Walnut vs. Birch: Which One to Use?

Walnut vs. Birch: Which One to Use?

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If you are planning on building indoor or outdoor furniture, walls, doors, windows, cabinets, shelves, or anything in between, solid wood is always one of your best options.

That said, there are many different types of wood out there, with walnut and birch being very popular options. Today, we want to compare these two materials to see what makes them different and which one is best used for a variety of purposes. Let’s figure out which one is best for you.

What Is Walnut?

First, we have the walnut tree, specifically the eastern black walnut tree, which is a deciduous hardwood tree that grows in the eastern United States and in eastern Canada.

This is a tree that can grow up to 150’ high and reach diameters of 8’. This tree likes growing in direct sunlight and in well-drained soil.

The walnut tree usually has a very tight and straight grain, although it can sometimes have some curves or waves. Walnut wood also may have some knots, gaps, or voids, although usually a limited number of them.

As for the color, walnut is considered to be very beautiful, as it has a very deep and dark brown color. Most people would say that it looks something like dark chocolate or coffee.

It is interesting because in North America, walnut is one of the only types of wood that grows so dark, and unlike other types of wood that will usually get darker with time, walnut wood will get lighter.

As for the physical properties, walnut wood is quite hard and dense. It is therefore resistant to many types of physical damage, such as denting and scratching.

It does contain some natural oils and resins, although not a huge amount, which means that it is not the number one option for outdoor use, though it can be if properly treated and sealed.

When used for indoor purposes, it is usually used for making cabinets, furniture, flooring, veneers, gunstocks, and other such pieces. Keep in mind that walnut trees take a long time to grow, and therefore are fairly expensive due to sustainability issues.

What Is Birch?

In North America alone, there are over a dozen different species of the birch tree. However, the most commonly used for things like hardwood flooring and other such applications is the yellow birch, so for the purposes of this article, this is the tree that we will focus on.

This tree can be found all the way from the east corner of Manitoba over to the Atlantic provinces in Canada, as well as in the northeast parts of the United States of America. Yellow birch trees are not overly large, as they typically grow to around 75’ tall.

The birch tree usually has a very straight grain, although it can at times be slightly wavy. It also has a low natural luster, combined with a fine and even texture.

This wood may also have some knots, gaps, and voids. In terms of color, the heartwood of birch is usually a light reddish-brown, with the sapwood being nearly white.

Birch tends to be quite easy to work with, and moreover, is also moderately heavy, as well as quite hard. This is one of the harder types of wood in North America, therefore making it quite durable and resistant to many forms of damage.

With that being said, birch is not a good option for outdoor use as it is susceptible to pests, and even more susceptible to moisture and decay. This wood is something that you would use for indoor applications only.

Walnut vs. Birch: What Are the Differences?

Now that we know what walnut wood and birch wood are, let’s figure out what makes them different from each other.


One difference here is that walnut wood is a bit softer than birch. Yellow birch features a Janka hardness rating of 1260 lbf, whereas walnut wood is around 1010 lbf. This means that birch wood is slightly more resilient to physical damage such as denting and scratching.

Density and Weight

Usually, this section would be a difference, but what is very interesting to note is that both types of wood feature a density or weight of 43 lbs per cubic foot. This is of course a pretty big coincidence, although it does mean that both of these types of wood weigh the same amount.


What does need to be said here is that birch wood is considered to be quite flexible, which means that it is bent into various shapes fairly easily. This is something that cannot be said for walnut wood, as it is not very flexible and will not bend easily.

Resistance to the Elements

As far as resistance to the elements is concerned, walnut wood is fairly decent, although definitely not the best. If you plan on using walnut wood outdoors, it does need to be properly sealed and treated.

However, birch is also not a good option for outdoor use, far less so than walnut. Birch is not at all resistant to the elements or to pests, and if used outdoors, it will not last for very long.

Overall Strength and Durability

Besides being a bit more flexible, birch is not more durable than walnut at all. Walnut is harder, features better resistance to the elements, and tends to be a bit more structurally sound in general. If you need the stronger of the two, walnut is likely the better option.


Although neither of these two types of wood is particularly hard to work with, because birch wood is very hard, it can cause your saw blades to get dull. Walnut wood is not the easiest to stain or paint, although also not the hardest, whereas birch takes on stain and paint a little easier.

Appearance – Color and Grain

Birch usually has a straight grain, although there might be some waviness, combined with a fine and even texture. This wood has a light reddish-brown heartwood with sapwood that is nearly white.

Birch tends to have more knots than walnut. On that note, walnut wood is also fairly straight-grained and fine, although it may have more irregularities than birch. At the same time, walnut wood is of course much darker.


Walnut wood is fairly expensive and can cost you up to $25 per board foot. Birch is not a very expensive type of wood and usually won’t cost you more than $10 per board foot.

When to Use Walnut Wood?

If you plan on making anything indoors, particularly indoor furniture, then walnut is a good option to consider. Walnut is also commonly used for veneers, carvings, trims, and musical instruments. It can also be used for gunstocks, cabinets, and flooring.

When to Use Birch Wood?

Birch wood is often used for basic lumber, veneer, pulp wood, and plywood. Birch may also be used for making indoor cabinets, floors, and furniture. If we are talking about indoor purposes, birch is probably the best option to consider.

Alternatives to Walnut and Birch Wood

Neither of these options is particularly ideal for outdoor use. If you need wood that is ideal for outdoor use, we recommend going with mahogany, ipe, teak, or cedar.

For more ideas about what type of wood to use, read our article about alternatives to walnut.


At the end of the day, if you need lumber that is ideal for indoor purposes, both walnut and Birch are good options to consider.