When looking for the perfect wood for my next furniture project, I’m always stuck debating between oak and maple. Both types of wood have their benefits and drawbacks that make choosing between them difficult.
I’ll compare oak vs maple wood by examining the differences in appearance, cost, durability, and stainability to help you select the best wood for your home.
Oak vs Maple Wood
Oak and maple are great for furniture, hardwood flooring, and cabinetry. Oak is more durable and can be found in many colors. Oak is more suitable to use for flooring than maple because of its inherent durability.
On the other hand, maple is significantly cheaper than oak and tends to be a harder wood. Despite being hard, it remains less durable and sturdy than oak. Oak is significantly heavier and longer-lasting than maple.
Oak has excellent stain qualities, a solid aesthetic, and a good finish. The pores of maple are extremely subtle when compared to the highly visible pores of oak and its resultant grain.
For cabinets, however, maple is the better choice. Maple is also great for kitchen furniture, since it can be easily wiped down with a damp cloth.
Oak is a grainy hardwood that comes in red and white variations (along with several hundred different types). It’s exceptionally hard and resistant to warping, making it ideal for furniture and flooring. Oak’s prominent grain (especially in red oak) helps it hide wear and tear better.
Versatile Outdoor Applications
Due to its durability and density, oak is suitable for various outdoor uses, including ladders, decks, fencing, pergolas, porches, and garages. It’s denser than maple, and its natural resins make it more resistant to fungi, insects, and moisture.
European vs. American Oak
European Oak has a lively, flexible color that ranges from gold to medium brown. It also boasts a natural grain. In contrast to its European equivalent, American White Oak has a light to tan-brown hue and straight grain that distinguishes it drastically.
Ideal for Flooring
Oak is an excellent flooring choice. This wood is also more durable, making it less likely to dent or scratch. As a result, compared to maple, oakwood also requires less upkeep and general maintenance.
Aesthetic Appeal in Design
Oak is well-suited to a minimalist Scandinavian design aesthetic due to its naturally lighter coloring. This lighter coloring also extends the life of the wood by making it less vulnerable to fading from the sun.
Distinctive Grain Patterns
Oak has a tiger-stripe grain that is aesthetically pleasing. Staining accentuates this grain pattern even more, resulting in a two-tone appearance.
Types of Oak Wood
There are several types of oak wood, and two primary ones use for home projects are red oak and white oak.
Red oak species are more commonly regarded as the species Quercus alba. However, the characteristics used for this classification reflect in several other species, including Black oak, California Black oak, Cherrybark oak, Laurel oak, and Pin oak, amongst others.
They may have several patterns, including strips, rings, wavy figures, or flecks. It also has a coarse and porous grain and pores ranging from medium to large. Its color is more reddish-brown and brighter relative to white oak.
This species is best used for the following:
- Indoor furniture
- Support beams
- Interior trim
- Highly resistant to scratches and dents
- Excellent with steam bending and easy to work with
- A great scent that appeals to many people
- Takes stain well and is easy to glue
- Resistance to decay is relatively low compared to white oak, making it unsuitable for outdoor work.
Like Red oak, White oak (Quercus alba) has several wood types with similar characteristics, such as Bur oak, Chestnut oak, English oak, Overcup oak, and Oregon White oak, among others.
Compared to red oak, white oak is darker. Although the actual color may vary, white oak is typically a medium brown. White oak grain is fairly coarse and features pores ranging from medium to large with distinct growth rings.
White oak is best used for the following:
- Indoor furniture
- Outdoor furniture
- Support beams
- Wine barrels
- Fence posts
- Has decay-resistance ability, making it a top choice for boat building and other outdoor projects
- Has a pleasant scent
- Does well with steam bending and is generally easy to work with
- Takes finishes and stains well and is easy to glue as well
- Porous and can be prone to staining if spills are not promptly cleaned up
- Not as readily available as some other wood types
Maple is a pale-colored hardwood like birch that features an extremely tight and even grain. Due to its light color and subtle grain, maple fits in very well with most home décor. Maple’s light, natural finish makes it a great choice for contemporary spaces.
