Are you planning to get new cabinets? Whether it’s for your kitchen or storage area, there’s one major thing you need to consider: wood type. Nowadays, you can find cabinets made of almost all wood types: mahogany, poplar, maple, or even economical plywood. Still, birch and oak remain the top favorites among homeowners. In this birch vs oak cabinets comparison, I will help you pick the right choice for the money.
Overview of birch wood
Birch wood has a yellowish-white color, which can darken to light brown over time. It also has a medium pore structure as well as a mild satin finish. Depending on the specific timber, birch wood will have varying densities, which will impact its appearance under the light.
As a popular hardwood, birch is quite elastic and can be bent to make various furniture pieces. Overall, this wood is easy to work with since it’s slightly softer than other hardwood types.
You can easily find birch material for cabinets since it has topnotch shock and crush resistance. Its straight and fine grains also give it a natural aesthetic look.
Remember that birch is available in different species. Some of which are poplar birch, white birch, paper birch, red birch, and more. Each of these species has varying color and grain consistency.
Advantages of birch cabinets
If you’re planning to get birch wood cabinets, the following are the advantages you will enjoy:
- Decay resistance. Birch wood has excellent decay and moisture resistance, which allows the cabinets to last for years. However, you should still avoid installing this wood on decay-prone materials. Like any wood, it can still succumb to damages when exposed to continuous moisture, dirt, and harsh elements.
- Excellent staining. Birch wood absorbs and retains stains and polishing quite well. This is also the main reason why they are a top choice for cabinetry. You can find birch cabinets in various stains to suit the motif of your home.
- Bright appearance. For those who want to lighten up their kitchens, unstained birch cabinets are a good choice. This wood has a naturally bright color which looks even better when struck by light.
- Very elastic. Birch wood is elastic while remaining durable. This allows cabinet makers to work on the wood quite easily. It also means that birch can take shock well without splintering right away.
- Lower price. Compared to cabinets, birch cabinets are more affordable. This is because the natural tones of this wood aren’t as even as oak, cherry, or maple. Still, birch remains an aesthetic and durable wood choice for cabinets.
- Contemporary look. If you want modern-looking cabinets, birch is a good choice. Its aesthetic grain gives a unique appearance even when stained.
- Light. Unlike oak, birch wood cabinets are lighter and easier to install. It doesn’t require additional structural support in most cases. This will help you save more money in the long run.
Disadvantages of birch cabinets
- As much as birch cabinets are popular choices, it comes with some downsides. The following are some of them:
- Warping. Since birch wood is elastic, it tends to warp if not kept well. This is why you should prevent it from getting exposed to extremely dry and very humid conditions for long periods. Therefore, if you plan to have a birch cabinet, you must purchase a humidistat as well.
- Prone to beetles. Birch wood is susceptible to wood-boring insects. If you’re planning this cabinet, make sure that the wood is properly treated to resist insect pests.
- Low load capacity. This is once again connected to the pliability of birch wood. Since it bends and flexes more than oak, you can’t put excessive weight on birch cabinets.
Overview of oak wood
Oak belongs to the beech family and is one of the most durable hardwoods in the market. It’s extremely stronger than birch, thanks to its dense and heavy nature.
Currently, there are around 600 known oak species, which are either evergreen and deciduous. For thousands of years, oak has been the leading hardwood timber. However, take note that it would take up to 150 years for an oak tree to be suitable for construction and cabinetry.
In terms of color, oak has a light and prominent grain. It’s slightly more reddish than birch, though the likes of autumn oak and medium oak would have deeper hues. It has more tannin content than birch.
Due to its durability and versatility, oak is a top choice for construction, furniture-making, joinery, and more.
Advantages of oak cabinets
Long-lasting wood. If you want cabinets that can stand the test of time, oak is your best bet. This wood is way durable than birch and can endure more wear and tear over the years. It can even be an heirloom piece to the next generation if kept well.
