I recently obtained some body wood plans, and it states "Do not use Poplar". Hmm, I was thinking of using it, as around here it's about the only affordable clear grain wood available. I use it a lot in player piano action work. I now it can rot when exposed to moisture, but our cars are seldom so exposed nowadays.
Your thoughts??? The project is a bit a ways still, so plenty of time to change course!
Poplar is easy to work but I would question the strength.
Poplar doesn’t hold up to the wild swings of temperature and humidity that is going to happen in a car it is great for furniture and Items that do not move from their assigned space inside in a semi controlled environment
Popular is the wood that was used for the Snowmobile Skies, I have some of the orig. ones but they have some rot in them from being left out in the elements for more than 90 years. Very easy to work with. Don't know if there is any differences, but Mr. White got his Popular out of Canada in the teens and 20's.
Roughly a decade ago I stumbled across an Amish buggy factory in Maryland and showed them pictures of my 1917 Maxwell open express that was built of poplar in Pennsylvania. That started a jam session in the factory and they all agreed poplar was a good choice and something they would have used as it wouldn't add a lot of weight cutting down the payload on my light Maxwell. The factory was amazing as it was new but built to 19th century specs with no electricity or modern tools.
Poplar/Cottonwood is classed as a hardwood due to its close grain. It has less strength than many or most soft woods. It rots readily.
A friend of mine that works in a furniture factory told me it was best to use poplar in the old car bodies.
I don't think it is the best idea now.
But I would think soaking it several times with boiled linseed oil would slow down the rot.
A couple coats of enamel wouldn't hurt either.
That's a neat table! Very useful info.
Aaron, Hmm, that was my thought that the car will spend 90% of it's time in the garage, and when out and about, it will be fair weather probably 90% or the time too. And I will seal the wood!! Hmm I will check out what else is available at the Hardwood surplus store next time I'm in Chico. I'll look over that chart too, after I copy and enlarge it!!
RATS, I already bought the poplar some years ago--oh well, I can use it in player piano work, I guess!
Poplar is a hardwood because it is a deciduous tree (drops it's leaves) not because of its grain. Some hardwoods are very soft and some softwoods are very hard. It just matters whether they lose their leaves or not. It is indeed very well suited for large structural pieces in a car body, such as sills, and doors because it is easy to work, free from knots in large pieces, and above all because of its light weight. It is called different things regionally, around here it is tulip poplar. At the turn of the century it was white wood. If you see turn of the century ads for car bodies, it often lists them being made out of white wood, or being "in the white". Often the skins on early car bodies were made from poplar.
Any auto body wood work can and should be sealed up, and will make it last much longer than it did originally. If you keep your antique cars inside, it likely will last forever.
Tim makes a very good point about tree types dictating "hardwood" or "Softwood".
Did you know that Cork is a Hardwood??
Now you're ready for next round in Jeopardy!
So Tim, are you saying Poplar would be OK for my T's sills?
Poplar used for wood trim is yellow poplar and is not a white wood. It is light and pretty stable. I don't know about its strength but it will be less than oak. If it were me I would use white oak.
This boattail I'm building, the body frame work is 3/4 hardwood plywood in areas needing heavy strength and poplar in areas needing lesser strength but needing flex ablity.
I have used it for many years,and never had a problem with it.Sounds like someone doesn't know of what they speak.
I am currently recreating an old house using poplar.
The old poplar rotted in places, but was resilient in others. The white oak is still mostly good despite 116 years that passed.
One problem I had trying to save the good poplar was splitting. As the poplar dries it becomes very, very brittle. Yes, it's pleasant to work with while and briefly after it cures, but I wouldn't have a lot of long-term faith in poplar as frame/body structure in a vehicle.
David Dewey, I've honestly never made a sill for a model T, but have for Packards and Auburns. They were pretty thick and made from poplar originally. If the T sill is only an 1" or so, , I would probably go with ash, for strength and lightness. Get up around 1 1/2" and in my opinion,poplar would be fine. I see it all the time, heavy woods used where not needed. White oak is for barrels. Red oak corrodes fasteners, but burns well. You cannot believe how much it adds up when you make the whole thing out of a heavy hardwood. I'll bet most newer hacks weigh twice what they did originally. Light and strong is what you are after. Poplar would be perfect for inside of T doors,also. There is lots of room for nice lap joints there. I don't think I would use it for the skinny curved pieces in the back of a body, though.
