Two of the most common types of wood that you are likely to come across in woodworking are maple and birch. Both are hardwoods and play a prominent role in making furniture and cabinets due to their high durability. You get a variety of colors and textures with both these types of wood. Either of these woods is readily available across the US and Canada and throughout the world as well.
In the discussion of maple vs. birch in this post, we touch upon the various aspects of each of these wood species. We also look at the advantages and disadvantages of each type. The aim here is for you to gain a better understanding of both these kinds of wood so that you can identify them quickly and use them to the best of their capacity.
Maple Vs. Birch
If you compare maple vs. birch, you will find that maple is the stronger and denser of the two types of wood. Maple stains better and you can apply a variety of finishes to it as well. Because it stains so well, you can make maple resemble expensive types of wood like cherry and mahogany. All these advantages make maple more expensive than birch wood.
With a hardness of 1,400-1,500 (Janka scale), you will find maple to be incredibly strong. It has a pleasant appearance, and you can apply a variety of stains to it. Maple wood enjoys wide popularity among woodworkers and furniture makers because of its light, creamy color, and smooth grain pattern. Maple is a highly-durable type of timber.
You can find numerous species of maple trees across the world. Still, the popular variety that woodworkers use in the US is hard maple (Acer saccharum), also known as sugar maple, or rock maple. You will find sugar maple trees growing abundantly across Northern US and Canada – it is the national symbol of Canada and features in the national flag of that country. Sugar maple trees secrete maple sap, the main ingredient that goes into making maple syrup.
Coming to birch, its color ranges from yellow-white to light brown, and like many other types of wood, it darkens with time. Birch exhibits a fine to medium pore structure and has a delicate, wavy grain pattern. It also has a satiny surface. The varying density and fat content of the wood can produce some fascinating light effects.
Birchwood is not a heavy wood and is sufficiently strong. Although it exhibits a fair degree of elasticity and toughness, it is not a very hard wood with a hardness of 1,260 (Janka hardness). The most typical variety of birch that woodworkers use is yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis).
Although birch doesn’t split very well, it responds well to profiling, carving, peeling and cutting. It also looks good once stained and polished. These properties make birch suitable for making into plywood. Birch plywood plays a prominent role in woodworking and construction projects.
When it comes to cabinetry, both these wood types compete fiercely with each other, each one having distinct advantages and disadvantages.
Maple Vs. Birch: Appearance
Freshly-cut maple is light, cream-colored, but will become yellowish to reddish-brown on extended exposure to direct sunlight, hence, making it unsuitable for outdoor use. You can get some unique and unusual grain patterns from maple as opposed to the regular straight-grained variety. Occasionally, you will come across spalted maple, which adds further to the type of wood grain patterns that maple wood has to offer.
You can identify birch by the long, horizontal grain structure and papery bark. After milling, however, you may find it difficult to make out the difference between birch and maple. But there are still some unique features that distinguish one wood from the other. For example, the grain structure of birch is somewhat looser than that of maple. Also, birch is slightly darker than maple, especially if you are comparing it to hard maple.
Maple Vs. Birch: Durability
Maple is one of the harder woods, having a Janka hardness value of 1,450, which makes it quite durable. It also withstands moisture and high temperatures quite well, making it suitable for use in kitchens and bathrooms. It is less prone to cracking, which makes maple favored by cabinet makers.
Birch is almost as strong as maple and makes durable long-lasting furniture. However, it has a low resistance to rot, decay and insect attack. Hence it isn’t suitable for outdoor use.
Maple Vs. Birch: Maintenance
Maple can show some excellent results if you apply a suitable finish. But if you don’t seal it correctly, to begin with, you may end up with a blotchy surface after staining. Cleaning maple furniture is easy, which you can do by first dry dusting it with a dry cloth.
You can clean spills and stains with cleaning solutions meant for maple wood. Provided that maple is not exposed to excess humidity and you clean it regularly, it doesn’t need much maintenance.
You will find birch easy to maintain if you use a stabilizer to stabilize the wood. It may also be required to wash the surface with a mild detergent, but use a soft cloth and do not scrub to avoid scratching.
Maple Vs. Birch: Price
Both these varieties of wood are medium-priced. Maple is cheaper than many other types of wood like oak, walnut, cherry, and mahogany, but it costs slightly more than birch, alder and hickory.
Maple Vs. Birch: Sustainability
Maple wood is a great option when it comes to sustainability. These trees grow abundantly and locally, reducing the necessity of transporting the wood over long distances. It makes for a minimal carbon footprint. Maple is not on the list of vulnerable or endangered wood species.
Birch also grows much faster than many other wood types like oak. Hence, due to the rapid growth rate of birch, you can also get more harvests out of this wood than many different types of wood. You can increase the sustainability of birch even more by using it in plywood form.
Maple Vs. Birch: Comparison Table
|Botanical name||Acer saccharum||Betula alleghaniensis|
|Color||Cream to yellow or reddish-brown||Light brown but darker than birch|
|Durability||Highly durable||Highly durable|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||1,450||1,260|
|Strength||Strong wood||Strong wood|
|Maintenance||Low maintenance||Low maintenance|
|Price||Medium-priced but costlier than birch||Medium-prices and cheaper than maple|
|Suitability for outdoors||Not suitable for outdoors||Not suitable for outdoors|
|Suitability for wood carving||Yes||Yes|
|Workability||Easy to work on but tends to burn with high-speed cutters||Easy to work on with both hand and machine tools|
|Smell||No characteristic odor||No characteristic odor|
|Availability||Readily available in the US||Readily available in the US|
|Special features if any||The tree yields a resin from that produces maple syrup||Popularly used to make plywood|
In the discussion of maple vs. birch, you would have seen that both these types of wood enjoy wide popularity amongst woodworkers. Each type has its unique features that add value to the usage and the benefits that you can get. They are two distinct varieties of wood, and you will find it helpful to be able to know the difference and the potential benefits of each type of wood.
Both of these woods are reasonably sustainable; hence you can use either of them for your woodworking projects without hesitation.