Maple vs birch plywood are two of the most popular types woodworkers would want to know. Woodworkers love maple plywood because of its elegance and has a subtle grain pattern.

Maplewood is also affordable and highly workable. Similarly, birch plywoods are strong and very affordable. Birchwood also has a high bending strength and is very durable.

So, what if you can only pick one of them? Which is the better choice for woodworking applications? The following head-to-head comparison should help you make an informed decision.

An Overview

Maple and birch are popular hardwoods commonly used to make hardwood plywood. They are both obtained from evergreen broad-leaved trees and share many similarities. However, they are also different in many ways.

What is Maple Plywood?

Maple plywood is made from maple wood which comes from maple trees. Maple trees are native to Asia from the Acer genus, though the trees have recently spread to many parts of Europe, North America, and North Africa.

There are at least 132 species of maple, including the famous soft maple and hard maple (also known as sugar maple or rock maple).

Hard maple, better known as Acer saccharum, is rated 1,400 to 1,500 on the Janka scale, making it a very strong hardwood. It has a pleasant appearance, but you can still stain it.

Maple wood has a light creamy color and smooth grain pattern.

Maple Plywood Characteristics

Maple plywood is a sturdy material made from wood sheets. Several wood sheets are compressed and covered with a thin veneer. The scientific name for maple plywood is Acer Saccharum.

Different manufacturers sell maple plywoods in different sizes. However, the most common size is 4×8-foot plywood, available in ⅛-inch, ¼-inch, ½-inch, and ¾-inch thicknesses.

Maple Plywood Pros and Cons

Maple wood has several advantages that make it the go-to wood type for furniture and cabinetry and the top plywood material for many woodworkers.

PROS

  • Maple is strong and durable
  • Maplewood is more affordable than comparable wood types
  • Maple furniture is compatible with all types of wood stains
  • It is readily available 
  • It is versatile (usable in many applications)

CONS

  • It is not very weather resistant
  • Maplewood is prone to cracks
  • The grain pattern is unexciting 

Maple Wood Uses 

Maple wood and maple plywood are used in a wide range of applications.

  • High-end maple wood and maple plywood are used in high-end homes and bowling alleys
  • It’s also a highly prized wood in furniture making, making clocks, and fine woodworking applications
  • Maple cabinets are also very attractive and durable

What is Birch Plywood?

Birch plywood is made exclusively from birch wood obtained from mature birch trees. The birch tree, Betula Pendula, is a deciduous plant native to Europe, Asia, and Japan. You can also find small canopies in South America. 

There are at least 40 species of birchwood. However, the most common species are the common birch, weeping birch, red birch, yellow birch, and white/silver birch. 

Birchwood Plywood Characteristics

Birch plywood boards are similar to maple wood boards in many respects. For instance, birchwood often has a yellow-white color that you may confuse for maple at the lumber yard. However, some varieties have a reddish-white to light brown color. 

However, the color darks considerably over time, resulting in strikingly beautiful lumber and plywood boards. Baltic birch plywood boards are particularly elegant. 

Birch is also about as hard as maple, only scoring a few points short. The yellow birch, for instance, is rated 1260 on the Janka scale. Additionally, you can stain this plywood using any type of wood stain or use a specific stain for birch plywood.

Birchwood Plywood Pros and Cons

Birch is a very attractive wood for solid wood and plywood because of its strength, reliability, and raw beauty.

PROS

  • Birch is a beautiful hardwood
  • It is very strong and hard
  • It’s extremely versatile 
  • High dimensional stability
  • It is lightweight

CONS

  • Birchwood is not rot-resistant
  • Cracks when it’s too dry
  • It’s not wear-resistant

Birch Plywood Uses

Birchwood is mainly used in furniture making. Birch furniture is strong, durable, and very beautiful. Decides furniture, solid birchwood, and birch plywood are used in cabinetry, cutting boards, construction, flooring, and making boxes and crates.

Maple vs Birch Plywood: Head to Head

Now that we know a little about the properties and pros and cons of maple and birch; let’s look at how plywood made from the two wood types compare.

Appearance

Wood appearance is vital for many woodworkers because it determines a product’s finishing and aesthetics. Fortunately, both maple and birch are very attractive.

Freshly cut maple is cream or what most people call off-white. However, the lumber gradually darkens, turning dark brown with time. The more it’s exposed to sunlight, the faster it darkens.

Birchwood is even darker, though the exact colors vary from one birchwood species to the next. For instance, yellow birch, the most popular birch species, is light reddish-brown with white sapwood.

The grain textures of maple and birchwood are also slightly different. Maple has a fine, even texture with a straight grain. However, variations are not uncommon, such as birdseye, tiger, curl, and flame grains.

Maplewood generally has lots of knots. Birch is also straight-grained with a fine, even texture. However, the grains are longer, and it’s less knotty than maple.

If you’re wondering, most woodworkers and construction workers prefer maple plywood more than birch plywood, as birch plywood is lighter in color and has a tight grain pattern. 

