Maple and beech are two widely popular types of wood used by woodworkers in the United States today. They share many similarities, but they have some unique features as well. Today we look into the finer aspects of these two fine types of wood.
Maple and beech share many similar characteristics like appearance and weight. It is easy to confuse one from the other. But these two types of wood are so versatile, durable, and popular that it becomes a useful thing to know the difference. We use both types of wood for furniture, flooring, cabinetry, and a variety of other applications.
Maple vs. Beech
Maple wood is visually appealing, and more so with variation in the otherwise straight grain pattern. Beech on the other hand does have very great looks in its natural form.
But with a suitable finish, especially after steaming it beech takes on a darker color. As a result of this process the wood resembles cherry, mahogany, or maple. Beech is also a reasonably priced type of wood and is cheaper than many hardwoods including maple.
Hard maple (Acer saccharum) trees grow all across the northeastern region of the United States. The trees grow up to 115 feet with tree trunk diameters up to 3 feet. The light, natural, peach color is appealing to the eye. Maple comes in different textures to match the ambiance of the surroundings for furniture and flooring.
The wood grain is straight, even, and tight and with occasional interlocking. The interlocked grained sections tend to have more value. Certain varieties of maple exhibit “spalting” which is caused by a fungal infection, and adds to the visual appeal.
Beech (Fagus grandifolia) grows in the eastern region of the United States. The trees are big, reaching heights of up to 130 feet and the tree trunks grow to a diameter of 5 feet.
Beech is a type of wood that doesn’t look good in its natural state, but after steaming, it takes on a darker, more reddish hue, making it more appealing. It has a fine to medium grain with a natural luster.
We consider beech as a hard-wearing wood due to its strength and hardness. The wood however does not have resistance against insect attack, but if kept indoors as furniture and flooring, with a suitable finish, it will last long.
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Maple vs. Beech: Appearance
Maple is pale, whitish, and with an even tight grain. The grain is so tight that you cannot see the pores like many other types of wood. Maple has a smooth surface with the occasional interlocking of the grain to reveal curling or figuring.
The wood becomes yellow over time. You can get a unique type of maple called “spalted maple” which reveals a unique pattern. A fungus that infects maple trees causes this pattern, and this variety of maple is significantly more expensive than regular maple.
Another expensive variety of maple is “birdseye” maple which is also more expensive due to the attractive patterns that it features.
Beech is more of a utility wood than for visual appeal but steaming the wood brings on more attractive shades. You can get different textures from beech. Veneer made of beech tends to be a darker shade of brown due to the steam used in processing the material.
Beech is durable with a high level of hardness but it is best used for indoor applications. It tends to develop splotches on staining it, so the best finish is a clear one. Although beech wood is cheaper than standard maple, beech plywood is costlier.
Maple vs. Beech: Durability
Maple and beech are durable but neither type of wood is particularly resistant to insect attack. Hard maple has a Janka hardness rating of 1,450 lbf making it a moderately hard wood. Beech is a bit softer than maple with a Janka hardness rating of 1,300 lbf.
The result is that the wood makes durable and long-lasting furniture. Furniture made of maple or beech withstands gouging, chipping, and denting. Using the same logic cabinets or flooring made of these types of wood also lasts long.
However, you can consider both varieties of wood to be non-durable and perishable, susceptible to insect attack. Neither of these woods can be used for outdoor applications.
Maple vs. Beech: Maintenance
Furniture of maple requires minimum maintenance but maple floors may need a bit of regular maintenance to sustain the luster. Many manufacturers add a pre-finish to the flooring planks that protects them from contamination and abrasion.
However, maple floors, even if they come with a pre-finish need some basic maintenance from time to time. The maintenance, if not done properly can damage the floors, so you need to follow particular procedures.
Beech wood for flooring or furniture is likely to be lightly steamed to impart a uniform color and finish to the wood. The wood will last a long time, with a bit of basic maintenance every couple of years or so.
Maple vs. Beech: Price
Maple is one of the most popular types of wood in the United States. It is not very expensive, but hard maple tends to be more expensive than the other varieties of maple. The exception is figured maple which can be quite pricey.
Beech is another reasonably priced type of wood, normally cheaper than maple, most of the time. But the exception is beech plywood which can turn out to be quite an expensive proposition.
Maple vs. Beech: Sustainability
Maple is quite a sustainable type of wood because the trees grow abundantly all across the United States (and Canada, as well). They are harvested sustainably – much more so than many other kinds of wood, including mahogany.
If you are looking for a sustainable type of wood, maple is one of the best options. These trees grow abundantly in the United States and are harvested sustainably. It is far more sustainable than woods like mahogany.
Similarly, Beech is another sustainable wood. Neither maple nor beech is on the list of endangered wood species. You can use either wood with the complete assurance that they are eco-friendly options.
Maple vs. Beech: Uses
Maple makes good flooring and we use it in residential flooring, dance floors, bowling alleys, and basketball courts. We also make musical instruments, furniture, baseball bats, pool cues, cutting boards, workbenches, turned objects and veneer from maple wood.
Beech also makes similar items, but it also makes good railroad ties, crates, boxes, and pallets.
The nutty flavor of beech smoke makes beech wood a popular choice in the food industry for smoking fish, chicken, and pork. The beer industry also uses beech in a process called “lagering.”
Maple vs. Beech: How to Make the Difference
Maple and beech are extremely similar-looking woods and they each have similar weights as well. People often mistake one for another but the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory (USFPL) has thrown some light on this issue.
In beech, some rays can be distinguished easily by the naked eye. The largest rays are double the size of the largest pores. In maple, however, the demarcation is less obvious and the maximum size of a ray is equal to the largest pore.
The USFPL also goes on to state that you can even distinguish maple and beech from the rays visible in quartersawn pieces. In beech, they appear as distinct flakes, whereas in maple, the appearance is similar but with smaller flakes.
So, you can easily identify maple and beech by comparing the rays and pores of the respective woods through a magnifying lens and to some extent by the naked eye as well.
Maple vs. Beech: Comparison Table
|Acer saccharum||Fagus grandifolia|
|Color||Nearly white to off-white||Pale cream color|
|Durability||Mechanically durable but no resistance to rot or insects||Mechanically durable but no resistance to rot or insects|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||1,450 lbf.||1,300 lbf.|
|Strength||Strong wood||Strong wood|
|Maintenance||Less maintenance||Less maintenance|
|Price||Moderately priced||Moderately priced except for beech plywood|
|Suitability for outdoors||Indoor use only||Indoor use only|
|Suitability for wood carving||No||Good for making turned objects|
|Workability||Easy to work with||Easy to work with|
|Availability||Easily available||Easily available|
|Special features if any||Maple syrup comes from maple sap||Nothing significant|
Maple and beech are two widely used types of wood in the United States by woodworkers and construction engineers alike. These woods compare with many other premium woods in the world of woodworking like cherry, oak, and even mahogany.
The fact that both kinds of wood are comparatively cheap and readily available makes them a viable option for any woodworking project. With the information we have provided here, you can choose either one and get some excellent results in any of your woodworking projects.