Wood species

Poplar wood: spoons, spoons and "arte povera" furniture

We were having dinner with some friends and we talked about how much poplar furniture was made in Romania. In fact, it's still made. One of them was very surprised to hear that poplar, the wood that used to be used to make spoons and spoons, is used to make furniture and it is really beautiful. His amazement made me think that there might be others who don't know much about poplar wood and what it can be used for.

As I said, poplar wood was used in the past to make spoons, choppers and copes, as it is a soft wood that is easy to work with hand tools. And now many craftsmen use it to carve their products. The fashion for poplar furniture came from Italy, and is specific to central Italy. It copied the old designs of the "arte povera" style - a style that emerged in the 19th century, specific to the simple people, without polished carvings and other such details. The simple furniture style returned to Italy in the 1970s under the same name of arte povera. It is a furniture with a simple design, straight lines, made of solid poplar and very beautifully finished.

poplar wood
photo source: sarracinomobili.it

I'll come back to this furniture, but until then let me tell you a bit about poplar wood. It's specific to the temperate zones of Europe and Asia. Poplar (populus tremula) is a fast-growing species with a straight trunk that grows up to 20-25 m tall and can reach 3-4 m in diameter.

poplar wood
photo source: teratrees.com

Structurally, it is a straight-fibered wood with a uniform structure, light brown heartwood and pale yellow to white sapwood, with no clear demarcation between the two areas.

poplar wood
photo source: wood-database.com

The pores are quite numerous, average in size, spread throughout the annual ring without having a specific pattern.

poplar wood
photo source: wood-database.com

Poplar wood is easily processed both manually and mechanically. In our poplar, which grows a lot in sandy soils, sand is sometimes found which, during processing, damages the tools. When drying it tends to curl. Being soft it has a low resistance to pulling out nails and creates problems when sanding, requiring sanding with finer sandpaper than other species (200-220).

poplar wood
photo source: alibaba.com

Plywood is used to make plywood and chipboard, paper, jewellery boxes and decorative boxes,

poplar wood
photo source: abocamuseum.it

braided pimples,

poplar wood
photo source: paperlynen.com

spoons, rustic serving platters, bowls

poplar wood
photo source: lupuldacicblogg.wordpress.com

and arte povera style furniture.

poplar wood

Now this furniture is no longer the furniture of the simple and poor people. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's beautifully crafted, solid wood furniture with quality hardware. To give the feeling of simple furniture the drawers are "wood on wood", no mechanical guides.

poplar wood
photo source: artlegnosrl.com

Sometimes it is combined with linden or tulipwood to increase its strength. Because it is very loose, it can absorb colour differently and not look very uniform. But for some that's the appeal.

poplar wood
photo source: fatua.net

For those who want more uniform furniture there are special finishes for poplar that evens out the appearance in a few steps, so that in the end you get a very uniform and silky furniture.

Arte povera furniture is made for both living rooms and bedrooms,

poplar wood
photo source: arredamento.it

as well as for the bathroom and kitchen.

poplar wood
photo source: cucinedesignmontebelluna.it

The finish for the latter is made with materials that moisture resistant.

They still make arte povera furniture here. There are factories that manage to make real jewellery, attention to detail being their strong point.

poplar wood

Plywood is not a wood that says much when you look at an unfinished piece. Instead when the design and finish are well chosen, it makes for an exquisite piece of furniture that really deserves the name "arte povera", but with an emphasis on art because poor is far from it. 🙂

About the author

Mihaela Radu

Mihaela Radu is a chemical engineer but has a great passion for wood. She has been working in the field for more than 20 years, wood finishing being what defined her during this period. She gained experience working in a research institute, in her own company, as well as in a multinational. She wants to continuously share her experience with those who have the same passion - and more.


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  • Wow!!!! how beautiful poplar wood furniture is!!! Nature's kind to us...

    Thank you very much for the information!

  • I love poplar, I've worked with it. I appreciate its texture, color, and the fact that it's light (it's great for pieces of furniture that are suspended). But when I used it for kitchens I saw that it "works" more than other materials. I still haven't found the perfect waterproofing solution for it. I will propose in the future a discussion about the treatment of wood used strictly in kitchens (I think that's where the hardest conditions are for solid wood).

    Thank you for your articles.

    Good luck

  • Nice article, Mihaela!
    Teodor, to stabilize poplar wood, I think a good solution is heat treatment, only the wood darkens.
    Good luck for the future!


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