If you want to build something out of solid wood, then you have a few different options at your disposal. Two very popular types of hardwood that you can use for a variety of projects around your home include maple and oak.
Although these materials are somewhat similar, there are some differences between them that you need to be aware of. Today, we’re going to do a side-by-side comparison of these two types of hardwood, with the main purpose being to figure out which one is best for your next woodworking project.
What Is Maple?
First, we have the maple tree, specifically the hard maple or sugar maple. There are many different species of this tree, although the hard maple is the most popular and commonly used for construction, as well as the one that is most commonly found all throughout North America, particularly in Canada and the United States.
There are over 10 different species that can be found in North America, with many more being found in Asia. Maple is a hardwood tree that is deciduous in nature, which means that it is a flowering tree that loses its leaves during the colder months of the year.
This wood has a very straight grain, although some may have a bit of variation, such as some curls, waves, or ripples. The maple tree usually has a fine texture, combined with a cream-colored sapwood and a reddish-brown heartwood. Most people agree that maple is a very beautiful material.
As for the physical properties, maple is a durable, dense, and hard type of wood that is resistant to all sorts of physical impacts and is also considered to be structurally sound. It is actually one of the harder types of hardwoods that can be found in North America.
Moreover, it is also quite resistant to moisture, which means that not only is it ideal for indoor use, but for outdoor use as well. It’s not the number one most resistant type of wood to pests and insects, although it does hold its own. Due to the fact that maple is so durable, it’s a good option for instruments, floors, walls, furniture, and many other things too.
What Is Oak?
We then have the oak tree, which is also a deciduous hardwood tree and can be found all throughout the northern hemisphere. It is found mainly in North America, Europe, North Africa, and Asia. However, in just North America, there are over 160 types of oak trees.
Something to remember here is that oak is a very hard, heavy, and dense type of wood, which makes it very durable and resistant to physical damage.
Oak does also contain some natural oils and resins, which when combined with its density and hardness, allow for great fungus and moisture resistance. Because of this, it is great for both exterior and interior use, and for a wide variety of purposes in general. That said, this wood does not have the highest level of pest resistance out there.
This material can be used for furniture, flooring, interior and exterior doors, cabinets, and much more. As for appearance, oak usually has a tight and straight grain, although it may have a coarse or uneven texture. It is usually brownish-red to beige in color, and it generally has a lot of gaps and knots. Do keep in mind that of all of the different oak species around, today we are talking about the red oak tree.
Maple vs. Oak: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both Maple and oak are, let’s figure out what makes these two types of trees different from each other.
Sugar maple is a very hard type of wood, as it comes in at 1,450 lbf on the Janka hardness scale, while oak sits at 1,220 lbf. This means that sugar maple is a little bit harder than red oak, therefore making it more resistant to various forms of physical damage, particularly denting and scratching.
Although there is a slight difference here, what is interesting to note is that maple and oak are almost of the same densities. Oak comes in at around 43 lbs per cubic foot, whereas sugar maple comes in at 44 lbs per cubic foot. Therefore, as you can see, in terms of weight and density, these two types of wood are almost the same.
Although this might be considered more of a similarity than a difference, both oak and maple are not very resistant to pests. Now, maple is likely a little bit more resistant than oak, but both don’t fare very well on this front and should be treated accordingly.
If you are looking for moisture-resistant types of wood, both maple and oak do perform somewhat decently. With that being said, both should first be treated for outdoor use if you plan on using them for exterior purposes. Maple is generally considered to be the slightly more moisture-resistant of these two types of wood.
Just don’t keep either of them outdoors without treating them first, especially if there is going to be a lot of exposure to moisture.
We wrote more about the water resistance of maple here and of oak here.
As for the overall strength of these two types of wood, maple is slightly more durable. If we are talking about the modulus of elasticity, the modulus of rupture, and the crushing strength, maple is the slightly higher-rated one on all three fronts. It can handle more weight being placed parallel and perpendicular to the grain, and it takes more force to bend a maple board than an oak board.
Both maple and oak are fairly easy to work with, especially in terms of cutting, nailing, and screwing. With that being said, oak can have a lot of knots and gaps, which can make working with it fairly difficult at times. However, both of these materials do paint and stain fairly easily.
Appearance – Color and Grain
If we are talking about maple, the sapwood is usually used for construction, which is cream-colored or nearly white. Moreover, sugar maple also has a very fine texture. If we are talking about oak, it tends to be more reddish-brown in color, and it has a much coarser texture.
Most people would say that maple is the better-looking of the two, although this is purely a matter of personal preference.
If you are looking for a cost-effective type of wood, maple is a decent option to consider, as it usually won’t cost you more than $15 per board foot. On the other hand, we have the red oak, which can be more expensive, up to $25 per board foot.
When to Use Maple?
If you are looking for a fairly cost-effective type of wood that has a beautiful appearance, maple is always a good choice to consider. It doesn’t cost very much, it looks nice, and it is structurally sound too.
Maple can be used for heavy-duty construction purposes, such as for structural applications, indoor and outdoor furniture, flooring, and walls. Just make sure to properly seal and treat it if you plan on using it outdoors.
When to Use Oak?
In the grand scheme of things, besides the fact that it is just slightly weaker than maple, oak is very similar. It makes for a great option for indoor use, particularly for smaller pieces of furniture, floors, walls, instruments, and other such things.
Although it’s not quite as durable or structurally sound as maple, you could still use it for such purposes, such as heavy-duty construction. Furthermore, just like with maple, unless you seal it and treat it properly, we would not recommend using it outdoors.
Alternatives to Maple and Oak
It is no secret that both maple and oak are not the best to use outdoors. If you do need wood that is better suited for this, woods such as mahogany, teak, and ipe, all make for good options. They’re all very hard and durable and are suitable for outdoor purposes as they are extremely moisture and pest resistant.
The bottom line here is that if you need two types of wood that are extremely durable and work well for heavy-duty construction purposes, then both maple and oak make for fine choices to consider. They look nice, they are hard, and they can take a whole lot of punishment.