If you are planning on building something around your house out of solid wood, then you are on the right track, as this is always a good option. That said, there are dozens of different types of wood to choose from, with both maple and hickory being very popular choices.
Today, we want to do a side-by-side comparison of these materials to see what both their advantages and disadvantages are, and what makes them different from each other. Let’s get to it and figure out which of these two types of lumber is best for your next project.
What Is Maple?
First, we have the maple tree, and here we are talking about the sugar maple, otherwise known as the hard maple. This is one of the most commonly found types in North America, as well as one of the most popular, due to its hardness and durability.
The maple tree can be found in the northern hemisphere of the world, especially throughout the United States and Canada, with over ten different species existing in both of these countries combined, and many more also existing in the continent of Asia.
The tree is deciduous in nature, which means that it loses its leaves during the winter, it is a flowering tree, and it is a hardwood tree. It is very hard, dense, and durable overall, with a great deal of structural integrity and physical resistance to many forms of damage. That said, it is not the most moisture or pest-resistant type of wood in the world.
It can resist some moisture, but it does need to be properly treated, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s not the best choice for outdoor purposes. The maple tree features a straight and tight grain, although it may have some waves, curls, or ripples, combined with a very fine texture. The sapwood is cream-colored, almost white, and the heartwood is reddish-brown.
What is interesting to note is that maple is one of the few types of hardwood where the sapwood is most often used, as opposed to the heartwood, such as with many other types of hardwood out there. Due to its properties, this wood is ideal for indoor purposes such as flooring, walls, furniture, decorative pieces, and instruments.
What Is Hickory?
We then have the hickory tree, which is another deciduous hardwood tree that can be found all throughout North America. There are many types that exist in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, as well as in China and India. The type of hickory tree that is usually used for construction here in North America usually originates in the United States and Canada.
One of the most durable types of hickory is known as mockernut hickory, which is going to be our main focus for today.
This wood usually has a very tight, close, and straight grain, although there might be a little bit of waviness. It has a medium texture, combined with a very wide color range that can be anywhere from white to brown. Hickory wood is also quite hard and dense, which makes it fairly resistant to many types of physical damage.
This material does not contain a lot of natural sap or oils, but it is somewhat water-resistant nonetheless. However, if you do not treat it, hickory is usually not very pest or moisture-resistant, especially not enough to be used outdoors. For this reason, this wood is generally used for indoor purposes, and often for things like high-end furniture that needs to look nice, as well as decorative pieces. Hickory also isn’t the most expensive type of wood out there.
Maple vs. Hickory: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both hickory and maple are, let’s take a look at the main differences between them.
On the Janka hardness scale, maple comes in at 1,450 lbf, whereas the specific type of hickory we are looking at today comes in at 1,970 lbf. This means that hickory is substantially harder than maple. In fact, most types of hickory are harder than maple. This means that it is more resilient to physical damage such as denting and scratching.
Something else to consider here is that hickory is not only harder than maple but also heavier. maple comes in at around 44 lbs per cubic foot, whereas mockernut hickory comes in at 51 lbs per cubic foot. This means it is much heavier and denser than maple, therefore making it a bit harder to work with, but also more durable.
Pest and Moisture Resistance
Both maple and hickory are not very resistant to moisture and pests. That said, if we have to choose one of these two for outdoor purposes, it would be maple, as maple is slightly better with pests and moisture.
We wrote more about maple’s water-resistance here.
Unsurprisingly, seeing as hickory is denser and harder than maple, it is also stronger in most other ways. This wood features a much higher modulus of rupture, modulus of elasticity, and compressive strength than maple. This means that it is technically the more durable and structurally sound, and it can handle much more weight being put on it, both parallel and perpendicular to the grain.
Because hickory wood is so hard, heavy, dense, and strong in general, it also tends to be fairly difficult to work with. It can be difficult to properly saw apart, nail, screw, and more. If we are talking about ease of staining and painting, maple tends to be the better of the two as well.
Appearance – Grain and Color
In terms of grain, both of these types of wood feature a fairly straight, even, and fine appearance. However, sugar maple is usually cream-colored or almost white, whereas hickory is just a light brown in color. As for the overall appearance, most people usually say that hickory is the better-looking of the two.
Maple usually won’t cost you more than around $15 per board foot, whereas hickory usually won’t cost more than $7.50 per board foot.
When to Use Maple?
If you need a type of wood that looks very nice, is very hard, dense, and durable, and you are using it for indoor purposes, then maple makes for an excellent choice. If you had to choose one for outdoor use, maple would also be the better option.
When to Use Hickory?
If you need it for indoor purposes, then hickory is typically going to be the better choice. hickory is cheaper, harder, denser, and stronger on all fronts. Yes, it is more difficult to work with because it is so heavy and hard, but it does also tend to look better and be more durable than maple. Just don’t use hickory for outdoor purposes under any circumstances.
Alternatives to Maple and Hickory
Neither maple nor hickory is ideal for outdoor use, but options such as cedar, ipe, teak, and mahogany certainly are.
As you can see, both maple and hickory are fine options to consider in their own rights. Now that you know what both of their advantages and disadvantages are, you can get to choosing the one that works best for your next woodworking project.