Durability

Durability is hard to measure because it depends a lot on external factors. For instance, if you intend to use plywood for kitchen cabinets, you need to watch for moisture and heat.

Yet, some wood types perform well in moist conditions but very poorly in high temperatures. So, often, it comes down to the application. 

However, generally, maple plywood is more durable than birch plywood. The main reason is that maple withstands temperature changes and moisture better.

Maple is also less prone to cracking, making it an excellent choice for furniture making and cabinetry. Some people also make doors from maple for the same reason. Maple furniture can last many years with good maintenance. 

Birch isn’t too shabby either. Although it’s less durable than maple, it still lasts many years with good maintenance. The only problem is that it’s not as temperature and moisture-resistant as maple.

It absorbs more moisture and is slightly more prone to warping. So, you need to be extra careful with birch plywood furniture. 

Sustainability

Most woodworkers don’t think about sustainability when shopping for plywood.

However, it’s just as important as any factor when shopping for wood because sustainability, or the ease with which the cut trees are replaced, determines the availability of the wood and even prices.

Moreover, sustainability directly impacts environmental conservation. Of the two wood types, maple is more sustainable. Maple trees grow in abundance locally.

This means there are fewer environmental consequences of cutting down maple trees. Local availability also makes transportation easier, and the two factors make maple prices slightly lower than birch prices.

Maple also grows more easily to replace the cut trees. Birch is almost as sustainable. It grows very fast. So, new trees quickly replace felled forests.

Secondly, birch is widely available in the US. Though the forest cover is smaller than maple, there’s no danger of the tree going extinct. 

Hardness/Janka rating

Plywood hardness has a direct correlation with the constituent woods. Harder woods provide harder hardboards, while softer woods generate softer plywood.

It’s why hardwood hardboards are typically more expensive than their softwood-made counterparts. Fortunately, both maple and birch are hardwoods. 

That said, though, maple is generally harder than birch. For example, the hardest maple species, hard maple or sugar maple, is rated 1460 on the Janka scale.

Meanwhile, the highest-rated birch is the yellow birch rated 1260 on the Janka scale. On the other end of the scale, soft maple is rated 950 Janka, while red maple (soft maple) is rated 950 on the Janka scale.

Meanwhile, the softest type of birch is the common birch, rated 760 on the Janka scale. Maple also has a higher compressive strength than birch and greater bending strength.

Compressive strength is a measure of how much load a piece of wood can withstand parallel to the grain. So, a higher compressive strength means maple plywoods can bear more weight. 

Scratches and dents

Both maple and birch are scratch-resistant. They are dense hardwoods that don’t dent easily. However, this doesn’t mean that you’ll never see scratches on your maple and birch plywood.

Instead, you should find additional ways to make the plywood more scratch resistant. But if you’re strictly concerned about the more scratch-resistant option, maple furniture resists scratching more than birch products.

You can apply an acrylic finish to the finished product to make the surface even more scratch-resistant. On the same note, though, birch hides scratches and dents better than maple.

Why? Because birch is slightly darker than maple. Darker wood shades typically hide scratches better. Additionally, maple’s straight grain patterns make it more difficult to hide dents and scratches.

On the other hand, birch has a more complicated grain pattern that hides scratches better. 

Tooling and workability

Plywood is generally very easy to tool and work if you use the right tools and proper cutting techniques. For instance, you should always make sure that your tools are very sharp before cutting. Plywood also takes nails and screws with ease. 

As a result, you may not notice too many differences whether you’re working with maple plywood or birch plywood. You’ll find that the plywood cuts easily with hand tools and power tools.

Circular saws, miter saws, and table saws are the best tools for cutting plywood. And, if you have to choose between screwing and nailing, screws are the better choice.

However, beware that plywood tears easily. It takes the smallest mistakes, such as incorrect positioning on the workbench, to splinter the plywood.

So, make sure to position the plywoods correctly. Clamps can be very helpful here. Also, use dedicated squares to ensure accuracy. Above all, handle your plywoods gently. 

Finishing

Finishing is also the same for all plywood types. You can easily paint or stain plywood with excellent results. The biggest difference is the plywood grade.

Lower-grade plywoods are weaker and thus cannot take much sanding. Moreover, grade D and E plywood are often knotty and rough. So, they require more prepping. 

Nevertheless, make sure to sand the plywood at least once. The best sandpaper for grade A plywood is 120-grit sandpaper. Once you’re done sanding, wipe the plywood with a rag soaked in mineral spirits.

From there, you can begin painting or staining maple wood. Maple plywood and birch plywoods take water-based and oil-based paints and stains excellently, though birch tends to stain slightly better than maple. 

We recommend covering the stained plywood with lacquer or polyurethane to protect the stain and prevent it from rubbing off.

You can easily find either product in small cans for smaller projects. Spray at least three coats of polyurethane or lacquer, waiting at least 30 minutes between coats. 