Correct me if I'm wrong, Ray Wells alias The Craftsman" in El Cahon uses poplar. He has done several bodies for me and they had poplar floor boards, sills and wagon boxes. These bodies are still in excellent condition after a number of years of service.
In the Pacific Northwest we are subject to both dry and wet weather throughout the year. In spite of the dramatic weather changes the doors, floor boards and body frames are just as good today as the day Ray created them.
I think Poplar is used primarily because it is readily available cheap at "big box" stores like Home Depot, Lowes, Menards...etc. I personally have not seen it in any original body that I have seen that was made by a Ford vendor like Beaudette or Hayes. I have remnants of an original Ford Delivery Car that was built per late October 1911 design. I took 5 samples from that body wood and sent it to the Forestry service and they identified 4 of the samples as Hard Maple and one sample as Hard Elm. They also noted that Hard Elm is rare now but rather common at turn of the century and in fact was commonly sold as the same wood species as Hard Maple. ALL of the wood blocks used by Ford at the steering bracket, pan sides, running board spacers...etc are specified in Ford drawings as being made form Hard Maple. Top Bows were made from white oak and specified as such on Ford drawings. White oak is most commonly used in top bows because it is the easiest of all woods to steam bend. Ford specified ASH for the early floorboards through the brass era but much later began to allow just about anything to be used as Floorboards including Linderman stock which was basically randomly jointed wood strips made from scraps found at the factory which is probably what lead to the legend of the floor boards being made from crating but the legend says the boards were the exact size for floor boards - not so. I made my DC body using Hard Maple for all wood body parts except floor boards. I used ash for the floor boards. Hard Maple is not easy to steam bend to radical bends but the DC doesn't have any radical bends in it. The glass retaining rings were steam bent from White Oak since it was a tight oval shape and nothing else would bend that much without breaking. I later learned this is exactly what Beaudette used for the door glass retainer. My original DC body had no rear doors when found. My original 1911 touring car body was made by Hayes - all body wood pieces were hard maple. Original dash veneers beginning around 1915 were hard maple and specified as such on the drawings but later on they enlarged the list of woods allowed for the wood dashes. The woods in my 1923 body doors are hard maple. Is there a message here...
I'd think hard maple or ash would be the wood of choice. White oak is heavy but is good for use as fence posts in a swamp if you can get the staples in. However white oak can't hold it's own weight over time and will start to sag if used for fence rails. Elm might work okay. Red oak gives good heat if it's dry. Birch could be good.
Poplar is a close grained wood, and considered a hard wood, but is not known for its' strength. Poplar was used in the late 1800's and early 1900's in machine made, mass produced furniture mainly because it was much cheaper than the finer woods such as mahogany, cherry and walnut, was easy to work, stained nicely and it's grain was very similar to the more expensive woods making it almost indistinguishable from the expensive woods, once the stain had been applied. I have bought many antiques that I thought were mahogany or Walnut, only to discover during restoration that the wood was Poplar. Very disappointing. Jim Patrick
Ted, I agree with your wood choices, oak is not appropriate, especially red oak, IMHO. Hmm, the T sills are in that grey area. Before I build the sills, I will look around and see what might be available. Some original T sills were Fir, so that's an option too--if one can find some clear grained, kiln dried (not pond-dried, which the lumber yards around here seem to like!).
John, good info. Not sure I agree with the use of poplar because it is available at big box stores. I don't buy wood from places like that, and doubt they have much more than 3/4 stock available , which will not do much on a T body.
Also, you mention "linderman wood" Are you sure it isn't "Linden wood" ? Linden wood is another name for common lightweight white woods, such as basswood and several others, I think ideal for some parts, such as floorboards..
I never worked much on T bodies, but the Pre -T cars such as the model A, F, and. N,R, S, made by Wilson had internal structural parts made from ash with poplar skins. The seats were bent from poplar ( or similar ). I have had K body skin parts that were poplar ( or similar ) , and still have an original model B door skin here that is poplar. That wood holds paint very well, holds shape well and dimension good enough. I've made a half dozen N bodies, and now use ash internal parts, with a Baltic birch plywood skin. Holds paint very well, doesn't add weight like an aluminum skin does, and above all else, doesn't shrink. I would guess an original solid wood auto body could shrink an inch or more in a hundred years, mostly in height.
I have a couple of hundred pre-T blueprints, several showing wood parts, and I don't believe they are marked as to what wood to use. They likely left it up to the experienced venders they were dealing with.
Wood bodies are fascinating to me, as I see they are to others here.
