Poplar for Paint-Grade Cabinet Doors?

      It works well for paint-grade trim, but woodworkers say poplar creates stability issues when used for casework. March 20, 2006

What species would you suggest for paint grade doors (stiles and rails with a flat plywood panel)? Something straight and easy to machine on site with a router would be preferable.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
Birch or poplar for the rails and stiles, 1/4" MDF for the panel.

From contributor F:
Poplar is widely used for painted woodwork in general. It might be a good choice for you since you will be machining with router bits and poplar is on the softer side of the street. I have gotten it both warped and straight. That it true for most any species. Unless you hand select your boards, you have no guarantee on that score. It does seem like poplar is straight more often than some other woods, though. Other woods that paint well are soft maple, hard maple, birch.

From contributor A:
I've never had good luck with poplar and doors. They tend to warp. Poplar is not known for its stability. Lots of expansion due to humidity. I've seen a lot of problems with binding doors on inset face frames. Poplar also soaks up paint like a sponge. It's not a soft or hardwood, but somewhere in the dense weed category. We use miles of it for painted trim and mouldings. We exclusively use soft maple for painted casework. It paints really well. The milling is pretty good, but you can get some squirrelly stuff. We can get it for under $2.50 bd/ft so, it's pretty cost effective. Why paint hard maple when you can use soft? We use MDF for panels.

From contributor D:
The warp factor is there, especially on tall and skinny doors, but it's hard to beat when the design is smart. Hard to beat cause we get 12" and wider 4/4 poplar for $1.35 bd/ft. Good flat panels are important as well, and 1/4" ply doesn't seem to be available in the flat variety these days.

From contributor A:
A couple of years ago I found a board of poplar with 5/16" growth rings! The tree was growing 5/8" of inch in diameter per year. I faced a piece on the jointer and it cupped in like 5 minutes.

From contributor B:
I moved up from poplar to hard maple in my cabinet work. Nothing beats the crispness of machining and the quality of look when painted. I'm never going back.

From contributor U:
I used soft maple for years before switching to poplar at the new location without problems. I used the poplar here because it was on hand and already being used in a job half done. Bottom line, I'm going back to maple. Too many doors warped. Due to the applied molding on the face and with the wide inside profile we use, our frames are 3 1/2" wide, so wider frames don't help us. What bugs me most about poplar is that it requires more sanding, and machined edges tend to fuzz. To pay a bit more upfront for maple costs less than the extra time to make poplar as smooth, in my opinion.

From contributor C:
Where I'm at, the lumber suppliers usually have quite a bit of hard maple with brown coloring (heartwood, I presume) that they sell for about a quarter the price of white maple. This is great stuff for paint grade doors. I personally don't like poplar because of the warping.

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