If you are looking for a good type of wood to use for a variety of construction projects around the house, you have come to the right place. Two very common and popular types of wood include maple and birch.
That being said, these two materials are somewhat different from each other, and these differences are exactly what we are here to discuss today. Let’s do a side-by-side comparison of these two types of wood to see which one is best used for your next big woodworking project.
What Is Maple?
First, we have the maple tree, and here we are talking about the hard maple or sugar maple. There are many different types of maple trees that can be found in North America, but the hard maple is the most prolific, as well as the most commonly used for construction, as it is one of the most durable varieties out there.
The maple tree can be found all throughout the northern hemisphere, but mostly in the United States and Canada, with over 10 different species existing in these two countries, and a few others also existing in Asia.
This is a deciduous tree, which means that it does lose its leaves during the winter, it is a flowering tree, and it is also a hardwood tree. Lumber from the maple tree features a straight and even grain, although it may be wavy, curly, or rippled at times.
The wood also has a fine texture, combined with a cream-colored sapwood, as well as a reddish-brown heartwood. What is interesting to note is that maple is one of the only types of hardwood in North America where the sapwood is usually used for construction as opposed to the heartwood.
Maple is a fairly hard and dense type of tree, which does produce a good deal of physical durability, especially against physical impacts, scratching, and denting. It is one of the harder types of hardwood trees found in North America. This material is also somewhat resistant to moisture, especially if treated properly, although it is not the most resistant to the elements overall.
Therefore, you do want to use caution when using it outdoors, especially when moisture is involved. On that note, maple also isn’t overly resistant to pests. However, maple is very durable and ideal for indoor use, which means that it is often used for floors, walls, furniture, instruments, decorative pieces, and more.
What Is Birch?
We then have the birch tree, and in North America, there are over a dozen different species of them. However, the yellow birch is one of the most commonly used for things like hardwood flooring and similar applications, so this will be the focus of today. Yellow birch trees are found all the way from the Atlantic provinces over to the eastern edge of Manitoba, as well as in the northeastern parts of the United States. These trees grow to around 75’ tall.
The wood generally has a straight grain, although it can at times have some waves, combined with a low natural luster, and an even and fine texture. Birch may contain gaps, knots, and voids. As for the color, it is generally quite reddish-brown, with the sapwood being nearly white, although the heartwood is what is usually used for instruction.
This material is fairly easy to work with, somewhat hard, and moderately heavy. It is also one of the harder types of wood that can be found in North America, and it is quite resistant to various forms of physical damage.
That being said, birch is not at all a good option for outdoor use, as it is extremely susceptible to pests and moisture, more so to moisture. Birch is an ideal option for indoor use, especially if you need something that is relatively cost-effective, although using it for outdoor purposes has to be avoided at all costs.
Maple vs. Birch: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both maple and birch are, let’s figure out what makes the two different from each other.
One of the differences to consider here is that birch features a Janka hardness rating of 1,260 lbf, whereas maple comes in at 1,450 lbf, meaning it is significantly harder. Maple is more resistant to physical impacts, denting, and scratching than birch. The surface of maple is just much harder.
What is interesting to note is that both types of wood have similar weights or densities, although maple is slightly heavier, with both coming in at around 44 lbs per cubic foot. Maple is just a little bit heavier, and may therefore be harder to work with due to that increased weight, although it does allow for great durability.
Pest and Moisture Resistance
What needs to be said here is that neither maple nor birch is ideal for outdoor purposes, as both are not very moisture or pest-resistant. However, maple is somewhat resistant to moisture, especially when properly treated, and can also be somewhat resistant to pests. On the other hand, birch is not at all resistant to either, and is not ideal for outdoor use in any sense. If you had to choose one of these two types of wood for outdoor use, maple would be the winner.
What is interesting to note is that although maple is a bit harder than birch, and although it is slightly more suitable for outdoor purposes, when it comes to the modulus of rupture, modulus of elasticity, and crushing strength, birch is actually the winner on all three fronts. That means that if you need something that is going to be structurally sound and can hold up a lot of weight, birch is probably the better option to consider.
Because maple is a bit harder and heavier than birch, it is also going to be slightly harder to work with, although both are generally fairly easy to work with in the grand scheme of things.
Appearance – Color and Grain
If we’re talking about the appearance, both maple and birch, especially if we are talking about the sapwood, are going to be a creamy white color. Both tend to have a fairly straight and tight grain, although maple might have more irregularities. Birch tends to be slightly whiter than maple. Which one of these looks better is merely a matter of personal preference.
As for the cost, maple is usually going to run you up to $15 per board foot, whereas birch usually won’t cost you more than $10 per board foot.
When to Use Maple?
If you are making something like indoor furniture, then maple does make for a great option, because it is very physically resistant to denting and scratching. If you happen to need something for outdoor purposes, and your only two choices are between maple and birch, then maple is also ideal to use. Many people also think that this wood looks stunning.
When to Use Birch?
If you need a good type of wood to use for utilitarian purposes, particularly something that is structurally sound, then birch is a good option to consider. It has a very high modulus of rupture and a high modulus of elasticity, a high crushing strength, plus it is still fairly hard and dense. All of these things make birch a good option to use for construction purposes of all sorts. Just don’t use it outdoors, as it is not moisture-resistant in the least.
Alternatives to Maple and Birch
If you are looking for types of wood that are moisture resistant, cedar, ipe, teak, and mahogany all make for great options.
As you can see, both maple and birch are fine options to consider. Now that you know what the main differences between them are, you can make an informed choice between the two.