If you want to build something around your home, whether it be a new floor, a patio, or some furniture, solid wood is always a fantastic choice. It looks beautiful, and if you find the right kind, it’s also extremely durable and resistant. That said, there are literally dozens of options to choose from.
Two very popular ones in North America include birch and pine. These two are fairly different from one another, which is why we are about to do a side-by-side comparison. Let’s see what makes these two types of wood different, so you can choose between pine and birch for your next project.
What Is Birch?
First, we have the birch tree. Today, we are focusing on the yellow birch tree, as it is commonly found in North America and very popular for construction and woodworking purposes.
This tree can be found in the Atlantic provinces and all the way over to the eastern edge of Manitoba, as well as in the northeastern part of the United States of America. The birch tree is deciduous and it is a type of hardwood.
The wood from the birch tree features a straight and tight grain, although it may have some irregularities. It also has an even and fine texture, although it may have some knots, gaps, and voids.
The heartwood of the yellow birch tree is yellowish with a reddish-brown tinge, with the sapwood being mostly white. However, it is the heartwood that is usually used for construction purposes.
The yellow birch tree is fairly heavy, hard, and durable. It is resistant to most forms of physical damage such as denting and scratching and is actually one of the harder types of hardwood found in North America.
However, it’s not very resistant to moisture and pests, which means that it is not ideal for outdoor applications. It is slightly more moisture-resistant than pest-resistant, but still not enough to qualify for regular outdoor use.
It does, however, work well for indoor purposes, such as cabinets, decorative pieces, furniture, utilitarian purposes, and even for flooring where there is not much moisture involved. People also like yellow birch because it’s not very expensive.
What Is Pine?
We then have the pine tree, and here we are focusing on the eastern white pine. This is our focus because, again, it is very commonly found in North America and is one of the most popular for construction.
The eastern white pine tree is a coniferous softwood tree. It grows all throughout eastern North America and can reach heights of up to 100’.
This wood generally always has a straight and even grain with a medium texture, although it can have a lot of knots and resin canals. The heartwood is light brown, with the sapwood being a bit pale yellow in color.
As for durability, eastern white pine is fairly soft, and it’s actually one of the softest types of softwood found in North America. Unfortunately, this wood isn’t very resistant to pests or moisture either. It’s not something you generally use for outdoor purposes.
Because pine isn’t very moisture or pest-resistant, or overly strong, it’s generally used for basic indoor purposes and for basic construction lumber. It’s often used for crates, carving, boxes, millwork, and decorative pieces. However, it’s not something that you would usually use for things like high-traffic flooring, walls, or anything else of the sort.
Birch vs Pine: What Are the Differences?
Now that you know what both birch and pine are, let’s figure out what makes these two types of wood different from each other.
One of the biggest differences here is that eastern white pine features a Janka hardness rating of 380 lbf, whereas yellow birch comes in at 1,260 lbf. As you can see, this means that yellow birch is roughly four times harder than eastern white pine, making it much more resilient to physical damage such as denting and scratching. Eastern white pine, on the other hand, is extremely soft, and easily dents and scratches.
Yellow birch features a density of 43 lbs/ft3, while eastern white pine sits at 25 lbs/ft3.
Therefore, yellow birch is significantly denser or heavier than white pine. Yes, this higher density does in part mean that it is more durable, but this heavier weight does also make it a bit harder to work with and maneuver.
Pest and Moisture Resistance
When it comes down to it, neither of these types of wood is very resistant to the elements. However, yellow birch is slightly more resistant to pests and moisture than eastern white pine. That said, the difference here is fairly negligible because neither should be used for outdoor purposes at all. These are both strictly indoor types of wood.
We wrote more about the water-resistant properties (or lack thereof) of pine here.
When it comes down to it, yellow birch is by far the more durable and stronger type of wood. This can be seen because it scores much higher in various categories that determine the overall strength of wood.
These categories include compressive strength, the modulus of rupture, and the modulus of elasticity. What it all means is that yellow birch can handle more weight and pressure both with and against the grain, and it’s much more structurally sound than eastern white pine.
Both of these types of wood are known for being very easy to work with, particularly eastern white pine.
Yellow birch is also very easy to work with, although it may suffer from a bit of tear-out if you don’t have extremely sharp saw blades. Other than that, both are easy to paint and stain, and they hold onto nails and screws quite well.
Appearance – Color and Grain
Neither of these types of wood is particularly striking to look at, although they’re certainly not ugly either. With yellow birch, you get wood that is yellowish-reddish-brown, along with a tight and straight grain and a fine texture.
On the other hand, with eastern white pine, you also get a straight and even grain, although the texture is a bit coarser than yellow birch, and it also has more resin canals.
Both types of wood can have a good deal of knots and gaps. Keep in mind that the heartwood of the eastern white pine tree is light brown. This all really comes down to a matter of personal preference.
Eastern white pine will cost you anywhere between $7 and $10 per board foot, whereas yellow birch will cost you between $9 and $12 per board foot.
When to Use Birch?
If you need a fairly durable and hard type of wood that works well for flooring in low-traffic and low-moisture areas, you need something that works well for furniture because it doesn’t dent or scratch easily, or you want to make various decorative or utilitarian pieces, then yellow birch makes for a good choice. Just don’t use it outdoors.
When to Use Pine?
Eastern white pine is a decent option to consider for various utilitarian purposes and for basic turned objects. It works well for very basic objects such as boxes, and crates, although it may also be used for decorative purposes. It also works well for extremely basic construction lumber. Just remember that it’s not very hard, durable, or resistant to the elements.
Alternatives to Birch and Pine
It’s no secret that both birch and pine are not moisture or pest-resistant. If you do need wood that is ideal for outdoor purposes, options such as mahogany, teak, and particularly eastern and western red cedar are fantastic options to go with. These are all extremely moisture-resistant and can hold their own against the elements.
Now that you know exactly what makes birch and pine different from each other, you can make an informed decision between them. Yellow birch is a fantastic type of hardwood to consider and eastern white pine is a decent type of softwood, both with their advantages and disadvantages to take into account.