#48: Yellow Poplar

Bird number: 71
Date: June 7, 2012
Wood: Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Source: Yard sale

Yesterday I mentioned the yard sale where I picked up some wood last weekend, but forgot to mention that I’d also picked up a four foot length of yellow poplar that’s about three inches square. Why it’s called “yellow poplar” is beyond me. The wood is usually green, and the tree isn’t even a poplar. But I’ve long given up on making sense of popular names for trees.

I’ve carved several spoons and other kitchen implements from yellow poplar in the past, and, I think, a dog or two. It’s a fairly popular carving wood, especially for spoons, but also for caricatures and stylized figures like my birds. The wood is slightly harder than butternut. On the Janka scale it rates about 540 where basswood rates about 410 and butternut rates about 490. It’s easily carved with a knife, although it’s more prone to tearout than butternut or basswood.

The pictures here show the wood more yellow than it is in natural light. Outside in the sun, the wood is distinctly green.

The lighter colored area around the eyelet is a mistake. I use superglue to put the pin in the bird, and I got a little too much here. I thought it’d blend in when I applied the finish, but I was wrong. It might be possible to sand the glue away in that area and re-apply the finish. I might give that a try, although my results with those kinds of touch-ups aren’t always successful. Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

Yellow poplar, also called tulip wood or American tulip wood, is an important timber tree. It’s the wood of choice for organs, but also is used for interior finish of houses, siding, coffin boxes, and in general wherever a cheap, stable, and easy to work wood is needed. The wood is comparable to white pine in strength, texture, and softness. My cousin, a carpenter, says that they often use it for cabinets and other things that will be painted rather than stained. Also, the wood is somewhat termite resistant, making for excellent construction timber in areas where termites are a problem.

It’s also an excellent shade tree and an important source of honey (for baking, rather than as a table honey) in the Eastern U.S.

Yellow poplar is right up there near the top of my favorite carving woods. I always enjoy carving it. I’m not sure what I’ll carve from what I have left, but you can bet I will carve it.