Maple takes to staining exceptionally well (albeit not as well as oak does), and so it has the added benefit of being stained to look like a more expensive wood such as Cherry wood.
Susceptibility to Damage
Because maple is significantly less porous than oak, it can be far more susceptible to dents and scratches. Despite being less porous than oak, it still does not absorb stains as well as oak does, and if a sealant is not used beforehand, the stain can come out extremely blotchy.
Because the maple tree has no internal resistance to insects or mold infestations, it must be appropriately treated before used for furniture. It doesn’t resist decay very well and is also unsuitable for steam-bending or shaping in other ways. This limits what can be created with this wood.
Maple is durable and strong, as well as relatively cost-effective and cheaper than oak. Maple is far less prone to warping or twisting and remains a very hardwood.
Types of Maple
Two main types of maple used for home projects are hard maple and soft maple.
Hard Maple (Acer saccharum), or Sugar Maple or Rock Maple, is predominantly found in the Eastern United States.
Its light and natural finish makes it a top choice for hardwood flooring and furniture in contemporary spaces. It also goes great with contemporary decor and is suitable for both small and large areas due to its subtle grain pattern.
This wood type is best used for making the following:
- Butcher blocks
- Clamp locks
- Custom woodwork
- Bowling lanes
- Vise jaws
- Baseball bats
The length of time that the wood would be in excellent condition depends on the state of the wood and the mode of installation.
- Highly strong and durable
- Can be used for various projects because of its strength, aesthetic appeal, and affordability
- Absorbs stain less better than oak due to its consistency
- More susceptible to dents and scratches due to its low porosity relative to oak
- May tend to twist and warp relative to a species like hardwood oak, although it is relatively more stable than other species
Soft Maple is an umbrella name for four species, namely Red Maple (Acer rebrum), Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum), Boxelder (Acer negundo), and Silver Maple or White Maple (Acer saccharinum). These woods vary in hardness, weight, and strength; however, they are all soft relative to hard maple.
Soft maple has a fine texture and no odor. While the growth rings are next to invisible, the grain commonly features light brown streaks along it. It may also likely have dark irregular spots or streaks known as “pith flecks,” which is often a result of insect attacks.
This category of wood type is best for making the following:
- Kitchen cabinets
- Basket veneer
- Silver or White Maple can easily absorb stains, making it pass for cherry wood
- Easy to access since it predominantly grows in the Eastern United States
- Only suitable for indoor projects since it is not very durable and has very low decay resistance
- Doesn’t excel in workability like other woods, making it unsuitable for projects involving a good amount of shaping
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Maple or Oak Better for a Dining Table?
Oak is better for a dining table because maple is less durable. Maple has a Janka hardness rating 950, which makes it only comparable to cherry. For a dining table, sturdiness and durability are crucial because they often need to hold heavy objects.
Which Is More Stable: Oak or Maple?
Oak is more stable than maple, although it is harder than oak. Maple tends to twist and warp over time compared to oak (such as white oak) – this applies to hard maple as well, even though it is stable relative to some other species. Factors that determine longevity are the mode of installation and wood condition.
Is Oak or Maple Furniture More Expensive?
Oak furniture is more expensive because the base material itself. However, the margin is only slight and not very significant. Both maple and oak are more affordable options than other hardwoods such as walnut, elm, or cherry.
Oak and maple are both excellent choices regarding your home’s furniture, flooring, and cabinetry. Depending on your budget for wood and the desired aesthetic you hope to achieve, you may prefer one over the other.
Generally speaking, oak is better to use when installing flooring. When it comes to wooden cabinetry, maple is a better option. With furniture, either wood will serve its purpose well, depending on the look you ultimately hope to achieve.