By Jo-Ann Kaiser
By Jo-Ann Kaiser
COMMON NAMES HEIGHT/WEIGHT PROPERTIES A European species, black poplar has gained popularity in the United States as a veneer, available in both plain or fancy grain patterns. One of the more recognizable patterns from Populus nigra is mappa burl, a highly figured burl.
A European species, black poplar has gained popularity in the United States as a veneer, available in both plain or fancy grain patterns. One of the more recognizable patterns from Populus nigra is mappa burl, a highly figured burl.
The Fine Hardwoods Selectorama, written by Larry Frye, executive director of the Fine Hardwoods/American Walnut Assn., describes mappa as a burl from Central Europe that is white to brownish-green in color. Its pattern is "burley with little reddish spots, usually quite sound."
Mappa burl, like the other figured veneer cut from Italian poplar, is used for furniture and architectural uses. Al Matulevich of the David R. Webb Co., in Edinburgh, IN, described mappa burl as "highly figured but with good dimension compared to other burls. The 2-foot by 4-foot cuts are typical, but you can also get leaves as long as 5 feet by 9 feet when rotary cut.
"Mappa burl is not as intense a figure as some other burls. The figure is larger in scale than other burls. It has almost a muscle-like figure," said Matulevich.
Scott Thompson, custom account manager for Carl F. Booth & Co. of New Albany, IN, said his company has used mappa burl in manufacturing veneers for the aviation industry. "Mappa burl can be difficult to work with because it has a lot of holes that need to be filled. That can make the job labor intensive."
Matulevich added that Italian black poplar is not to be confused with ebonized poplar. "That is American poplar, which is sent to Milan, Italy, where it is dyed or 'ebonized' and used as a substitute for African blackwood. It is sold under the trade name tulibier," Matulevich said.
Variety of Uses
Logs can be rotary cut and used to make plywood and corestock. Selected logs of European poplar are also sliced into veneer. This poplar has more color than the average wood, which is creamy white or light gray. Lustrous, it has streaks of pink and orange and is used for furniture and cabinetry instead of the more utilitarian uses such as toys, boxes, crates and flooring.
Poplar's heartwood is creamy-white to grey in color but it can also be a pale brown. The heartwood and sapwood are not clearly defined as in some woods and poplar's sapwood is a large part of the tree. The sapwood is permeable and can be treated with preservatives. The heartwood of poplar can sometimes be slightly resistant to preservative treatment.
Poplar will dry rapidly and well but the wood may have local pockets of moisture that cause drying problems. Knots in the wood sometimes split.
Part of the Willow Family
Johnson adds that poplars, like willows, are either male or female. Both poplars and willows dominate the scenery in Europe where the fast growing trees are favorites for landscaping. "The interbreeding of the four different groups of poplars has given us some of our most useful and fastest [growing] trees," Johnson writes. Famous hybrid black poplars include canadensis, serotina, marilandica, regenerata, Italica and Plantierensis.
American poplars include cottonwood, balsam poplar, bigtooth aspen and quaking aspen. These trees are valuable for commercial uses as timber. Other poplar species commercially cut in Europe include Populus canadensis, which produces Italian black poplar; Populus robusta known as robust; and Populas tremula, which goes by a variety of names according to the country of origin, including Finnish aspen, French aspen, or European aspen.
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