On Using American Popple

I mean, if we are going to call woods whatever we feel like, I will start calling Cottonwood “American Popple.” Has a nice ring to it, yes?I’ve had a week and a half working with the stuff. It has it’s high points, and it’s low. So… looks like it’s time for a Lumber Review.

The project involving the American Popple was pretty simple. Mostly, it was a pair of six-board chests. Edge-gluing to width, rabbets, a stopped dado/through mortice… not to mention milling, cutting, etc.

This wood is a breeze to saw and plane. If anything, it might be too easy. Sawing by machine tended to leave little fiber strands like feather-down along the off-cut edge. They swipe off with a touch, it almost seemed overkill to take plane to them. Speaking of planes, if there is a wood you’d like to practice match-planing on, this wood gets my endorsement. You go with the grain and you can pull feathery whisps down to perfectly flush, with hardly any effort.

I did notice one thing when sawing, though, and it was unfortunate. Nothing to do with how the lumber works, but entirely with how it exists. It might just have been the tree or two my lumber came out of, but when sawing there was a distinct acidic odor. Honestly, it smelled like cat urine. Maybe I got (un)lucky, maybe it was a result of that bit of pre-spalt blackness in the boards… I dunno. But consider this fair warning. I would not encourage anyone to burn this stuff for firewood or cooking, though.

Ending with a whimper, American Popple is worse to chop through than pine! The wood is very firm, but not particularly dense. Really, its rather spongy. So, when one attempts to chop out a mortice using chisels, the first eighth inch or so is great, but in the middle the wood has already been pulped apart. Paring the end grain takes a very gently slicing cut with a really freshly sharpened chisel. Planing the end grain is an exercise in self-abuse. I would honestly say that this is one wood upon which I might almost encourage the use of sand-paper.

On the other side, though, the wood is very light and doesn’t have much flex. I see why woods in the same genus have a history of being used for large chests, drawers, and casework secondaries. Oh, and it is still the “Proper” wood for the base planks for Orthodox Christian Ikons. We can thank my roommate for reminding me of that one this afternoon.

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