Birch vs. Hickory: Which One to Use?

Birch vs. Hickory: Which One to Use?

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Whether you want to build a chair, or some cabinets, make a floor, construct a new patio, or anything in between, solid wood is always one of the best options at your disposal. That said, there are many types of wood to choose from, and today we are going to compare two very popular ones, birch, and hickory.

We want to find out what the major differences between these two are, so you can then choose between the two for your next big construction project.

What Is Birch?

First, we have birch. Here we are referring to the yellow birch tree, as this is an extremely common variety that grows in North America, and it is often used for woodworking and construction purposes.

The yellow birch is a deciduous hardwood tree that grows all the way from the Atlantic provinces in Canada, over to the eastern edge of Manitoba, as well as in all of the northeastern areas in the United States of America.

It has a relatively tight and straight grain, although it may have some irregularities or waviness. It also features a low natural luster, and a fine and even texture, and it may have some knots, gaps, and voids. The heartwood of the yellow birch is brownish-reddish-yellowish in color, and the sapwood is mostly white, although it is the heartwood that is generally used for construction.

Birch is a fairly hard, heavy, and dense type of wood, but it is also easy to work with. It tends to be quite resistant to various forms of physical damage, such as scratching and denting, and as far as North American hardwoods are concerned, it’s up there with the best of them.

However, birch is not known for being very moisture or pest-resistant, so it’s not ideal for outdoor purposes.  That said, birch is perfectly fine for indoor use, and it’s not very expensive either. It is often used for low-end flooring, especially in low-traffic areas, and low-end furniture, decorative pieces, cabinets, and other similar projects.

What Is Hickory?

We then have the hickory tree, which is a hardwood found in China, India, Canada, Mexico, and the United States. The most commonly used type of hickory for construction purposes in North America is the mockernut hickory, so this is what we will be focusing on today.

For the most part, the mockernut hickory has a tight, close, and straight grain, although there may be some waviness. It also features a medium texture. Hickory may be anywhere from light brown to white in color. It is also very dense and hard, therefore making it extremely durable and resistant to most kinds of physical damage.

Although hickory may not be the most moisture-resistant type of wood in the world, it does still hold its own perfectly fine when used for outdoor purposes, especially if treated and sealed. Hickory is often used for a variety of indoor purposes, including higher-end furniture, decorative pieces, and for other such purposes.

Birch vs. Hickory: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what both birch and hickory are, let’s figure out what makes the two different from each other.


One difference here is that hickory is much harder than birch. Hickory comes in at 1,970 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, whereas yellow birch comes in at 1,260 lbf. As you can see, hickory  is about 50% harder than birch, therefore making it much more durable and resistant to physical damage such as denting and scratching. This makes it the better option for things like furniture and flooring.


Not only is hickory much harder than yellow birch, but also a good deal heavier. Yellow birch features a density of 43 lbs/ft3. On the other hand, mockernut hickory comes in at roughly 51 lbs/ft3. This heavier weight does in part lead to hickory being more durable, although it can also make it harder to work with.

Pest and Moisture Resistance

When it comes down to it, neither of these two types of wood is very pest or moisture-resistant. Now, mockernut hickory is the more moisture-resistant of the two, but it is still not ideal for outdoor use. Generally speaking, we would not recommend that either of these types of wood be used for outdoor purposes.

Overall Strength

In terms of overall strength, particularly if we look at the compressive strength, the modulus of elasticity, and the modulus of rupture, hickory scores much higher on all fronts. Therefore, it can bear more weight, is more structurally sound, and is better suited for heavy-duty construction purposes.


Due to its grain, density, hardness, and other features, mockernut hickory is known to be very hard to work with, especially when it comes to sawing and cutting. Yellow birch on the other hand, although it’s not the easiest to work with due to a lot of gaps and knots, it’s also not overly difficult.

Appearance – Grain and Color

Yellow birch is not often seen as something very beautiful and is more utilitarian in nature. However, hickory is often used for its aesthetic qualities, as it tends to have a beautiful color and grain. Of course, this is nothing more than a matter of personal preference.


Both yellow birch and hickory should not cost more than around $10 per board foot.

When to Use Birch?

If you are looking for a relatively affordable type of wood that works well for lower-end purposes, especially for indoor use, then birch is a fine option to consider. It is quite durable and hard, so it works well for flooring in low-traffic areas, walls, furniture, decorative pieces, cabinets, shelves, and more or less everything in between. As long as you like the appearance of birch, then it is a perfectly fine option to consider.

When to Use Hickory?

If you are going for aesthetic qualities, and you like decorative pieces, then hickory is a fantastic option to consider. It is extremely hard and durable, so it is both beautiful and functional. It works well for more or less any kind of indoor purpose. Just remember not to use it outdoors.

Alternatives to Birch and Hickory

Seeing as neither birch nor hickory is ideal for outdoor purposes, you might want to consider something like eastern red cedar, mahogany, or teak, as they are all much more moisture-resistant and better suited for outdoor use.


Now that you know what all of the major differences between hickory and birch are, you can make an informed decision between the two.