Birch vs Walnut Woods Compared

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In your forays into various places in search of wood for your woodworking projects, you may frequently come across two types of wood – birch, and walnut. While they are each on either side of the price bracket, they do have some common factors.

When you want to use wood that lasts, you look for something cost-effective and durable. With birch, we get wood that doesn’t cost too much and has a reasonable amount of durability. Walnut is also a durable type of wood but tends to be significantly more expensive. Both birch and walnut are easily available throughout the United States.                                      

Birch vs Walnut

You will commonly come across two varieties of birch in the United States – yellow birch and white birch. Both species of birch serve as material for building purposes.

Yellow birch may be pale yellow or white, whereas the heartwood is reddish-brown. White birch is paler than yellow birch, but both varieties are devoid of any odor.

Walnut also enjoys a lot of popularity because of its good looks. The dark chocolate-brown shades provide a striking contrast to the darker almost black patterns in the wood grain.

Birch: Background

Close up texture view river birch tree

Of the various species of birch, perhaps yellow birch and white birch are the most prominent. Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) is native to the northeast region of the United States. The trees reach heights of up to 100 feet with tree trunk sizes of up to three feet in diameter.

The color of yellow birch ranges from white to pale yellow with a reddish-brown heartwood. White birch is a lot paler, resembling maple in its natural state. Birch possesses moderate hardness and is easy to procure. The grain patterns of birch are quite attractive and it makes good furniture.

If you would like to learn more about birch, you can click HERE.

Walnut: Background

The eastern American Black Walnut

Of the many varieties of walnut that grow across the world, you will find only a few of them growing in the U.S. The most prominent walnut species found in the United States is eastern black walnut (Juglans nigra), American black walnut, or American walnut.

The nut of these trees is edible. However, it is the wood that woodworkers covet for its dark, chocolaty brown with contrasting patterns. The wood is hard, but you will still find it easy to work with. The cost of walnut can range from expensive to prohibitive.

Birch vs Walnut: Appearance

Birch has a light, reddish-brown heartwood with almost-white sapwood. Some figuring does occur and you may see curly, cherry-like patterns in some of the sections of wood.

There is not much differentiation between the birch’s annual growth rings which results in a dull-looking type of wood. Birch has a straight-grained pattern with a natural luster and even texture.

Walnut is a reasonably durable wood that resists rot but may not withstand insect attack. It rarely differs from the chocolate-brown shades, but when it does, you may see some lighter shades with an occasional dash of gray, purple, or even shades of red. Most woodworkers will not stain it because of its natural color, so a transparent finish is more in order.

Birch vs Walnut: Durability

Birch comes under the category of perishable wood because you will see it rapidly decaying and developing rot if you leave it exposed to the elements. Insects will soon attack this wood, for which it has no defense.

Black walnut will resist moisture and rot. But it lacks to capacity to fight against insect attack, so using a wood sealer for black walnut at the end of the project is a good idea.

Birch vs Walnut: Maintenance

With birch, maintenance is easy, but if you want it to last, you need to use a stabilizer. You can also wash the wood with mild detergent, but avoid using stiff-bristled brushes to prevent the surfaces of the wood from getting damaged.

Both these woods share a set of common properties, and you will find it easy to work on both. Birch and walnut respond well to machine and hand tools. But care needs to be taken when working on a section where there are irregular grains or knots.

Birch and walnut accept glue and finish quite well. But as we mentioned above, you would do well to add a clear finish to walnut to preserve the natural beauty of the wood grain.

Birch vs Walnut: Workability and Uses

Birch-plywood kitchen by Barber Osgerby Associates, London 1999
Image Credit: StuartofAlbion via Creative Commons

You will find birch easy to cut and use machine tools and hand tools on. Be careful when you are working on lumber that has a lot of interlocking grains or knots to avoid tearout.

Birch is good for making boxes, crates, turned objects, interior trim, plywood, and small specialty wood items.

Walnut is an easy enough wood to work with because of its straight, regular grain. While planing the wood, tearout sometimes occurs, especially in sections that have figured or irregular grain.

The wood takes finish, stains, and glues well. It also bends nicely during steam bending procedures.

construction of interior design modern kitchen in walnut wood

Walnut makes furniture, turned items, interior paneling, gunstocks, wooden cabinets, and specialty wooden items and novelties.

Birch vs Walnut: Price

Birch comes under the category of cost-effective timber and it is widely available. Some figured boards may turn out to be expensive, but generally speaking, birch is a cheap wood.

When it comes to walnut, you can easily procure it but it is by no means cheap. A restriction to walnut lumber is the width of the boards of lumber which turn out to be rather narrow compared with other types of hardwood.

Birch vs Walnut: Sustainability

Neither birch nor walnut appears on the lists of endangered wood species. It makes both types of wood sustainable and an eco-friendly option for procuring wood.

Birch vs Walnut: Any other characteristics

The main feature about birch is that its veneer makes some of the best plywood in the world. Birch also makes good furniture, but when it comes to plywood, birch fulfills several requirements of plywood to make birch plywood a much sought-after type of wood.

We revere walnut for the attractive patterns in its wood grain. It is a fairly versatile and durable type of wood but doesn’t possess any special features that make it stand out.

Birch vs Walnut: Comparison Table




Botanical name Betula alleghaniensis Juglans nigra 
Color Pale yellow Chocolate to dark brown
Durability Not durable Moderately durable
Hardness (Janka Scale) 1,260 lbf. 1,010 lbf.
Strength Moderately strong Strong wood
Maintenance Easy to maintain Low maintenance
Price Cheap Medium to high-priced
Suitability for outdoors Not suitable for outdoors Not suitable for outdoors
Suitability for wood carving Yes Suitable for carving
Workability Easy to work with Easy to work with
Smell No characteristic odor Faint odor while cutting
Availability Easily available Easily available
Special features if any Makes excellent plywood No special features


Birch and walnut are on either side of the price spectrum. But as you have seen in this post, many factors make these types of wood a much-preferred choice among woodworkers.

Now that you know more about these two kinds of wood in our discussion of birch vs walnut, you can make a suitable choice for using either of these fine woods for your next woodworking project.