You may have recently heard many great things about whitewood, like how easy this wood is to work with when you are using it for woodworking projects or creating furniture. However, of all the many kinds of wood you have heard of in your lifetime, you have probably never heard much about this wood type. So, what exactly is whitewood, and what are some of the benefits of using this wood?
Whitewood is a wood that comes from the liriodendron tulipifera, which is commonly known as the poplar or the tulip tree. Although it is called a poplar tree, it is technically related to the Magnolia family. This tree grows quickly because it thrives in areas with much sun and moist soil with proper drainage.
In terms of hardness, whitewood has a Janka rating of 540, which is substantially below the optimal hardness rating of 950 for hardwoods used in building projects. However, despite its softness, it is an exceptionally durable wood. In addition, this wood is inexpensive compared to other hardwoods.
Where Does Whitewood Come From?
Poplar trees grow wildly in the United States and Canada, primarily on the east coast. It is rare to see these trees on the west coast unless they have been taken from the east coast and transplanted in those areas.
These trees are recognizable by their leaves. They have leaves with four lobes, and they don’t end at a point like most tree leaves. The flower that grows on them is yellowish-green and orange. Branches on the tulip tree are as peculiar as its leaves because they aren’t symmetrical and tend to sprout branches on the opposite side as they grow.
The tulip tree tends to grow relatively fast, reaching a height of 24 inches per year. It reaches full bloom in May and June. The poplar tree is a very tall tree that can grow up to 197 feet. Since they grow very tall and relatively fast, this makes it an exceptionally cheap wood to purchase because it is so plentiful.
Is Whitewood Hard or Soft Wood?
Although whitewood is relatively soft compared to other woods on the Janka scale, it is still considered hardwood. Its classification as hardwood doesn’t have to do with the density of the wood. Instead, whitewood is classified as hardwood because of the seed that it produces.
Hardwood comes from angiosperm plants, which are flowering plants that produce seeds with a coating. These trees include walnut, maple, oak, and tulip trees. Softwoods are gymnosperm trees which are trees that produce seeds that don’t have a coating. These trees include spruce and pine trees.
What’s The Difference Between Whitewood and Pine?
Since whitewood is a soft hardwood, it is most useful in furniture making and woodworking. Pine, which is remarkably similar to whitewood, is often used for furniture and woodworking, too. However, it is also useful for building homes and hardwood floors since this wood is harder than whitewood.
Pine and whitewood are often confused because they look remarkably similar. However, two very noticeable differences between the two are that whitewood is lighter in weight, and it has more knots than pine. One other significant difference is that whitewood can quickly decay much more than pine. Another thing to note is that whitewood is much cheaper than pine. Unlike pine, whitewood is a hardwood that resists termites exceptionally well.
Using Whitewood in Woodworking and Furniture-Making
The wood from the poplar tree is used commonly in creating doors, cabinets, and other simple everyday household items. Whitewood or poplar wood is also a great wood to use in furniture-making projects. Although the wood is a soft hardwood, it is very durable and lightweight. It also has a gorgeous graining texture that makes the furniture very appealing. As a result, you can create fabulous indoor furniture like desks, tables, dressers, and chairs.
If you want to build outdoor furniture, using whitewood is an excellent choice. You can build such things as train tables, picnic tables, chairs, and other furniture suitable for outdoors. It is tough and durable and can withstand the outdoor elements very well.
Unfortunately, whitewood absorbs water very quickly. Therefore, once you’re finished building your outdoor furniture, it’s best to use a marine varnish on it. The varnish will help keep the moisture from penetrating the wood. To further protect this wood, if you live in areas where its wet and humid occasionally, its best to bring the furniture inside during those times of the year.
Not only is whitewood beautiful, durable, and lightweight, it is exceptionally easy to work with when creating wood projects such as wood crafts, toy chests, and toolboxes. In addition, the softness of the wood makes the cuts much more precise and clean. If you plan to stain this wood, you will have to be careful, however.
Since whitewood is a very porous wood, when you stain the wood, it can become very blotchy. This means that the wood stain may not spread evenly on the whitewood. If you want to stain the whitewood furniture, it would be best to use a pre-stain conditioner before applying the actual stain.
Advantages of Whitewood
As mentioned before, one of the most extraordinary things about whitewood is that it is a type of wood that you can use outdoors. If you are not a fan of metal furniture and prefer wood furniture outdoors, then whitewood is a spectacular choice. However, keep in mind that it is a very porous wood and therefore absorbs water. Excessive amounts of water can destroy whitewood.
Another advantage of whitewood is that it is paintable. This wood absorbs paint very well, and because of its ability to deeply penetrate the wood, it makes the wood look very impressive. In addition, you can apply multiple layers of paint to whitewood, which will also help it become more water-resistant.
Whitewood is also a much more affordable option than most other hardwoods on the market. This is because the tulip tree grows fast and high. This makes the tree readily available and much cheaper than other comparable woods such as pine.
Disadvantages of Whitewood
Although whitewood has some significant advantages, there are some serious disadvantages. One of them has to do with its porosity. While this is an advantage because it makes whitewood an easy wood to paint, it can also be a disadvantage if too much paint or stain is used. Using too much paint or stain can easily ruin your wood.
Another disadvantage previously mentioned is that this wood absorbs water much more than most other woods. This makes the whitewood warp or crack very easily. Wood warping is when the moisture content of a piece of wood is spread unevenly and causes a deformity in the wood. The deformity can cause your whitewood to bow, kink, twist, cup, or crook.
While wood warping a common destructive element to whitewood, another equally devastating form of moisture damage to this wood is wood rot. Warping is primarily due to the wood’s exposure to moisture alone, wood rot is a combination of moisture and fungus growing on the wood.
Wood rot tends to flourish in an environment of continuous moisture. The type of rot may be classified into three types: brown, white, and soft. Both white and brown rot tend to thrive in environments that are wet and humid, 65 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. While not as common as the other two, soft rot can also attack the cellulose in wood, leaving a honeycomb pattern on the wood.
Shopping For Whitewood
You can purchase whitewood from a big box store. However, it is best if you buy whitewood from a hardwood dealer because it will likely be cheaper. Wood at a dealer tends to be rough sewn, which means that it’s not perfectly cut like wood at a big box store. Wood at the dealer tends to be cut for use by furniture maker and woodworkers, whereas big box stores tend to cut wood for use by builders.
Perfectly milled whitewood will be costlier than rough-cut whitewood because of the machines and labor needed to make the wood into a perfect cut. It’s best to purchase whitewood that is not perfectly cut. Since you will be cutting the wood according to your own specifications, it isn’t necessary to have perfectly milled wood.
You can choose from various types of whitewood, including S-4-S or surfaced for size, which will have an even cut on all sides. Or you can opt for a rougher cut which will likely be cheaper such as the S-3-S, which will have one side of the lumber that isn’t perfectly cut. With this type of lumber, you can place the straight edge on your saw and cut the rough side how you like.
There are also other boards that aren’t milled that you can choose from at a dealer, which will be even cheaper. You can turn these boards into whatever you like. It is important to keep in mind that many kinds of wood are marketed as whitewood, including fir, spruce, and pine. However, if you want true whitewood from a poplar tree, you will have to make sure that this is the type of lumber you are buying.