Woodworking enthusiasts are often faced with the difficult decision of choosing between two of the most popular woods – Beech and Maple. Both have unique characteristics and are suitable for various projects, choosing between them an ongoing debate. This in-depth comparison aims to settle the score once and for all.
Overview of Beech and Maple Wood
Beech and Maple are both hardwoods used extensively in woodworking over the centuries. They share some similar properties but also have distinct differences.
Beech trees are native to Europe, Asia and North America. The wood has a fine, close grain pattern and uniformly pale color. It has good strength properties and turns, glues and finishes well.
Some key features of Beech wood are:
- Light tan to reddish-brown color
- Fine and uniform texture
- Easy to work with hand and machine tools
- Good steam bending abilities
- Stains and finishes well
- Durable and resistant to wear
- Often used for furniture, cabinets, flooring, turning and carving
Maple trees are also found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. The wood is known for its distinctive grain patterns such as birdseye maple and curly maple. It varies from pale white to reddish brown.
Some notable characteristics of Maple include:
- Great hardness and durability
- Varied grain patterns depending on type
- Good resistance to wear and abrasion
- It takes stain and finish well
- Easy to work with hand and machine tools
- Commonly used for furniture, flooring, musical instruments, turning and carving
Comparison Table: Beech vs Maple
|Criteria||Beech Wood||Maple Wood|
|Grain Patterns||Uniform, straight or wavy||Varied, wavy, curly, fiddleback, birdseye|
|Color||Pale tan to light brown||Almost white to reddish-brown|
|Machining||Smooth planing, less tearout||Moderate tearout in figured grains|
|Sanding||Easier to sand||Requires more effort|
|Carving||Easier for detailed carving||Harder due to density|
|Turning||Holds details better||Can chip out in figured types|
|Hardness (Janka)||1300 lbf||1450 lbf|
|Strength||Good but slightly less than Maple||Slightly better|
|Wear Resistance||Good but slightly less than Maple||Better|
|Sustainability||Less actively managed||More actively managed|
|Cost||Generally cheaper||More expensive|
|Best Uses||Furniture, cabinets, flooring||Flooring, furniture, musical instruments|
Now that we’ve covered some general properties, let’s compare Beech and Maple in more detail across various criteria.
Regarding aesthetics, Maple and Beech both have visual appeal but in different ways.
Maple is renowned for its varied grain patterns like wavy, curly, fiddleback and birdseye figuring. These distinctive grains arise due to uneven growth and interlocked fibers. While plain maple has a straight grain, the figured patterns add depth and interest.
Beech, on the other hand, has a much more uniform grain without dramatic figuring. The grain is typically straight or sometimes wavy. While not as flashy as curly maple, beech has a refined, subtle appearance.
Maple displays a wider range of natural color, from almost white to reddish-brown. Beech is quite limited in color, typically pale tan to light brown.
However, steam treatment can easily modify beech to produce darker colors. This makes it more versatile when a specific shade is desired.
Both Maple and Beech take finish well if properly prepared. Due to its closed grain, Beech can appear a bit more polished unless the finish accentuates the grain patterns in Maple.
Maple shows off detail better with darker stains, while Beech looks more uniform unless deliberately highlighted. Ultimately, both woods can achieve a great finished look.
Workability covers how easy a wood is to cut, shape and sand. This is an important consideration for woodworking.
Maple and Beech both machine well with hand and power tools. Their moderate hardness and straight grain allow for smooth planing and routing without excessive tearout.
However, figured Maple can sometimes cause tearout problems around knots and curly areas. The uniform grain of Beech makes it more cooperative when machining.
Beech’s fine, closed grain makes it extremely easy to sand to a smooth finish. Maple is a bit more porous and may require more sanding for an even, sanded surface.
For detailed hand carving, Beech has a slight advantage. The consistent grain cuts cleanly and carves smoothly. Maple’s harder density and figured grains take more effort to carve intricately.
Both Beech and Maple turn well on the lathe. Their moderate density provides good resistance without being too hard on cutting tools. Beech holds details a bit better for spindle turning whereas figured Maple can chip out.