- Less warping. Oak is denser and stiffer than birch, so it’s less likely to warp when exposed to extreme temperatures. This also makes it an excellent choice for humid areas.
- Excellent water-resistant. Compared to birch, oak has better water resistance. This adds to the wood’s durability.
- Insect resistance. Due to the high tannin content of oak, it’s more resistant to fungal infections and wood-boring insects than birch. Its close grain also makes it hard for insects to dig through the wood material.
- Convenient staining. Oak absorbs stains and polishes very well. It’s also a great choice for liming, a finish used to retain the natural wood color while accentuating its grain.
- Higher load capacity. Oak cabinets can hold more weight since it has a denser and stiffer profile. This is perfect when storing heavy items as well as stacks of dinnerware.
- Can be refurbished. The best thing about oak cabinets is they can be refurbished many times without damaging the wood grain. This is a good thing if you want a cabinet that will last for years.
- Excellent look. Polished or not, oak gives an aesthetic finish to cabinets. This is why many homeowners opt for this type of wood.
Disadvantages of oak cabinets
Oak is a durable and classic wood choice for cabinets. However, you should keep in mind these disadvantages:
- Cost. Some types of oak wood, like white oak, are more expensive than birch. Still, you can find other oak species that have the same or even lower price than birch wood.
- Cumbersome weight. Oak is a heavy wood, so cabinets made of this material would surely be hefty. You should opt for professional installation to ensure that your oak cabinets won’t come off the wall.
- Issues with oil finishes. Oak cabinets with oil finishes may react negatively to cold and humid conditions. This is due to the high tannin content of oak wood.
- Darkens over time. You should know that oak wood tends to naturally darken over the years. Some people like this, but homeowners who want to retain the original color may have to get the cabinets refurbished.
Which is best for your home?
The choice between birch and oak depends on your personal preference, budget, and needs. Both wood types are excellent choices, but each one sure comes with its share of pros and cons.
Oak cabinets are heavy and more difficult to install, but it pays off in the durability aspect. On the other hand, birch has a lighter color, but you may have to forego some level of longevity.
Both cabinet materials, if maintained well, can last for years. You should also trust a professional cabinetmaker to ensure that your cabinets are well-made.
Do birch and oak go together?
Most cabinetmakers won’t pair oak and birch because of the two’s big differences in absorbing stains. Birch takes slower to absorb stains than oak. Also, if you’re using oil finishes, oak has a risk of reacting negatively when exposed to cold temperatures.
If you want to pair another wood with oak, the best picks are white ash and walnut. Meanwhile, cherry and walnut would be great pairs for birch.
Is birch good for cabinet doors?
Birch is an excellent option for cabinet doors. It has topnotch tensile strength, which means it can hold screws and nails very well. If you’ll be opening and closing your cabinets often, a birch door would be a durable choice.
Another great thing about birch as cabinet doors is its light nature. It doesn’t have the heft oak possess, so it’s easier to swing, and it doesn’t put a lot of pressure on the hinge.
Is oak better than maple?
If you want durable hardwood with multiple grain patterns, oak is your best bet. Maple is also durable and a less expensive choice for cabinets, but it doesn’t have that many grain pattern options. To be fair, maple is harder than oak, so this compensates for the aesthetic aspect.
What is the most durable material for cabinets?
Any hardwood material is perfect for cabinetry. Maple and hickory are favorites of cabinetmakers, together with softwood species like mahogany and walnut. Oak and birch are also at the top of the list if you want cabinets that last for decades.
What is the most expensive cabinet wood?
Cost-wise, mahogany is one of the most expensive cabinet wood materials. Rosewood is also one of the priciest cabinet materials you can find. To put it in perspective, oak and birch are in the mid-range level in terms of price.
Note that construction and design will also affect the cabinet’s overall cost aside from the material.
Both birch and oak are durable cabinet materials. However, each one suits specific homes and locations. We hope that this birch vs oak cabinets article helps you choose what fits your kitchen best. When in doubt, you should consult a local cabinetmaker to know more about your options.