Maple and birch are two of the most common and popular types of hardwood used in commercial applications. Both types of wood are used for flooring and furniture making and are known for their high durability and beautiful appearance.
Given that there are many similarities between maple and birch wood, it’s easy to get confused when choosing the right timber for your project. Both types of wood come in many varieties in terms of colour and texture, which can make the selection even more difficult.
But, worry not. We intend to make it easy for you to select between maple and birch based on your particular preferences and project goals. We compare these two wood types on a number of factors, including physical appearance, properties, uses, availability, price, and workability to determine which wood is suitable in which conditions. Besides their respective properties, we also take a look at the pros and cons of both maple and birch.
About Maple wood
Maple wood, famous for its beauty and versatility, is obtained from various species of the Acer genus, with sugar maple and hard maple being the most common types of maple. All maple species (over 40) can be divided into two general categories – hard maple and soft maple – based on hardness.
Maple has a pale, creamy colour with occasional darker streaks. It has a fine, even grain, making it easy to work with this wood. Maple is a hard and durable wood, preferred for flooring, cabinets, furniture, and musical instruments. It takes finishing well, ensuring a smooth, final surface. The wood is moderately resistant to moisture and wear.
Hard maple is commonly found across the Northern US and Canada. Maple trees are also known for their use in creating the famous maple syrup. The sap of sugar maple trees is used for this purpose. Maple wood is a great choice for applications where the appearance, strength, and versatility of the wood are a concern.
What is Birchwood?
Birch wood is a hardwood that is obtained from various species in the Betula genus. It is particularly known for its distinctive appearance and various practical applications. Birch has many species, the most common of which include white birch, yellow birch, and paper birch.
Birch has a light cream or pale yellow hue, sometimes with darker reddish or brown streaks. The grain is typically straight and even, making the wood easier to use in a range of woodworking projects. Birch is moderately strong and durable and is commonly used for making high-quality furniture, flooring and cabinetry. One of the most common uses of Birch is for making plywood for use in construction and furniture making. Birch wood is also known for its stability. The bark of birch trees has been historically used for making canoes and decorative items.
Maple vs Birch
Between maple and birch, maple is a harder, stronger and more durable wood with outstanding workability. It is easy to stain and finish and can be made to look like mahogany or cherry through polish. Maple is also generally more expensive than birch timber.
Maple vs. Birch: Appearance
Maple is a light-coloured wood with a pleasant appearance. The wood colour ranges from white to cream or light yellow. It is generally stained to achieve darker hues.
Birch is also a light-coloured wood with its colour ranging from white-yellowish to light brown. It sometimes has darker streaks on its surface. The wood becomes darker with age. The grain is fine and wavy and there is natural lustre in the wood’s surface.
Freshly-cut maple is light, cream-coloured but the colour gets darker to yellowish or reddish-brown with age and constant exposure to direct sunlight, which is why it is generally not recommended for outdoor use. Maple features unique and attractive grain patterns, such as spalted maple, which further enhances its appeal.
Birch has a long, horizontal grain and very thin bark (like paper). However, it looks nearly the same as maple after processing. Compared to hard maple, birch has a slightly looser grain structure and the colour is slightly darker.
Maple vs. Birch: Strength & Durability
With a Janka hardness rating of 1,400-1,500 lbf, maple is considered a very hard and strong wood.
Birch is a strong and moderately heavy wood. With a hardness rating of 1,260 lbf, it (Yellow Birch) is tough and durable enough for use in applications like flooring and furniture making.
Maple is a naturally durable wood which can resist moisture and insects to some extent. It is a robust wood with a high Janka rating, making it durable enough for some projects. It is somewhat resistant to moisture and high temperatures and can be used in a range of sensitive applications, including kitchens and outdoors. Maple’s resistance to cracking is also worth mentioning and why it is preferred by cabinet makers.
Birch is not as strong as maple, but it is durable and robust enough to produce long-lasting furniture. The wood is not naturally resistant to rot, decay, and insects and must be treated before use in outdoor projects.
Maple vs. Birch: Workability
Maple is one of the best woods in terms of workability. It works well with both hand and machine tools. It is easy to polish and stain. The smooth grain pattern of maple wood makes it easy to cut, shape and carve. The wood might sometimes burn when being cut with high-speed machines. It turns, glues, and finishes well. Staining without a pre-conditioner or toner can result in a blotchy surface.
Birch is fairly easy to work with. It is easy to cut, carve, and peel, but slightly difficult to split. Staining and polishing results are good. Sometimes, it may have wild or wavy grain, which can cause tearout during machining. It responds well to turning, glueing, and finishing.
Maple vs. Birch: Maintenance
Maple is easy to maintain with routine cleaning and care. It involves dry dusting with a cloth or vacuuming, Spills must be cleaned immediately with suitable, chemical-free cleaning solutions. Your maple flooring and furniture should be kept safe from excess moisture and cleaned regularly to preserve their beauty and life.
Birch is also easy to maintain, but it must be stabilized to minimize the impact of humidity change. Occasional cleaning, including washing with a mild detergent using a soft cloth to prevent scratches should be more than enough to maintain its quality and appearance.
Maple vs. Birch: Availability & Price
Both maple and birch wood fall within the medium price range, which means they are neither very affordable nor very expensive.
Maple is a strong hardwood with good availability and moderate price and is often used as a less expensive alternative to more costly hardwoods such as oak, walnut, cherry, and mahogany.
Birch is even less expensive than maple and more easily accessible in all parts of the world.
Maple wood is profoundly available in its native regions of North America and Canada, which is why it is considered a sustainable choice and can be accessed by locals without long-distance transportation. It is also easier to work with and process with a low carbon footprint. It’s not a vulnerable or endangered wood.
Birch wood is also a sustainable hardwood with a higher growth rate than most other hardwoods. Different species of birch are found in different locations around the world. To further enhance its sustainability and availability, birch is commonly manufactured and used in plywood form, which is definitely a more eco-friendly option.
Maple vs. Birch: Uses
Maple is one of the most popular timbers in its native North American region. It is used for practically everything, from making beautiful furniture to musical instruments, flooring, paper, and more. Maple flooring is robust and suitable for commercial settings, basketball courts, dance floors and residential uses. Because of its robust structure and durability, it is commonly used for making cutting boards. Other uses include baseball bats (high shock-resistance), workbenches, butcher blocks, turned objects, toys, etc.
Birch is a versatile hardwood with many uses. As an inexpensive wood, it has various commercial applications. Birch plywoods are extremely popular and easy to work with and stain/polish. Birch is also a perfect choice for cabinetry. It is often used as a less expensive hardwood for flooring. Other uses include furniture, boxes, crates, interior trim, turned objects, and small speciality items.
Now that you have a pretty good understanding of both maple and birch timber, we hope you can easily determine which wood would be the best for your next project. If you still need help, feel free to contact us to consult with an expert. We are Cameroon Timber Export SARL and we manufacture, sell and export premium wood timber in 20+ countries across Asia, Europe, America, and Saudi Arabia.