One clear advantage of Beech is its excellent steam bending abilities. The wood becomes pliable enough when steamed to bend easily without breaking. This makes it ideal for curved furniture components. Maple cannot be steam bent as successfully.
Durability depends on hardness, strength and wear resistance. This determines how well the wood stands up to daily use.
The Janka hardness scale measures the force required to embed a steel ball halfway through a wood sample. Maple is rated at 1450 lbf while Beech comes in at 1300 lbf.
So Maple is about 10% harder than Beech. This makes it a bit more resistant to dents and wear. But both woods are still considered hard and durable for everyday use.
Maple has slightly better bending and compressive strength than Beech. Its strength properties allow Maple to withstand forces like furniture joints and trampling flooring without failing.
Beech is almost comparable and suitable for similar applications. But Maple has the edge for the most demanding structural uses.
The hardness of Maple makes it more wear resistant over time. Beech is also reasonably resistant to abrasion and scuffing but not quite as much as Maple. This becomes noticeable in flooring or furniture subject to heavy use.
With eco-conscious wood sourcing becoming more important, the sustainability of Beech and Maple is a key consideration.
Both woods are cultivated and harvested extensively in sustainable forestry operations. Certain organizations like the Forest Stewardship Council provide certifications to validate responsible practices. There are abundant sustainable sources of Maple and Beech available.
However, Beech forests tend to be less actively managed than the intensive cultivation of Maple stands. So Maple has a slight advantage when prioritizing sustainability certifications or monitored growth forests.
Maple consistently commands a higher price than Beech in lumber form. Maple’s attractive grain patterns and name recognition make it highly sought after. The lower material cost of Beech can translate into savings for large projects.
However, for finished wood products like flooring and furniture, the manufacturing costs make up a larger portion of the price. So there is less disparity between Beech and Maple products at the retail level.
Figured varieties of Maple like curly, quilt and fiddleback grades are sold at a premium. Spalted Maple also fetches much higher prices due to its uniqueness.
Beech and Maple are versatile woods suitable for a wide range of applications. But each has advantages that make them better suited for certain uses.
The hardness of Maple gives it good durability for flooring that must withstand heavy foot traffic. Beech is also fairly resistant but cannot match the wear resistance of Maple over many years.
Both woods make classic and attractive furniture. Maple excels in structural furniture where strength is needed. Beech offers more graceful steam-bent components. The uniform grain of Beech also makes it preferred for painted furniture where a smooth finish is desired.
Cabinets and Millwork
Inside cabinets and decorative molding, Beech and Maple are equally suitable. Their machinability and finishing capabilities produce great results.
Maple’s hardness and resistance to moisture and bacteria make it one of the best woods for cutting boards. Beech is also safely used but not quite as durable.
Maple is the wood of choice for acoustic guitar backs and sides. Its strength and crisp tone are ideal for music. While Beech can be used for some instruments, Maple is far superior tonally.
Both woods are excellent for turning on the lathe. Their fine grain polishes to a smooth finish. Beech holds detail best but figured Maple is beautiful when polished.
Main Differences Between Beech and Maple
- Maple has more varied, dramatic grain patterns while Beech has a uniform, subdued grain.
- Beech can be darkened through steaming but Maple displays a wider range of natural color.
- Beech sands and machines with a smoother cut but Maple is more dimensionally stable.
- Maple ranks slightly higher in hardness, durability and wear resistance.
- Beech steam bends easily while Maple cannot be bent using steam.
- Maple provides greater strength for structural applications.
- Beech is generally cheaper than Maple lumber. But pricing is closer for finished goods like flooring.
- Maple is regarded as more environmentally sustainable than Beech.
- Maple suits high-wear items like flooring and cutting boards better than Beech.
As this detailed comparison demonstrates, Maple and Beech each have their merits. Maple offers exceptional beauty, durability and tone. Beech provides affordability, graceful shaping and a refined aesthetic. The preferred wood ultimately depends on the priorities of each woodworking project.
Both woods remain popular choices that have stood the test of time. When selected appropriately, Maple and Beech can