As a woodworker, you will always be on the lookout for the best wood for your woodworking projects. While it is impossible to know everything about all woods, you can increase your knowledge by learning about many of them.
Birch, sometimes alluded to as “poor man’s cherry” resembles cherry in several ways. You may find it difficult to know the difference between the two types of wood. Birch is harder than cherry but still softer than many other types of wood and also comparatively cheaper than cherry which can be quite expensive.
Birch vs Cherry
A common topic for discussion in woodworking circles is using two popular types of wood – birch and cherry. Both kinds of wood are easily available but cherry is in a class of its own and costs significantly more than cherry.
Some very skillful finishing work can make birch look like cherry (faux cherry), so it’s good to know how to distinguish one type of wood from the other.
There are many different types of birch, of which yellow birch and white birch are the most popular. Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) grows in the northeast region of the United States. The trees grow to heights of 100 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 3 feet.
Yellow birch ranges from pale yellow to white and the heartwood is reddish-brown. White birch has a much paler color and looks more like maple in its natural state. Birch is wood with moderate hardness and is readily available. It has delightful grain patterns, which make it a popular choice for making furniture. Click HERE to learn more about the different types of birch wood.
The most widely-used variety of cherry wood in the United States is black cherry (Prunus serotina) also known as American cherry. It grows in the eastern region of the United States. The trees grow up to 100 feet with trunk diameters of up to 5 feet.
The heartwood of cherry is reddish-brown but the sapwood is almost white. Cherry is good all-purpose wood, easy to work with, and one that you can stain and finish easily, even only with oil. It also ages well and takes on a rich, deep, reddish-brown shade over time.
We use cherry for a variety of woodworking applications like furniture, cabinets, wall panels, and much more. Cherry is a sustainable type of wood, but somewhat expensive compared to other hardwood varieties.
You can learn more about cherry wood by clicking HERE. We also discuss the intricacies of applying a finish to cherry wood in yet another post of ours.
Birch vs Cherry: Appearance
The heartwood of birch is a light, reddish-brown and the sapwood is almost white. You may find some figured sections, with curly patterns similar to what you find in cherry.
You cannot make the difference between the annual growth rings in birch, which makes it a rather dull-looking wood. Birch has a straight grain pattern with occasional waviness. It has a fine, even texture and a natural luster.
Cherry has a light pinkish-brown heartwood, which darkens to a deep, reddish-brown on exposure to light over time. There is a stark contrast between the heartwood and sapwood, which woodworkers often use to enhance the appearance of the wood.
The grain pattern of cherry is straight with occasional figuring featuring curly grain patterns. The wood has a fine, smooth texture with a natural, moderate luster.
Birch vs Cherry: Durability
We consider birch to be perishable and it easily rots and decays when left outdoors. The wood also is prone to insect attack. So, for all practical purposes, birch is an indoor wood.
Cherry wood is more durable than birch and resists decay. However, you will not find cherry being used for outdoor applications, either.
Birch vs Cherry: Workability and Uses
Birch is usually an easy wood to work with using both machine tools and hand tools. However, you need to exercise caution machining or cutting boards with interlocking grain patterns as there is a risk of tearout.
We use birch to make plywood, interior trim, turned objects, crates, boxes, and small specialty wood items.
Woodworkers favor cherry as a good all-purpose wood. It has a stable, straight grain and cuts and machines easily. You may have issues while staining cherry since there is a likelihood to form splotches. Sanding before staining, and using a sealer or gel-based stain can help to address this issue.
Common uses of cherry wood are for veneer, interior millwork, flooring, cabinetry and all types of furniture, wall paneling, turned objects, and specialty wood articles.
Birch vs Cherry: Price
We usually consider birch as a highly economical type of wood. You may find figured boards a bit pricey, but the price of plain birch is on par with woods like maple or oak.
You can get cherry lumber and veneer quite easily, but black cherry is a premier American hardwood for cabinetry, so you can expect a mid-to-upper range price.
Birch vs Cherry: Sustainability
Yellow birch and black cherry are sustainable wood species and neither appear on any of the lists of endangered wood species.
Birch vs Cherry: Pros and Cons
As in all other types of wood, birch and cherry also have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages:
- Cheap option but a wood that you can stain to look like cherry
- Fine, smooth texture
- Dimensionally-stable wood – it is one of the most warp-resistant woods
- Versatile and easy to work with
- Sustainable and readily available
- Makes good plywood
- A bit softer than many other hardwoods, so susceptible to scratching and denting
- A bit difficult to stain due to the wood’s high level of porosity
- Considered to be perishable and rots easily
- Beautiful deep, rich reddish-brown color
- Adds warmth to any room where you may use it
- Smooth, fine grain with a definite and attractive grain pattern
- Takes stain and polish very well
- Durable wood, with resistance to rot and insect attack
- Sustainable wood
- Readily available
- Softer than many other types of wood, so may get scratched and dented easily
- There is a risk of cherry wood darkening unevenly
- Expensive variety of wood
Birch vs Cherry: Comparison Table
|Botanical name||Betula alleghaniensis||Prunus serotina|
|Color||Pale yellow||Coppery to reddish-brown|
|Durability||Not durable||Moderately durable|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||1,260 lbf.||950 lbf.|
|Strength||Moderately strong||Moderately strong|
|Maintenance||Easy to maintain||Easy to maintain|
|Suitability for outdoors||Not suitable for outdoors||Not suitable for outdoors|
|Suitable for wood carving||Yes||Yes|
|Workability||Easy to work with||Easy to work with|
|Smell||No characteristic odor||Mild scent while working|
|Availability||Easily available||Easily available|
|Special features if any||Makes excellent plywood||None|
You may get other options from other wood species, depending on the look that you wish to create. However, if you want a warm elegance, with a classic ambiance, cherry wood is a suitable choice.
Birch is good for a more modernistic look, and it comes with the added advantage of being a cost-effective solution. If you are only looking to save money, you can also achieve adequate success with birch and stain it to look like cherry wood.
Finally, if you are a conscientious woodworker, you can take a call on what type of wood to use, whether birch or cherry. Either of these types of wood can provide spectacular results for your woodworking projects.