Two of the most widely used types of wood that you may come across are maple and oak. Homeowners tend to compare these two, even though they are both hardwoods. They tend to choose these woods for cabinets, flooring, furniture, and more.
Although maple and oak are both hardwoods, the trees differ vastly from each other. Maple is a pale, hardwood with an extremely tight and even grain. You can get soft and hard varieties of maple. Oakwood is heavy, long-lasting, and considerably more durable and expensive than maple. Often the choice between the two comes to aesthetics.
Maple vs. Oak
Maple and oak share several similarities in weight and durability. However, they vary in grain patterns and coloring. With maple, you get several species that differ vastly from each other, classified as hard maple and soft maple.
With oak, choosing the wood you want to use is also a bit complicated. For example, you have several species of oak to choose from (over 600, in fact), including the most popular ones – red oak and white oak. The wood even differs depending on where the trees grew.
Maple is a pale hardwood with an extremely tight and even grain. You get soft and hard maple, and both varieties are more or less equally popular. Each one is best suited for particular applications.
We use soft maple for furniture and molding due to its high degree of resilience. It also makes good butcher blocks. We use hard maple for a variety of applications like furniture, flooring, and cabinets.
You will find hard maple good for making pool cue shafts, baseball bats, and also for making drums. Maple is also used in the food industry for making maple syrup, and it is used as smoking chips.
The main appeal of maple wood is its white color and straight, even grain pattern. It lacks flaws like pores, as you may observe in many other types of wood, even oak. The downside of the lack of pores makes it next to impossible to stain the wood. Also, maple will become yellow over time.
Coming to oak, as we mentioned there are over 600 existing species. The fruit of the oak tree is the acorn, and it is an identification of this species. It is a deciduous tree, shedding leaves during autumn.
Oak is a hardwood, dense, heavy, long-lasting, and costly. The trees take longer to grow, making them scarce and expensive. Oak is synonymous with strength. It does not look good painted, so we usually only apply stain, lacquer or varnish.
This wood enjoys prominence due to its darker texture and striking grain pattern. The heavy grain of oak makes it feel more textural. It looks good in a simple room. Some people are not impressed with its bold grain, mainly if a classy, chic finish is what they seek.
Oak is among the most durable woods you can find, so we make furniture out of it. It is also highly durable and withstands exposure to moisture and humidity quite well. Therefore, we make different types of furniture out of it.
We also use oak for flooring, wine barrels, and it plays a vital role in the tannery industry due to its high tannin content. The bark of white oak has medicinal value, and Japanese oak makes professional drums.
We divide maple into two primary groups – hard maple and soft maple. Each one has its particular uses. Here are the details of each group:
Hard Maple (Acer saccharum)
We also call this wood rock maple or sugar maple. Hard maple grows in the northeastern region of the United States. The trees grow as high as 115 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 3 feet.
Hard maple is quite hard with a Janka hardness rating of 1,450 lbf. The naturally light finish of this wood makes it the preferred choice of those looking for contemporary spaces for making furniture and hardwood flooring.
We use hard maple for baseball bats, bowling lanes, flooring, cabinetry, molding and trim, butcher blocks, furniture, custom woodwork, vise jaws, and clamp locks.
Hard Maple: Pros and Cons
Here are some of the chief pros and cons of hard maple that you might like to consider:
- Durable and strong
- Smart looking wood
- Cost-effective material
- Less prone to warping and twisting than many other hardwoods
- Among the hardest hardwoods
- Less porous than oak
- More prone to dents and scratches
- Does not absorb stain well
Soft Maple (Acer saccharinum)
Soft maple is a group of maple woods that include silver maple. It is native northeastern United States. The trees grow as high as 115 feet tall, and the trunks to a diameter of 3 feet.
The unique fact of this wood is that the lumber comes from the sapwood rather than the heartwood. The color of the sapwood ranges from light golden brown to reddish-brown. The heartwood is a darker, reddish color.
Curly or quilted grain patterns characterize the wood. The wood grain is straight with occasional waviness. Soft maple is quite soft with a Janka hardness rating of 700 lbf.
It is easy to work with both hand and machine tools but tends to burn with high-speed cutters. It turns, glues and finishes well, but you need to use a pre-conditioner if you want to stain it.
We use soft maple to make Veneer, paper (pulpwood), boxes, crates/pallets, musical instruments, turned objects, and other small specialty wood items. It also makes a variety of furniture, kitchen cabinets and finds various applications in millwork.
Soft Maple: Pros and Cons
Here are some of the major pros and cons of soft maple:
- It can resemble cherry wood if stained appropriately
- Suitable for indoor projects
- Easy to work with
- Odorless, fine-textured wood
- Not a good choice for bending and shaping
- Tends to burn with high-speed blades
Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
Red oak grows in the northeastern region of the United States and southeastern Canada. The trees are tall at up to 115 feet and with extremely wide tree trunk diameters of a maximum of 6 feet.
This wood is easily the most popular hardwood in the United States. The heartwood is light to medium brown with a hint of red. There is not much demarcation between the heartwood and the paler sapwood.
Red oak has a straight grain pattern with a coarse and uneven texture. The pores are large and open. The wood, however, does not resist rot and insect attack. It also has poor moisture resistance and can become discolored with exposure to water.
Red oak is moderately hard with a Janka hardness rating of 1,220 lbf. It is easy to work with, producing satisfactory results with hand and machine tools. But red oak has a low level of dimensional stability.
Red oak will stain easily if exposed to iron fasteners like screws and nails. But it responds well to steam bending and shaping. It glues, finishes and stains quite well. We use red oak in cabinetry and to make furniture, trim, flooring, and veneer.
Red Oak: Pros and Cons
Here are a few of better-known the pros and cons of red oak:
- Reasonably resistant to dents and scratches
- Stains well
- Distinctly pleasant odor
- Easy to work with
- Responds well to steam bending and shaping
- Less resistant to decay
- Tends to stain when exposed to iron fasteners
- Expensive wood
White Oak: (Quercus alba)
White oak grows in the eastern region of the United States. The trees grow up to 85 feet, and the tree trunks reach a diameter of 4 feet. The state quarter of Connecticut featured a picture of a famous, historical white oak, the Charter Oak.
The heartwood is light brown with an olive cast in comparison to the reddish cast of red oak. The wood grain is straight but with an uneven, coarse texture. The wood is highly durable and finds use in boat building due to its water-resistant properties.
White oak is moderately hard with a Janka hardness rating of 1,450 lbf. It is pretty easy to work with using both machine and hand tools. It responds to steam bending and shaping and glues, finishes and stains well.
White Oak: Pros and Cons
Here are some of the well-known pros and cons of white oak:
- Great looks
- Can use indoor and outdoor as well
- Good resistance to moisture and decay
- Glues, stains, and finishes well
- Pleasant fragrance
- Easy to work with
- Tends to stain when exposed to iron, especially in the presence of moisture
- Mediocre dimensional stability
It’s a difficult decision when you have to decide between maple and oak. In our discussion of maple vs. oak, we dealt with two types of maple and two types of oak.
When you design interiors and look for something light and contemporary, it’s maple that you need. But if you want something more somber and dignified, then there’s nothing like oak to accomplish this.
When it comes to furniture, similar principles apply. You can make modern-looking furniture from maple. Heavy furniture with classic looks comes from oak.
An important consideration other than the looks is the cost factor. You will spend considerably more on oak than on maple.
Whatever you choose, considering the information here, you can select either type of wood for your woodworking projects with excellent results.