There are many similarities between maple and birch wood furniture. Just looking at the two side-by-side, you might not be able to tell the difference. However, there are aspects to both maple and birch that make each one unique. Knowing the differences between maple and birch can help you decide which will best fit your preferences.
When choosing between maple and birch furniture, the main considerations usually boil down to cost and durability. Maple is harder, stronger, and will last longer than birch, but it is also more expensive.
In this article, we take a closer look at maple vs birch furniture – the pros and cons of each, what makes them different, and what each is best used for. Whether you want to remodel your kitchen, install hardwood floors, or simply learn more about the specifics of maple vs birch furniture, we have you covered.
Is Maple Better Than Birch?
Maple is a popular choice for furniture because it is durable, widely available, and has a natural beauty. Many people choose maple for cabinets, dressers, and hardwood floors because of its durability and natural grain pattern.
Maple is also available in softwood varieties. Soft maple is less expensive than hard maple wood, but it is also less durable. Often, soft maple is used for more decorative or specialty items, such as trim, carved items, or musical instruments. For furniture, which usually has to be able to withstand more wear and tear, hard maple is used.
Birch is commonly used in kitchen cabinets and other furniture, as well. It is even sometimes used as a substitute for maple because it tends to be less expensive but has a similar appearance and durability to maple. There are many varieties of birch, though the most widely used are yellow or sweet birch.
When it comes to quality, maple seems to rank a bit higher than birch – in terms of affordability, birch is usually your best bet. The ability of each to take stain well differs, as many people have found maple to result in blotchiness when stained. Maple wood tends to resist scratching better, though scratches are less visible on birch wood.
Is Birch Wood Good For Furniture?
The strength and durability of birch make it a good hardwood for furniture. Its color, which is nearly white in birch sapwood and reddish-brown in birch heartwood, is one of the wood’s defining features.
Birch wood can hold screws, nails, and glue well, though it is light color can cause unexpected results when stained. Often, birch is finished without stain to emphasize its natural color and beauty. Birch can be stained to look like other, more expensive woods, though additional sanding is usually recommended to avoid blotching.
Birch plywood, which is made up of multiple layers of veneers, is very widely used in cabinets, desks, and other furniture. Compared to maple, a set of cabinets made of economy or shop-grade birch plywood can be about 75% less expensive. However, the perishability of birch, especially birch plywood, is one of its few disadvantages.
It is not recommended to expose solid wood furniture to the elements, and birch is no exception. Weather can cause warping, rot, and decay over time, so storing wood furniture inside is always a good rule of thumb. Birch is particularly susceptible to insects, as well.
Is Maple Wood Good For Furniture?
Known for its durability, strength, and natural aesthetic beauty, maple is widely used in furniture. It has proved to wear well, resist scratching and damage, and is used for everything from cabinets, desks, dressers, tables, hardwood floors, cutting boards, butcher blocks, and more.
Compared to other hardwoods, maple can tend to be on the more expensive side. However, the ability to produce items that can last generations makes maple a superior hardwood. Because of its natural characteristics, no stain is required to give it a light, glossy finish.
Another light-colored wood, maple has been known to give some people trouble or unexpected results with staining. If properly sanded, conditioned, and stained, the result can be impressive, though. Sometimes stain is used to give maple the appearance of other woods, such as mahogany.
The grain of maple wood, though an attractive feature, can make it difficult to cut or work with. Its density can have a dulling effect on tools. If you’re just looking to find the best quality of furniture rather than versatility in terms of woodworking, maple is near the top of the list.
What Are The Advantages of Birch Wood?
One of the biggest advantages that birch has to offer, other than cost, is versatility. Depending on what kind of birch is being used – solid birch wood or birch plywood – the cost can range from very affordable to relatively expensive.
Compared to maple, birch is a little easier to work with. It sometimes has a wild or curly grain, which can be problematic when cutting. Unique grains are sometimes sought after features, though, which adds to value but can increase the cost. Because of the grain pattern of birch wood, scratches or blemishes will be less noticeable than with maple.
