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Maple vs. Oak Wood

Maple and oak are two of the most popular types of wood we offer at Cherokee Wood Products. They are commonly compared by homeowners when choosing hardwood components for their household whether its for cabinets, flooring, stairs or hardwood details crown moulding, baseboard and door casing. The truth is they aren’t very comparable, choosing among hard maple, soft maple, red oak, or white oak depends on your aesthetic desires as well as how you would like to use the wood.

Maple and Oak Lumber do have some similarities like weight & durability although are very different in grain patterns and coloring. Even within Maple you have multiple species that you can choose from that are distinctively different from each other Hard Maple and Soft Maple both of which are hardwood lumber. Deciding on Oak gets more complicated as you can choose from Red Oak or White Oak and the different options within them based on where the tree is grown.

Hard Maple

Best for: Floors, cabinetry, furniture, custom woodwork, moulding/trim, butcher blocks, baseball bats, bowling lanes, vise jaws, clamp locks. Hard maple is classified under the species Acer saccharum. It is also known as Rock Maple or Sugar Maple and is most common in the Eastern United States.

Pros and Cons: Hard maple is known to be both durable and strong. It can be used for a variety of projects since it boasts the trifecta of strength, beauty, and cost-effectiveness. Although hard maple is very stable compared to other species, some consumers believe that it is more likely than hardwood oak to twist and warp. Its longevity also depends on the condition of the wood and the way it is installed. Maple is less porous than oak, which makes it slightly more susceptible to dents and scratches. Because of its consistency, maple also does not absorb stain as well as oak.

Physical Characteristics: The light, natural finish makes hard maple a leading choice for contemporary spaces when it comes to furniture and hardwood flooring. Its subtle grain pattern works well in large or small spaces and complements modern decor well.

Soft Maple

Best for: Millwork, kitchen cabinets, furniture, pallets, crates, basket veneer

Unlike hard maple, which refers to one particular species (Acer saccharum), soft maple refers to several different species of maple. A few of the most common of the “soft maple” species are:

Soft Maple Scientific Name Average Dried Weight (lbs/ft3)
Bigleaf Maple:

Acer macrophyllum

Coastal regions of the Western US

34

Box elder:

Acer negundo

Central and Eastern US

34

Red maple:

Acer rubrum

Eastern US

38

White/silver maple:

Acer saccharinum

Eastern US

33

Striped maple:

Acer pensylvanicum

Eastern US; common in the Appalachians

32

The above types of maple vary in strength, hardness, and weight, but all are softer than hard maple.

Pros and Cons: White maple is a species of maple native to Eastern North America and is one of the most common trees in the United States. Its main advantage is that it can be stained to look much like cherry wood. White maple is best for indoor projects, since it has no resistance to decay and since it is not considered to be as durable as other types of wood. It is rated medium to below average in terms of workability, so it is not the best choice for steam bending, or projects that involve a lot of shaping and boring.

Physical Characteristics: Soft maple is more likely than hard maple to be peppered with “pith flecks,” which are dark, irregular streaks or spots that usually result from insect attack on the growing tree. Its growth rings are barely visible, but light brown streaks are common along the grain. Like hard maple, it can develop an aesthetically pleasing curl. Soft maple is known as an odorless, fine textured wood.

Red Oak

Best for: Cabinetry, indoor furniture, interior trim, flooring, support beams, and veneer

The species Quercus alba is commonly considered the red oak species, but the characteristics of that species are shown in many types of wood that are generally referred to as red oak woods. The following types have all the main characteristics of red oak:

Red Oak

Scientific Name

Distribution

Average Dried Weight (lbs/ft3)

Red Oak:

Quercus rubra

Southeastern Canada and Northeastern US

45

Black Oak:

Quercus velutina

Eastern US

46

California Black Oak:

Quercus kelloggii

Western US

40

Cherrybark Oak:

Quercus pagoda

Eastern US

51

Laurel Oak:

Quercus laurifolia

Southeastern US

48

Pin Oak:

Quercus palustris

Eastern US

47

Scarlet Oak:

Quercus coccinea

Eastern US

49

Southern Red Oak:

Quercus falcata

Southeastern US

43

Water Oak:

Quercus nigra

Eastern US

47

Willow Oak:

Quercus phellos

Eastern US

48

Pros and Cons: When compared to white oak, red oak is not quite as resistant to decay, but both woods are considered to be very strong and resistant to dents and scratches. Red oak is easy to work with and responds well to steam bending. It is also easy to glue and takes stain very well. It has a distinct scent, which most find desirable.

Physical Characteristics: Every species that is considered a red oak or a white oak has a distinct grain and texture. Oak can display rings, strips, flecks, wavy figures, or other complex patterns, which is a desirable trait that maple wood does not possess. Red oak is most commonly a reddish-brown color and is lighter than white oak. It has medium-to-large pores and a coarse and porous grain.

White Oak

Best for: Cabinetry, outdoor furniture, indoor furniture, moulding/trim, flooring, boatbuilding, support beams, wine barrels, veneer, paneling, plywood, fence posts, and shingles

White Oak is known specifically as Quercus alba, but several woods that are referred to as white oak contain the characteristics of white oak. These include the following:

White Oak

Scientific Name

Distribution

Average Dried Weight (lbs/ft3)

Bur Oak:

Quercus macrocarpa

Eastern and Midwestern US; South-central Canada

46

Chestnut Oak:

Quercus prinus

Eastern US

48

English Oak:

Quercus robur

Most of Europe to Asia Minor; North Africa

43

Oregon White Oak:

Quercus garryana

Eastern and Midwestern US

53

Overcup Oak:

Quercus lyrata

Eastern US

47

Post Oak:

Quercus stellata

Eastern US

50

Sessile Oak:

Quercus petraea

Most of Europe to Asia Minor

46

Swamp Chestnut Oak:

Quercus michauxii

Southern and Central US

50

Swamp White Oak:

Quercus bicolor

Eastern and Midwestern US

53

Pros and Cons: Because of its ability to resist decay, white oak is often used in boatbuilding and for outdoor projects, such as decks. Like red oak, white oak is easy to work with and responds well to steam bending. It is easy to glue and takes stains and finishes well. It also has an appealing scent.

Physical Characteristics: White oak is darker than red oak. It is usually a medium brown color, though there can be a fair amount of variation in color. Red oak has medium-to-large pores and a fairly coarse grain. Its growth rings are distinct.

CONCLUSION

Overall, white oak is the best choice for projects that call for water-resistant, decay resistant wood. Oak offers more options as far as grain pattern, and will provide a richer look when used as cabinetry or flooring. Maple is lighter, more affordable, and works well in contemporary spaces and for indoor projects.

When making your choice for hardwood flooring, construction materials, or any woodworking project, come to Cherokee Wood Products for some samples and expert advice. We can help you find the wood pattern, texture, durability, and strength that will meet your functional and aesthetic needs. For more information, please call us at (909) 920-5430 or fill out our online contact form.