century old poplar for workbench?

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Forum topic by Tugboater78 posted 03-11-2013 09:58 PM 1790 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2746 posts in 2213 days

03-11-2013 09:58 PM

Topic tags/keywords: workbench poplar repurposed wood question

Last summer/fall i got the opportunity to dismantle an old house from top to bottom by hand, and i saved 75% of the wood from it. 90% of that is rough sawn poplar from the framework. If i was able id put up pictures of my huge stack, but alas im on my tugboat making a living for next couple weeks. This wood is pretty hard, especially for Poplar, i havent had much chance to work with it to see what it looks like undern.eath the grime. I was wondering if anyone thinks this would be a good material for my future workbench top. It will definatly be used for the base, already picked some of the 6×6 posts to be used for that purpose. Most of the rest is 2×6.

-- "....put that handsaw to work and make it earn its keep. - summerfi" <==< JuStiN >==>=->

11 replies so far

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 2973 days

#1 posted 03-11-2013 11:01 PM

Poplar wouldn’t be my top choice for a workbench, but I think it should work fine, especially if you already have it. I think a big beefy bench made of poplar would be nice.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View Tugboater78's profile


2746 posts in 2213 days

#2 posted 03-12-2013 06:23 AM

Reason im thinkin i may be able to use it is bcause u can hardley drive a nail through any of the boards..

-- "....put that handsaw to work and make it earn its keep. - summerfi" <==< JuStiN >==>=->

View paratrooper34's profile


915 posts in 2973 days

#3 posted 03-12-2013 10:05 AM

Justin, poplar is pretty low on the Janka scale (hardness) just above white pine. I think your methods of woodworking and whether or not you are a perfectionist will better define if that wood will work for you. I say this because whatever type of woodworking you do, the top is going to get scarred up; hand tool work can be especially hard on the top. If you are the type of person that can’t stand to see their benchtop get scarred up, then poplar is going to be a problem for you. I tend to be the type that doesn’t want to see my benchtop get damaged and take precautions all the time. But it still takes a hit even after being careful. The point being that poplar is going to ding and scar very easily.

If any of that is an issue for you, you could always cover it with a plywood for protection. Or maybe none of that bothers you; in which case I say use the wood. Either way, there is a bench thread, show us what you built when you finish it.

-- Mike

View bondogaposis's profile


4754 posts in 2373 days

#4 posted 03-12-2013 01:05 PM

I’m making the top of mine out of poplar right now. I did use ash for the front pieces where the wagon vise is and the board jack and the leg vise. My theory is that most of the wear occurs on the front edge of the bench and that the majority of the surface is primarily for clamping and work holding and providing mass. Here is my blog if you’d like to see pictures of it.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View jeffswildwood's profile


3225 posts in 1999 days

#5 posted 03-12-2013 01:20 PM

Justin, thanks for this post. Also thanks to paratrooper 34 for now I know what a janka scale is. I looked it up and now have a nice wood chart. I had never heard of this before. While taking a drive my wife and I found a barn that had fallen in. We asked the owner if we could have some of the wood and he said take all you want! I quickly filled up my truck. Waiting to find someone with a plainer to smooth it for me. Don’t know the wood type but a friend said it was red oak. I learn so much on this web site!

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View helluvawreck's profile


31340 posts in 2888 days

#6 posted 03-12-2013 01:22 PM

Free wood can be used for all sorts of things. However, it is soft and doesn’t work very well outside. Being free or nearly so, however, is quite an incentive to use it. You be the judge because it’s your pocket book. I have used it on auxiliary work tables in the plant.

helluvawreck aka Charles

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View allwood's profile


84 posts in 2185 days

#7 posted 03-12-2013 01:35 PM

in my experience i find that all the kiln dried poplar i get in is soft, but the large pile that i cut and air dried about 15 yrs ago is more stable and is definitely harder, to the point that driving nails in it is almost impossible. I’ve made bench from it and it was the best bench i had, but sold it to a friend and he says after 5 yrs as a carving bench its standing up better than his maple bench. In the end it all depends on what you prefer and what you can afford, and free wood is always a good deal, usually for projects you haven’t thought of. I have also noticed that kiln d

ried poplar tends to have a consistent white color with some purple or green color, where as my air dried poplar has awesome rich red/brown with white coloring similar to natural hickory. These are a set of exterior doors i built from my air dried poplar.

View dhazelton's profile


2771 posts in 2318 days

#8 posted 03-12-2013 02:27 PM

Just do it. Old growth wood is not the same as kiln dried new wood. Much denser. And as it was free aside from your labor, that’s a bonus.

View Bluepine38's profile


3379 posts in 3107 days

#9 posted 03-12-2013 02:36 PM

While poplar is not listed as being as hard as oak, I have noticed that as wood gets old and dries out, it does
tend to get harder. You stated that you could hardly drive a nail through some of the wood, so it is evidently
rather hard, so long as it is not brittle also, tending to split or sliver easily, it should make a wonderful work
bench, but you may have to sharpen your tools a little while working with it.

-- As ever, Gus-the 79 yr young apprentice carpenter

View Tugboater78's profile


2746 posts in 2213 days

#10 posted 03-12-2013 07:02 PM

Thanks for the replies all, definatly some food for thought. For the most part this wood is/was intended to be used to build me a shop and or add on to my house but there is plenty to be used for other projects especially if it cleans up nicely.

Para: i know it ranks pretty low on the hardness scale, but what little bit i have worked with, its frakin harder than some red oak i have, atm im not too concerned about full durability, im more of a carpenter but am learning and enjoying the finer skills for furniture, really looking toward hand tool work, its more tedious but it is relaxing. I do need a solid bench to work on but since my skills are in the learning phase and money got real tight in the last year or so, figure using this may be a stopgap till i can get some “better” material.

Bondo: havent had a chance to check your build yet but will do so asap, i maybe can do something similar, i like that idea.

Allwood: those doors are beautiful, i havent had a chance to clean up and see what coloring, shy of cutting off broken or rotted ends, winter caught me before i could do kuch with it. this wood has but it has been air drying in the walls of this house since the 1890s so it may be interesting.

Bluepine and dhazel: this does seem to be dense, but being brittle is something that has crossed my mind too, guess ill have to wait till the weather breaks, clean some of it up and see what i have, its been stickered and hanging out under tarps all winter.

-- "....put that handsaw to work and make it earn its keep. - summerfi" <==< JuStiN >==>=->

View Tugboater78's profile


2746 posts in 2213 days

#11 posted 03-12-2013 07:08 PM

Jeffswildwood i passed on a barn dismantle 2 years ago that has red oak beams mainly due to the fact that they were massive and i lack the means to wrestle the size it had. One beam i measured was rough hewn ~1 ft square and 49 foot long. Hindsight and now knowing a sawyer i look back and cry, especially cause i know the people who did tear it down pushed it all in a pile and burnt most of it.

-- "....put that handsaw to work and make it earn its keep. - summerfi" <==< JuStiN >==>=->

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