Birch wood also has good resistance to water, which is an appealing quality. The abundance of birch in North America helps to make it less expensive and more widely available.
What Are The Disadvantages of Birch Wood?
While birch wood is an affordable yet quality choice, it is susceptible to wear – particularly from the elements – as well as an insect or fungal infestation. The disadvantages of solid birch wood and birch plywood also differ. Birch plywood is inexpensive and widely available, but if it has been stored, it should be inspected.
Birch is also prone to cracking, particularly in a dry environment. It is still a quality material, but there are some things to keep in mind before investing in something made of birch. Typically, the lifespan will be shorter than that of maple.
When it comes to the ability to take stain, the consensus is a little unclear. Some say birch takes stain very well, while others claim it turns out blotchy and uneven. These are similar critiques that are given to maple, as well.
In terms of price, solid birch wood is more comparable to maple – that is, it can be on the expensive side. It’s important to remember that quality, solid wood furniture doesn’t generally run cheap, though. The price will likely reflect the quality and years of use you can expect.
What Are The Advantages of Maple Wood?
Because it is so strong and durable, maple wood is commonly used in not only furniture but a variety of other products. Maple is a good material for things such as hardwood floors, bowling alley lanes, and pins, along with furniture essentials like tables, desks, and cabinets.
Like birch, maple has different varieties, and the maple engineered or laminate versions are less expensive than solid maple. However, it is important to keep in mind that when choosing between solid wood or plywood/engineered/laminate versions, solid wood will be the strongest, most long-lasting, yet also a more expensive option.
Its resistance to wear, scratching, and dents is a defining factor of maple wood. These preferable qualities contribute to the overall higher cost of maple, but also the overall higher quality of maple wood. The natural, light blond color and close grain is also an advantage of maple wood.
What Are The Disadvantages of Maple Wood?
One of the main disadvantages of maple wood is the visibility of damage, dents, and scratches in the wood. The tight grain of the wood also makes it difficult to stain, as the color of the stain doesn’t absorb as well in some areas of the wood. The result can be a blotchy, uneven color, so care is advised when considering staining maple wood.
Maple is also susceptible to elements of nature, which is one of its few disadvantages. Changes in humidity or temperature can cause maple to warp, shrink, or crack. If you plan to use maple in flooring that will see a large amount of foot traffic, a good coat of finish will be a minimum requirement for keeping the wood in good condition.
The cost of solid maple wood furniture can also be seen as a disadvantage, though the cost does generally reflect the quality, which is high in maple wood products.
Which Stains Better: Birch or Maple?
Maple wood is harder than birch, which makes it more difficult to stain. The grain pattern of birch is usually more open than maple, meaning it is more receptive to stain. Because maple is often a very light, almost white color, the stain can sometimes result in unsightly blotchiness.
Birch, on the other hand, is slightly less dense, meaning it can take stain better than maple. Blotches have been seen after staining birch, though they are less of a problem in birch wood than maple.
In birch, stain can help to emphasize and bring out the natural grain pattern of the wood. The opposite tends to be the case with maple, which absorbs less of the stain and doesn’t show as much of a distinct grain pattern after being stained.
Can Birch Wood Be Painted?
When it comes to taking paint, birch does this quite well, adding to its versatility. As with most wood that you plan to paint, proper preparation is required to get the best results. You’ll need a sander and/or sandpaper, primer, paint, and preferably interior enamel to provide a nice, smooth finish.
An advantage of birch wood is that it requires less sealer or primer before painting. Overall, the density, durability, and affordability of birch tend to make it a popular choice.
Can Maple Wood Be Painted?
Maple comes in both hard and softwood varieties, though hard maple is more common because of its strength, quality, and durability. Hard maple is also considered to be one of the best hardwoods for painting.
Soft maple, on the other hand, responds quite well to being sanded. When sanded, it provides a smooth surface that is perfect for painting. Soft maple is also considerably less expensive than hard maple while still being sustainable.
