Birch vs Oak Woods Compared

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Woodworkers are perpetually searching for suitable wood for their woodworking projects. It is important to know about various types of wood and identify them. Two popular kinds of wood in the United States are Birch and Oak.

Birch is a readily available hardwood, and you can find it wherever you go in the United States. Birch is best known for the plywood it makes. Oak is also hardwood and makes some of the best furniture as well as flooring. We do not use birch for flooring, but it makes some very good cost-effective furniture.

Birch vs Oak

The two types of birch that you may come across in the United States are yellow birch and white birch. Both of them play a prominent role for construction purposes. Yellow birch comes in the form of pale yellow or white wood, with a reddish-brown heartwood but white birch has a paler color. Birch is an odorless wood.

Oak has over 600 species that exist in the world today. The oak tree bears acorns, nuts that are inedible to humans except under certain conditions. These nuts are however edible to certain animals like squirrels. Like birch, oak also being a hardwood is a deciduous tree that sheds its leaves during autumn.

Compared to birch, oak is much heavier and denser, lasting more than birch, and also considerably more expensive.

Birch: Background

Bark on Old Silver Birch tree

You can distinguish birch with its light-cored bark, and long, horizontal papery streams. Once the logs have been processed into lumber, birch looks much like maple and it is difficult to differentiate it from the other wood.

You will find Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) growing in the northeast part of the United States. The trees grow to 100 feet, with tree trunks of diameters up to 3 feet.

Some features are unique to the birch from temperate parts of Asia, Europe, and North America. It has a much have looser wood grain and is lower in density than oak.

Birch also tends to hold a stain well, but not perhaps as well as oak. The consistency of the even wood grain of birch makes it an ideal candidate for making plywood. You will find a lot of birch plywood but not much made from oak. Other than plywood, birch makes excellent cabinets, furniture, and carved objects.

Oak: Background

Giant oak tree viewed from bottom up

Oak trees take a long time to grow to maturity, making it difficult to find an ample supply of oak trees with wood ready to harvest. It is one of the more expensive varieties of wood. We associate oak with strength due to its solid, dense lumber.

Oak looks best with a semi-transparent stain or clear lacquer or varnish which enhances the beauty of the wood grain. It is not a type of wood that we paint.

The dark texture and attractive grain patterns of oak is the distinguishing feature of this wood. However, some people who prefer a more classy and chic finish may not prefer the bold grain of oak wood.

Oak is a highly durable variety of wood that makes good furniture. It resists moisture and humidity quite adequately.

Birch vs Oak: Appearance

You can identify Birch through its long, horizontal grain pattern and the logs are covered with papery bark. The sapwood is very pale in contrast to the reddish-brown heartwood. The annual growth rings don’t have much demarcation, giving the wood a dull appearance.

Oak comes in many colors and hues. The main attraction for oak however is the grain pattern. No two sections of oak have a similar grain pattern, which creates some exciting possibilities while finishing this wood, further accentuated by its natural golden color.

Birch vs Oak: Durability

We consider birch a perishable type of wood. It is highly susceptible to rot and decay and you cannot leave it exposed to the elements. Birch also has no resistance to insect attack All these factors render birch an indoor wood.

Oak is a tree that takes hundreds of years to grow. The result is natural durability for lumber made from this wood. You can increase the durability of oak by applying a suitable finish and a sealer. Click HERE to learn more about wood sealers.

Birch vs Oak: Maintenance

You can maintain birch easily but you have to use a stabilizer to stabilize the wood. It is possible to wash the wood with mild detergent, but do not use a stiff-bristled brush as it may damage the wood.

Oak is relatively easier to maintain than birch. It cleans well with soapy water and you can rinse it off later without affecting the wood. You need to strip down the finish from oak and reapply it every few years or so.

Birch vs Oak: Workability and Uses

Birchbark canoe, Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor, ME IMG 2301
Image Credit: Billy Hathorn via Creative Commons

You will find it comfortable to use hand or machine tools on birch. However, be mindful of the knotted and curly sections, as you could experience tearout. You will also find it easy to glue and finish birch.

Birch makes boxes, crates, interior trim, and turned objects. But birch is best-known for its role in making plywood and veneer.

You will get good results while using hand tools and machine tools on oak. The wood is quite dimensionally stable, which means that less shrinkage will occur, and the wood has less tendency to warp and crack.

You need to take particular precautions against exposing oak to water if it contains iron as in nails or screws. Iron reacts with the wood, leaching the rust into the pores making it impossible to remove. You can easily perform steam bending on oak and it stains, finishes and glues quite well.

Kitchen in luxury home with oak wood cabinetry

We use oak for Cabinetry, furniture, interior trim, flooring, and veneer. It not only makes excellent furniture but it is also good for making paneled walls and of course, flooring.

We use this wood for making oak barrels and it also finds a place in the tannery industry which utilizes the high tannin content of this wood in the process of making leather. Even the bark of white oak is used as medicine and professional drums are made of Japanese oak.

Birch vs Oak: Price

Plain birch lumber is cheap, perhaps on par with the price of maple or beech. But figured birch board will cost more. Depending on the grade, birch plywood can also be quite an expensive proposition.

The growing time of oak can be a hundred years or more. It is a dense and heavy type of wood, which makes it challenging to transport. There are many imported species of oak in the United States. These are the factors that push up the price of oak.

Birch vs Oak: Sustainability

Neither birch nor oak is on the list of endangered species of wood.

Birch vs Oak: Comparison Table



Oak (Red)

Botanical name Betula alleghaniensis  Quercus rubra
Color White to reddish-brown Light to medium brown with a reddish tint
Durability Not durable Highly durable
Hardness (Janka Scale) 1,260 lbf. 1,220 lbf.
Strength Strong wood Extremely strong
Maintenance Easy to maintain Less maintenance than birch
Price Cheap Expensive to highly expensive
Suitability for outdoors No No
Suitability for wood carving Yes Yes
Workability Easy to work with Yes
Smell Odorless Characteristic odor
Availability Easily available Abundantly available
Special features if any Well-known for making plywood Used in the tannery industry


Birch and oak are two diversely different types of wood. However, they both make good furniture. They are also two reasonably-priced kinds of wood that are easily available and have a variety of uses in various industries.

It is essential to know a bit about the features of birch and oak to get the best out of them. With the information provided here, you can make the best choice for using either birch or oak in your woodworking projects for the best results.

Additional Reading:

Birch vs Walnut 

Birch vs Poplar Plywood 

Birch vs Cedar