Actually David, we were always taught to only used good air dried wood in auto bodies. Or course that could be kiln dried wood that has been well stored, and normalized, but better to get wood that has been cut and air dried carefully. That is easy in Ohio, not so much other places, I would guess.
Tim, look at John's post again. He is referring to "Linderman Stock", not Linderman wood. Linderman Stock was wood pieces that were spliced by a Linderman machine that cut notches or grooves in the wood so it could be glued together. There have been a few posts on here about the process in the past. I agree with John's approach to the wood crate/floorboard debate. I have seen several floorboards that sure looked to be made from crate type material. One of the original floorboards that was in my '25 coupe had a spherical depression about three inches in diameter milled out on the backside that had no purpose for being on a floorboard. Another original '25 set that I got from a forum member has some numbers stamped on the back side that don't coincide with floorboard numbers. They are also glued together from random pieces that are dovetail jointed, cut at an ANGLE, then glued. Obviously made up from probably what ever was available. I have also noted that the thickness varies by about 1/16"+or-. As John said, the crate boards were not made to a specific dimension, but just used whenever possible. With that much wood being shipped in to Ford every day, it makes sense that Henry wouldn't let it go to waste. JMHO. Dave
Yes, hard to find around hereabouts. I mention "Pond Dried"--this is the lumber that squirts you in the face when you drive a nail into it!!
Yes, normalized wood would be best. Thinking about it, I may have some fir around here that has been sitting for about 6 years--it should be normalized by now!! Hmm, maybe I'll check that out too.
David, I think you just coined a phrase! I know what you mean about lumber that is wet. Dave
Where i live poplar is hopeless, Rots to dust in 2 years and has no strength. Your poplar must be different.
So Poplar isn't very popular there??
I like poplar for certian areas of strength but a major draw back for exposed outdoor use is the grain is small and tight so your finish does not soak in well.
Pricing Poplar, it will cost me over $175.00 for a 6"X6"X5' But I can't get 6X6 only 3X6X5'.
The specialty wood stores don't carry it and won't order it.
I would (and have) used poplar. I would not use aspen as I find that it warps a lot. Poplar makes excellent sleigh runners as it really polishes up to a slick surface. We used home made wooden sleighs when I was a kid and poplar was the runner material of choice
Hi, I have a 28 AR wagon which I have been slowly working on for years. It is a Martin Parry body, looks a lot like a T wagon w 4 window openings on the side. It was white ash frames and 3/8 basswood panels too bad somebody converted it to a pickup with a crosscut handsaw.
I would never use poplar for structural frame work as it cannot take the stress and flex. Ash or white oak have great flexibility and also look great when varnished . the T and A wagons hang way off the end of the frame and are subject to significant bending and side to side racking stresses.
In addition poplar rots like birch wood. It's great for standing and running trim in a house as it takes paint and stain like the best mohagany or Spanish cedar. I could see using it for passive wood like a window header in a later ford, or lightweight door panels that are all cross braced.
Any exterior use of wood should be treated with a penetrating two part epoxy sealer and then varnished 10 coats before assembly,
That's my 2 cents for what it's worth.
Here in Tennessee poplar was used for years as batten board siding, never painted it lasted for years on houses as long as the rain could run off. I make my own band linings from it and other things. For a body I would use white oak or ash for the parts that needed strength and poplar for the panels and parts where light weight would be desirable. It is readily available around here and I usually buy it from a local mill, stack it to air dry, dries faster than a lot of other woods and holds it's shape. KGB
Andy, Ben Purckey would be glad to hear from you at his Martin-Parry website. He has an A wagon, and I think there are only a couple more survivors. They are beautiful ,well built vehicles. M-P was purchased by GM right about that time, and became Chevrolet Body Division. Ford came out with their first wagon , body by Murray, in early 1929
The initial question was whether to use poplar for sills on a car body. Cars are built entirely different than a wagon body, and carry nowhere near the load. I think it obvious from all the above input , it is good to think out wood choice, and all will be well. Types of wood are different regionally, and interchange easily. M-P used a lot of birch, ash , yellow pine, basswood. Ford used a lot of maple from his iron mountain .
I see no mention of bass wood. It is classified as a hard wood, light in color, very easy to work, and strong. May not be available in some areas. Kitchen wood utinsels as well as drafting board tables are two uses. A sharp knife can cut into the edge of it, turn and continue to cut out of the wood without splintering it. If available I would suggest giving it a try.