How To Tell The Difference Between Birch And Maple
To the untrained eye, the difference between birch and maple wood can be difficult to distinguish based solely on appearance. However, each has its own distinct features, particularly when it comes to grain pattern and texture.
The pores of birch wood are larger than maple, though birch is generally considered to have a closed-pored structure. Most people don’t have the ability to distinguish the grains without magnification, so looking at the peaks of the grain can help determine if the wood is birch or maple based on looks alone.
The best way to determine the difference between birch and maple, if you’re not sure, is to have an expert take a look at it.
What Is The Best Finish For Maple?
Often preferred for the natural, light color of its sapwood, maple can be finished with a clear, water-based finish to accentuate its characteristics. To give maple a more rustic or aged look, dye and an oil/varnish mix can be used. Combined with proper sanding, staining, and finishing, maple can be colored darker, as well.
The color of maple tends to darken over time, which is a trait it shares with birch. When sanding maple wood, use care not to do too much sanding (no finer than 220 grit), as this can affect staining. Maple is also prone to burning or tear-out, which can make it tricky to work with.
What Is Birch Best Used For?
There are many different varieties of birch wood, though the most commonly used types in North America are yellow or sweet birch. While it can often be found in furniture in either solid wood or plywood form, it has also been used in a broad array of other objects, as well.
Birch has been used to make a variety of items. Everything from turned objects – toys, toothpicks, decorative items, tongue depressors – to boxes, crates, trim, specialty items, paper, and furniture has been made from birch. And, as previously mentioned, birch is often used to make plywood and veneer, common materials in furniture.
What Is Maple Best Used For?
Considered a higher-quality hardwood, maple is often used in more high-end furniture and flooring. It has also been used in sports equipment, bowling alley lanes, and pins, and was once a popular choice for baseball bats. The remarkable strength and durability of maple have been sought-after wood qualities for a long time.
Because of its hardness and density, though, maple has been known to be tough to work with. It can have a dulling effect on tools, though soft maple is relatively easier to use in terms of woodworking.
Types of Birch Wood
There are many different variations of both birch and maple wood. While the variations of maple can have some distinguishing factors among them, there aren’t many essential differences among the qualities of birch variations. Some of the most common types of birch wood include:
- Yellow Birch
- Sweet Birch
- Gray Birch
- River Birch
- Paper Birch
- Silver Birch
- Baltic Birch
For birch plywood, baltic birch is commonly used, whereas solid birch wood products are usually made with yellow or sweet birch.
Types of Maple Wood
Maple wood is available in hard or softwood varieties, and there are many different types of maple wood that are used in furniture. Unlike birch, there are some more considerable differences among variations of maple wood to consider. Some of the most common types of maple wood include:
- Hard Maple (aka Sugar Maple or Rock Maple)
- Red Maple
- Silver Maple
- Black Maple
- Bigleaf Maple
- Field Maple
- Mountain Maple
- Ambrosia Maple
- Soft Maple
There are also various grain patterns that can be found in maple wood, such as birdseye, quilt, and curl. These unique grains add value to maple wood, but also tend to cost quite a bit more than maple’s traditional, fairly straight or slightly wavy grain.
Maple vs Birch: Pricing
Depending on what form you are buying maple and birch wood in – regular lumber or a finished furniture product – there are some price differences to consider. There are many sources online where you can order lumber of different kinds in various sizes and quantities. Let’s look at some to see how birch and maple compare price-wise:
This site prices maple and birch lumber very similarly, with a project pack of 4/4 boards of maple totaling 20 feet costing $175, while the same pack in birch variety runs slightly cheaper at $173.
This site lists the price of hard maple at $3-$8 per board foot, while their price for birch is listed at $3-$6 per board foot.
This site has a few different varieties available with different pricing, including rough lumber and surfaced (S4S) lumber. Their price for 4/4” rough birch lumber is $4.91 per board foot. For hard maple, their price for 4/4” is $4.46 per board foot.