Applications 

Maple plywood and birch plywood applications generally overlap. Many woodworkers and contractions use them interchangeably and are happy with either.

However, the natural characteristics of each wood type can sometimes sway buyers in a particular direction. For instance, being stronger and more durable, maple plywoods are often used in high-end furniture and flooring.

It’s also used in sports applications, such as bowling alleys and stand clocks. Many people also use maple plywood on dance floors as it can take the traffic.

So, if you come across softwood flooring that’s lighter than common choices such as mahogany and oak, you may be looking at maple. Maple is also excellent for making butcher blocks. 

Meanwhile, birch plywood is a little more susceptible to bugs. So, although many people still use it on furniture, others avoid it because it requires more maintenance.

However, it makes an excellent choice for making carved items, such as wall art. Birch is also perfect for making concealed furniture parts, toys, trim, kitchen cabinets, crates, and boxes. 

Pricing

Plywood prices are difficult to compare because the prices vary significantly, depending on size, demand, quality, and many other factors. Indeed, two plywoods made from the same material can have completely different prices.

For instance, ¼-inch plywoods are typically cheaper than ½-inch plywood because they are thicker. Similarly, higher grade plywoods, especially grade A, are much more expensive than lower grade products. 

So, it’s important to compare apples to apples when shopping. For instance, you can only compare ¾-inch grade B maple plywood with ¾-inch grade B birch plywood. 

That said, though, you should expect to pay between $10 and $50 for every 4×8 board (standard plywood size), whether you’re buying maple plywood or birch plywood.  

More specifically, recent data shows that ½-inch grade A maple plywood costs around $42/per board, whereas a similar birch plywood costs around $24.99.

Meanwhile, a thicker, ¾-inch maple plywood board costs around $58, whereas a similar birchwood plywood costs $31. 

So, as you can deduce, maple plywood costs slightly more, but both are medium-priced. Lower-grade plywoods cost as little as $10, depending on the supplier and season. 

FAQs 

What is the difference between birch and maple?

The main difference between birchwood and maplewood is that birch is light brown with a honey finish, whereas maple is naturally much lighter. Unfortunately, the differences are much harder to spot once finished because they stain so well that they can mimic a variety of other woods and colors. 

Is birch wood expensive? 

Unfortunately, yes. Birch is on the expensive side when comparing the prices of different woods. For example, a 4×4 white birch plank costs $7/board foot (BF), while yellow birch costs about $9/BF, on average. For comparison, walnut, another highly valuable hardwood, costs $5.40/BF, while pine wood, a popular softwood, costs as little as $2/BF. 

What wood is similar to birch?

Birch wood is most similar to soft maple. Although you can also compare some birch varieties to hard maple, the most popular birch, i.e., yellow birch, is closest to soft maple. The two wood types are nearly the same color, equally workable, and almost equally hard (950 vs. 1260 Janka). As a result, they usually have similar applications. 

Is birch harder than maple?

No, birch isn’t harder than maple. The hardest birch species is the yellow birch, with a 1260 rating on the Janka scale. Meanwhile, the hardest maple, also known as the sugar maple or rock maple, often reaches 1460 points on the Janka scale. However, some maple varieties, such as soft maple (950 Janka), are softer than birch.  

What color is birch wood?

Birch is a light-colored wood. However, the actual color varies depending on the birch species. For example, white birch wood is light with a brown flame pattern at the center. Meanwhile, yellow birch is light golden brown, and red birch is similar to white birch but with a light red tint. 

Is birch a good wood for cabinets?

Yes, birch is a top choice for many people in cabinetry and furniture-making. Although it’s a medium density wood, meaning that it is lots of pores in the wood, which is not often a good quality for premium furniture, birch is highly durable and extremely scratch-resistant. So, all you need is a good finishing to keep out the moisture. 

Are maple cabinets expensive?

Unfortunately, yes. Maple kitchen cabinets cost between $2,500 and $6,000, though you can pay up to $10,000+, depending on the type of project. The good news is that maple is worth its weight in gold. It’s a very durable wood that can last many decades with good maintenance. Maple also finishes well and takes pretty much any stain.

Maple vs Birch Plywood – Summary

From the above discussion, it’s evident that maple and birch plywoods aren’t very different. You can use them interchangeably.

However, they are also different in a few ways, meaning you must be keen when shopping. Below are the key takeaways;

Verdict: Maple plywood is slightly better than birch plywood, though it’s also slightly more expensive. It’s harder, more durable, and less susceptible to external forces. However, birch plywood has a more appealing grain pattern. 

When to use maple plywood: You should consider maple plywood for applications that demand stronger, more durable wood, such as outdoor furniture and construction. Maple plywood is also excellent for flooring. 

When to use birch plywood: It’s best to use birch plywood for less demanding applications, such as making toys, boxes, and decorative items, such as artwork. Additionally, birch plywoods hide scratches better than maple plywood, making birch a great choice for applications such as tabletops and desktops.

Leave a Comment