- In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. Thomas Jefferson

View Lazyman's profile


1964 posts in 1386 days

#14 posted 10-24-2017 10:12 PM

LOL, I just looked at the date on the recent posts.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

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