The reference list for price per board foot of different woods on this site contains a few variations of maple and birch. Their prices include specialty grain patterns of maple, listing 4/4 Eastern Hard Curly Maple at $10.95 per board foot, 4/4 Figured Maple at $12.95 per board foot, and A-Grade Curly Maple at $9.95 per board foot.
Their prices for birch include 4/4 Eastern Yellow Birch for $7.95 per board foot. This site includes many more varieties of maple wood, including several unique variations of maple, all of which tend to run on the more expensive side.
What Setting is Birch Furniture Best In?
There are many areas where birch furniture would make a light or modern addition to a room. Often used in furniture such as cabinets, tables, desks, and dressers, birch furniture will fit in well in nearly any room. Birch is often used in kitchens, dining rooms, living rooms, bathrooms, and bedrooms.
Offices also are a good setting for birch furniture. Desks, shelves, cabinets, and tables made of birch can make for an attractive yet quality choice of office furniture. If you want to brighten up a room, birch wood finished with a clear coat to emphasize its natural, light color is a good choice.
If you are looking for outdoor furniture, you will want to stay away from solid wood products, as they are more susceptible to weather and the elements. Birch is especially prone to insects, rot, and decay, particularly if left exposed to the outdoors.
For birch furniture that will match a darker color scheme, anything made of birch heartwood as opposed to sapwood will have a slightly darker hue. Birch is also attractive when stained dark if done properly. It might be best to consult an experienced source when dealing with stained birch wood.
What Setting Is Maple Furniture Best In?
In terms of the initial appearance, maple and birch share many qualities. Like birch, maple that has been finished with a clear or glossy coat will accentuate the wood’s natural properties and lighten up any room. The sapwood of maple is most widely used, and it exhibits a light, natural blond color.
Maple furniture goes well in multiple different settings in the home, office, or wherever else you want to place maple furniture. Everything from kitchen cabinets, dining tables, office or study desks, dressers, and even hardwood flooring made of maple are considered high-quality and long-lasting investments.
If you prefer a darker wood but like the qualities and characteristics of maple, you have options. Maple can be stained to mimic more expensive woods or match a color scheme that is darker than maple’s natural light color. When done well, including proper sanding, conditioning, and finishing, stained maple adds a beautiful element to a room.
Maple vs Birch: A Comparison
Both maple and birch have different varieties, advantages, and disadvantages to consider when deciding between the two. Here are some key qualities of two of the most commonly used types of maple and birch:
|Type||Appearance||Hardness (Janka scale)||Versatility||Stain/Finish Options||Availability/Cost|
|Hard Maple||White to off-white; can have red or brown hues. Straight grain, even texture.||1,450 lbf||Can be difficult to work with due to its high density; turns well.||Clearcoat to finish works best; stain can result in blotches.||Moderate price; unique grain patterns (birdseye, quilt, curl) can be more expensive|
|Yellow Birch||White to off-white sapwood; red/brown heartwood. Straight or slightly wavy grain, even texture, low luster.||1,260 lbf||Fairly easy to work with, turns well; curly or wild grain can impact workability.||Stains and finishes easily; takes stain better than maple.||Economical to moderate price; figured boards can cost more.|
There are a lot of similarities between maple and birch. If you’re looking for specific qualities in wood – such as the ability to stain, how well it holds nails or screws, how easily it can be cut – knowing the variety of the wood will help you find what you need.
The characteristics of birch and maple wood tend to be similar in more areas than they differ. Both are strong, light-colored hardwoods that are very popular in furniture, doors, cabinets, panels, and flooring. The grain patterns most commonly found in both have some differences, but overall are relatively fine with straight or slightly wavy lines.
When it comes to choosing between maple and birch, the deciding factor is usually cost. Solid wood products of any kind are going to be rather expensive, though if you’re looking for an affordable yet quality option, birch – particularly birch plywood – will likely be your best bet.
Maple, on the other hand, has proved able to withstand the test of time, and the wear and tear that furniture is bound to endure over years of use. The fact that maple furniture can be used for years and still maintain its structure and beauty makes it a top choice for high-quality wood furniture.