When it comes to selecting prime wood for making hardwood cabinets, you would want to consider various factors like price, availability, appearance, and durability of the wood. Two prominent types of wood in the world of woodworking are birch and spruce. While spruce is softwood birch is hardwood. Each of them is unique in its particular category. You can use either birch or spruce to get satisfactory results in a woodworking project. It’s useful to know about the characteristics of each type of wood.
In the discussion of birch vs spruce, birch is a wood that you will find easy to work with. Spruce being a softwood, is easy to work with as well. However, we consider birch perishable. Spruce has certain durability features that make it last longer. Comparing birch and spruce side-by-side, you can use either type of wood in a woodworking project.
Birch vs. Spruce
As we mentioned initially, birch is hardwood, whereas spruce is softwood. In botanical terms, this means that the birch tree is an angiosperm and yields closed seeds, whereas spruce is a gymnosperm and yields open seeds.
One of the most prominent uses of birch is for making plywood. You can get various grades of plywood. Some of the best plywood in the world comes from the Baltic region from Baltic birch trees.
Spruce, being softwood has limited uses. We can use it to make indoor furniture. It has a fair degree of durability where you can use it outdoors as well thanks to the natural resins it produces.
But spruce’s main claim to fame is that it is an excellent tonewood. It is well suited for making musical instruments. Spruce also burns easily so, it makes good firewood.
Birch comes in different varieties like silver birch, yellow birch, white birch, paper birch, and grey birch to name a few. The birch species that you will find in the United States is yellow birch. The trees grow as high as 100 feet and the tree trunks grow up to 3 feet in diameter.
Birch is a pale wood but the heartwood is dark brown. It looks a lot like Maple. Its grain patterns make it favored for making indoor furniture. Baltic birch plywood is some of the best plywood in the world and makes excellent speaker enclosures.
Spruce is primarily a type of wood that you find in Europe, but you may also find it scattered across the northwest region of the United States and Canada. It is a good timber tree and sustainable because of its rapid growth rate compared to hardwood trees.
Spruce makes good indoor and outdoor structures and we also use it in construction. It is very strong and makes good plywood. Although it makes good flooring, you wouldn’t use it in high-traffic areas due to the extreme softness of the wood.
But as we mentioned above, the main feature of spruce is its tonal properties, especially the wood that comes from central and eastern Europe. It is a coveted type of wood for luthiers to make violins and guitars. You will also find piano soundboards made from spruce.
Birch vs. Spruce: Appearance
Birch is a reddish-brown wood with pale, almost-white sapwood. You won’t find the grain pattern very attractive with birch. But you will see some occasional figuring that makes it resemble cherrywood. One of the reasons for birchwood’s bland appearance is the difference between its growth rings.
Spruce is a pale wood but you might sometimes see a dash of pink and red. The sapwood and hardwood are not very clearly demarcated. Some varieties of spruce will exhibit a unique woodgrain pattern that we call “bear claw” because it resembles bear claw scratches.
Birch vs. Spruce: Durability
Birch is considered to be perishable. It decays and rots easily, especially if left outdoors. It is also prone to insect attack. Therefore, birch is essentially an indoor wood.
Spruce is a moderately durable type of wood. It is lightweight, soft, and has a medium density. Spruce is easy to cut this wood and it responds well to hand tools and machine tools. It is a strong type of wood but prone to splitting when you drive nails and screws into it. You can remedy this by drilling pilot holes.
Birch vs. Spruce: Maintenance
You will find birch easy to maintain but you will need to use a stabilizer to stabilize the wood. You can wash it with a mild detergent but do not use stiff brushes lest you damage the wood surfaces.
Spruce is a bit tricky to maintain because of its softness. So, here again, you have to avoid using a stiff brush. You can use spruce outdoors but it is better to use it indoors and apply a finish to get the best from the wood and refinish it every few years.
Birch vs. Spruce: Workability and Uses
The hardness of birch is near to that of teak. But you will find it easier to work with than teak, either by machine or hand tools. The straight-grained sections are particularly easy to cut but you need to take care while cutting the section where the wood interlocks to prevent tearout.
One of the most popular forms of birch is Baltic birch plywood. There are various grades of Baltic birch plywood that you can get for various woodworking and construction purposes. Birch also makes boxes, crates, interior trim, turned objects, and specialty wooden objects.
Spruce is also easy to work with. Being softwood, it is easy to work on it with hand and machine tools. Spruce responds well to steam bending. It has excellent tonal properties. The combination of both these properties makes it ideal for making musical instruments like guitars, ukuleles, and violins.
Other than musical instruments, we use spruce for lumber, millwork, aircraft components, boatbuilding (for making spars and masts), wind turbine blades, and furniture.
Birch vs. Spruce: Price
Birch costs a bit more than spruce. You can end up paying a lot of money for birch, particularly in the form of plywood. Spruce on the other hand can be quite cheap as it is readily available and sustainable. But you may end up paying a lot for latewood or quartersawn pieces without knots. Then, there are some musical instrument grades of spruce that can be exorbitantly expensive.
Birch vs. Spruce: Sustainability
Neither birch nor spruce is on the list of endangered wood species. They neither appear on the CITES Appendices nor the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Birch vs. Spruce: Special Features
Some species of birch make the best plywood in the world, particularly birch from the Baltic region. Spruce on the other hand has excellent tonal properties making it a much sought-after type of wood for making musical instruments.
Birch vs. Spruce: Comparison Table
|Botanical name||Betula alleghaniensis||Picea sitchensis|
|Color||White to reddish-brown||Cream/white to yellow and a pinkish or reddish hue|
|Durability||Not durable||Highly durable|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||1,260 lbf.||510 lbf.|
|Strength||Strong wood||Strong wood|
|Maintenance||Easy to maintain||Needs extra care|
|Price||Cheap to moderately expensive||Cheap to expensive|
|Suitability for outdoors||No||No|
|Suitability for wood carving||Yes||Yes|
|Workability||Easy to work with||Yes, but tricky to stain|
|Smell||Odorless||No distinct odor|
|Availability||Easily available||Readily available|
|Special features if any||Well-known for making plywood||Excellent tonewood|
These two types of wood birch and spruce have their unique characteristics that make each one suitable for a particular purpose. As a woodworker, you will find a use for either of these types of wood depending on the type of project you undertake.
Therefore, we hope that this information will give you a better insight into the characteristics of these types of wood and you can use either one successfully in your future woodworking projects and expect satisfactory results.