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Oak vs. Birch Wood (for Furniture, Flooring, and Cabinets)

This is a close look at the oak wood and the birch wood to determine which is the best pick for your cabinets, furniture, floor and other advantage and disadvantages for each.

This is a kitchen that has oak cabinetry and kitchen island.

Oak and birch are two of many different kinds of wood you may be looking at when choosing woods for your flooring or furniture. While both kinds of wood are known to be durable and hard-wearing, some differences may make one or the other more appealing for you. Both are beautiful woods with different grain patterns and shades, so let’s consider which of these stunning woods are the better option for your floors, furniture, and kitchen cabinets.

Due to its durability, strength, and denseness, oak is a popular wood for cabinetry and furniture. Birch is likewise durable, with shock-resistant properties that make it ideal for flooring and veneer. Oak is harder to carve and reacts to iron but takes stains well and is rot-resistant.

While oak and birch are popular woods for making kitchen cabinets, furniture, and flooring, you may have trouble deciding which is right for you. Traditionally, oak used to be common flooring material due to its density and strength, but birch is becoming more and more popular. Factors that may push one wood over the other for you include the strength, the grain, and the shade of the wood, and, importantly, the expense.

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Oak vs. Birch Wood (for Furniture, Flooring, and Cabinets)

This is a look at a kitchen that has birch cabinetry.

Oaks are more usually found in the southern and eastern areas of the U.S, while birch woods are more northerly and can range into Canada and Alaska. Both are common and plentiful woods that grow locally, and these will be cheaper and more sustainable than imported varieties.

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Birch has a straight to slightly wavy grain, with the little color distinction between the growth rings, which gives birch a rather uniform appearance.

While it’s an easy wood to work, it will need to be treated if used for outdoor furniture, as it tends to rot when exposed to dampness and other elements. Birch is a fairly economical wood that makes it popular for use in plywood and veneer.

Oak is a beautiful hardwood, well-known for its density, heaviness, and durability. Oak has a straight grain, with a texture that tends to be uneven. Unlike birch, oak is rot-resistant and traditionally used for boat-building alongside flooring, cabinetry, and furniture making.

Oak is usually only moderately expensive when the lumber is home-gown. Raw lumber cost is on par with birch.

Is Birch a Good Wood for Furniture?

This is a look at a piece of birch plywood.

Due to its abundance in North America and its beautiful blond color, birch is a very popular choice in modern, minimalist furniture designs. It’s often used to make veneer and plywood furniture. However, if you make furniture from solid birch, the cost becomes higher relative to other hardwoods.

Birch does not absorb stains well, which can result in a blotchy appearance, but it has a natural pale golden color that many find warm and appealing.

As it is a slightly softer wood, it is more commonly used than oak, often reserved for high-end furniture.

Is Birch a Good Wood for Flooring?

This is a simple foyer that has a birch flooring.

Birchwood is hard-wearing but still softer than some kinds of hardwood, such as oak or hickory, and does not stand well against elements, so it’s best used for indoor flooring. Yellow birch is the most popular birch for flooring and can withstand heavy foot traffic. 

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Although it’s a hardwood, it’s one of the few with a rapid growth rate, making it a more sustainable and better choice for the eco-conscious. Birch sapwood is very pale, to nearly white, while the heartwood is a light reddish-brown shade. These colors, along with the straight, small-pored grain, make it popular in modern homes.

Is Birch a Good Wood for Cabinets?

This is a look at the kitchen that has birch cabinetry.

Birch is a readily-available wood, and its strength and density make it a suitable choice for cabinetry frames. However, its largest use in cabinet making is in veneers due to the low cost of birch plywood. Cabinets are usually constructed from both hardwoods and veneered plywood.

What are the Disadvantages of Birch?

When dealing with solid birch rather than birch plywood, the cost becomes similar to other hardwoods like oak.

Birch takes all finishes, but there may be some trouble with unwanted color variations or imperfections in stains. 

Birch is a perishable wood that will rot if exposed to water and other elements, making it less desirable for outdoor furniture. It may also be more prone to bug and insect infestations.

Is Oak a Good Wood for Furniture?

This is a close look at a piece of oak plank.

Oak is a hardwood with very slow growth, which makes the wood so dense. Because it can be stained and treated, oak is used for many different furniture styles. Oak furniture, if properly treated, will resist scratching and staining and can last hundreds of years. 

This hard-wearing nature makes it an excellent choice for traditional furniture.

Is Oak a Good Wood for Flooring?

This is a look at the living room that has oak flooring.

Oak is an excellent wood for flooring and has been used for centuries, with some oak floors still in excellent condition after two hundred years. Due to the density of the wood and the nature of the grain, it hides scratches and small imperfections well. Oak can be easily stained to suit your style and color choices.

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Natural oak has a pinkish-red to blond shade, depending on the variety.

Is Oak a Good Wood for Cabinets?

This is a close look at a wooden chest of drawers made of oak wood.

Even today, oak is one of the most commonly used hardwoods for cabinetry frames. Its denseness and strength make it ideal, and it is cheaper than denser hardwoods like maple and hickory. Cabinetmakers often use red oak for cabinetry as it is medium-priced compared to the straighter-grained white oak.

What are the Disadvantages of Oak?

Some types of oak, such as white oak, are far more expensive due to their bourbon and whiskey distillery use. Oak has a visible and defined wood grain that some people find old-fashioned and unappealing, especially if they want the clean lines of modern furniture.

Oak may react to iron nails, causing staining, so it is best to use galvanized nails in oak. Its heaviness may be unsuitable if you need to move furniture.

It is not an easy wood to carve, so it will not be suitable for highly-detailed furniture styles.

Conclusion

While oak really shines when it comes to use in furniture, flooring, and cabinet making due to its denseness and durability, birch makes for a very popular alternative. Birch can be a more economical choice and will suit certain styles of furniture better than oak. It is also a more ecologically friendly choice than oak due to its faster growth cycle.

If you prefer stained furniture or flooring rather than the natural shades of your chosen wood, then oak is a better option as it accepts finishes better than birch.

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Sources:

Timber Knee: White Oak Flooring Gallery

The Wood Database: Yellow Birch

Home Makers: Best Types of Wood for Furniture