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JimArr

Poplar for hull planking?

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What do you guys think of using poplar for bull planking?  It is the only hardwood that I can get locally.

 

Thanks

Jim

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Posted (edited)

Jim,

My evaluation of Yellow Poplar -Liriodendron tulipifera -  a tree that grows fairly rapidly.  very straight,  large diameter trunk.

tight grain, closed pore, at the soft end as far as density,  easy on tools,  holds a sharp edge.  The color - yellow  to grey to green

tends to make it a problem in a visible clear finish situation,  Interior and painted - excellent for most any part.  I prefer harder species,

but that is a personal bias.  Planking - excellent - need to pick the pieces carefully if color is a factor.

 

Black poplar - Lombardy poplar - Populus nigra  -  a whole nuther thing.   The free grows straight, fast, dies young and a bad winter can be a disaster.

The wood is very soft, fibers tend to roll, can be fuzzy, weak.  More suited for making pallets.  Can be used if the tools are very sharp and there is no stress.

It will not be a joy to work.  Planking - probably will dent easily,  getting sharp edges = difficult,  splitting will lead to a lot of waste.

Edited by Jaager

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Posted (edited)
6 hours ago, JimArr said:

It is the only hardwood that I can get locally.

There's nothing magical about hardwoods as compared with softwoods.  The difference between a "hardwood" and a "softwood" isn't that the wood is harder or softer. Hardwoods are "angiosperms," trees that reproduce from seeds that are covered by a shell, a pod, some sort of husk, or in a fruit, like maples, balsa, oak, elm, mahogany, red gum, apple, cherry, olive, and so on. Softwoods are "gymnosperms," trees whose seeds have no covering and just fall to the ground, like pine, cedar, redwoods, and larches. Another rough, but not absolute distinction is that hardwoods usually drop their leaves annually, while softwoods keep their leaves year round.  Hardwoods do tend to grow more slowly and therefore are often denser and heavier than softwoods, but that's not an absolute distinction. In picking modeling wood, pick your wood for it's qualities without regard to whether it's a hardwood or a softwood.

 

I don't know where you are located, but it's hard to believe you wouldn't be able to find some suitable planking wood just about anywhere other than areas where there simply isn't any vegetation.  Research any wood that you have available that looks like it might be suitable. Use The Wood Database, which should be on every modeler's "favorites" list: https://www.wood-database.com/  This invaluable site will allow you to identify wood and then look up its appearance, grain structure, hardness, bending qualities, resistance to decay, and so on. If you are intending to finish the wood "bright," (oiled, shellacked, or varnished to show its natural color and figuring,) you can check pictures in the database that will show what the wood looks like bare and when sealed. There's no reason to use expensive exotic figured woods if they are to be painted nor to use expensive exotic very hard wood (e.g. box, ebony, persimmon) unless it is to be carved or worked in very small pieces. Remember, too, that lots of the wood seen in kits is chosen for it's commercial availability and lower cost and isn't always the best choice anyway. A lot of very good modeling wood is available in smaller amounts not favored for large scale commercial production and marketing.  Tree services throw that stuff in their chippers. I once rescued a nice piece of holly from a chipper. I asked for it and they said, "Sure, take it!" Another often overlooked source of good modeling wood is recycled wood. I've used old paneling, wooden Venetian blind slats, broken walnut and mahogany furniture (solid tabletops!), and even some maple bowling alley flooring all scrounged while "dumpster diving." Old wood like that is always dry and fully seasoned and sometimes very tight-ringed "old growth" quality that is virtually unobtainable on the market today.  Creative use of the wood available is a good way to make your model stand out as uniquely yours. You aren't limited to what's on the hobby shop shelves at all.

 

I suggest you post the woods you do have available. I'm sure somebody in the MSW forum will have first hand knowledge of how suitable just about any wood is for any particular modeling use.

Edited by Bob Cleek

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Thanks for the responses. 

I live in a small town in East Texas.  Lots of yellow pine in our local hardware stores.  Only other woods available are red oak, poplar, and cedar.  

 

Jim

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I really like the looks of Poplar despite the greenish tint.  Also like the availability.  I have used basswood a lot in my model airplanes and have used it to plank a model ship but it just seems a little too soft for me.  I have started a new ship build in which I am using poplar for the keel and bulkheads.  Was thinking of using it for planking as well.  The ship I have started is the Model Shipways Rattlesnake.  I have the plans and have enlarged them 160% which puts it a little bit bigger than 1/48 scale.  Wanted to get a few opinions on working with poplar for planking and staining.

 

Jim

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42 minutes ago, JimArr said:

Thanks for the responses. 

I live in a small town in East Texas.  Lots of yellow pine in our local hardware stores.  Only other woods available are red oak, poplar, and cedar.  

 

Jim

If you can find some clear, tight ringed pine or cedar, that can work. Your sweet gum trees should produce good modeling wood. There is also some holly growing south of the Piney Woods, I hear,  Do you have cherry or apple around?  How about Osage Orange (Bois d'arc) or acacias and locust? Modeling wood often grows on small trees and there is a limited market for it, so it won't be found in general lumberyards. 

 

I'm not sure if you are set up to mill your own modeling wood or not. The tools for that are becoming increasingly necessary, certainly for any sort of scratch or semi-scratch building. The online sources for milled modeling wood are drying up. It's just not available much of anywhere "off the shelf." That doesn't have anything to do with what wood is "available" nearby anywhere, but the economics of selling to a specialty market and the amount of work milling it just isn't a viable business model anymore. 

 

Living in a small town has its pluses and minuses. On the minus side, you'll have to travel a bit to source specialty woods other than construction lumber, or order pieces of stock from online suppliers (at what, IMHO, are premium prices.) Either way, you'll probably have to mill your own planking strips.

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1 hour ago, JimArr said:

Wanted to get a few opinions on working with poplar for planking and staining.

 

Poplar is a very good "secondary" or "utility" wood but it is not a 'finish" wood and isn't known for it's "looks," stained or otherwise. It's often soft and "fuzzy." Notwithstanding its many good uses, trying to make poplar look good with a bright finish is pretty much like trying to polish a turd. It also darkens quite a bit over time when exposed to UV light.

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If you don't mind the wait time and shipping costs there are plenty of places that sell various species of woods.  You'll have to do your own processing such as taking a sheet and cutting off the right size pieces for planks though.  

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I normally use Castello boxwood for hull planking on warships and such, but for the few schooners that I have built for clients I have used poplar if the hull is to be painted.  It sands well and with a coat of primer, takes paint and then four or five coats of sprayed urethane top coat with no problems.   If it is not to be painted, you may want to also consider basswood.   Chuck Passaro has shown that it can give a very good looking finish and there is no issue with the color variations found with poplar.    You can get basswood on line through dealers directly or via Amazon in blocks up to 12 inches long or sheets up to 24 inches long.  

Allan

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Thanks guys.   Looks like the general consensus is that poplar will bend and plank well but is not suitable for staining and finishing.  Best to use in situations where it should be painted.  

 

Jim

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