Oak vs. Brown Maple: How They Compare for Wood Furniture

Beth Rice 25/03/2021

It’s time for oak versus brown maple, where we’ll take on the two least expensive hardwood types that offer a world of possibilities for wood furniture, and we’ll compare their strengths and weaknesses. The ultimate goal is to help you decide if one of these wood types would be the best fit for your vision of new wood furniture.

Comparing Colors

Oak Wood Colors

There are several different species of oak trees. The two main ones used to make oak furniture are red and white oak trees. Oak wood is primarily light in color. Red oak actually contains lighter shades than white oak, with colors ranging from white to soft brown, and heartwood and sapwood both displaying a pinkish hue. White oak’s colors feature shades of light to medium brown, as well as dark to medium brown with some yellow shades mixed in.

Amish 46 Shaker TV Stand with 2 Doors
The Amish 46″ Shaker TV Stand with 2 Doors displays oak wood’s light shades.

Brown Maple Colors

Brown maple showcases a variety of brown shades, including browns, tans, whites and creams that can include light and dark streaks, as well as a touch of red.

Amish Ramsey Dining Chair
The Amish Ramsay Dining Chair displays a warm brown maple shade.

Comparing Characteristics

What does oak wood look like?

Oak is a busy wood where grain pattern is concerned. Oak wood displays a prominent grain pattern with long, curving arches and loops, compressed into thin, parallel lines in some sections. Its pronounced patterns make oak easier to identify among hardwood furniture.

Amish Carlisle Shaker Dining Room Table
The Amish Carlisle Shaker Dining Room Table-just look at those prominent oak grain patterns filling the tabletop!

Oak Wood Performance

Oak is durable and offers a top performance for wood furniture full of function. The most widely used hardwood in American furniture making, oak is a good choice for pieces that see heavy traffic and high use. There’s lots of strength in oak, earning it a Janka Hardness rating of 1360 for white oak and 1290 for red oak. Oak furniture can be enjoyed in a variety of colors, as oak wood takes a stain well from light to dark. Paints are a different story because oak’s coarse texture mean that oak is not the best for a painted finish. Woodworkers like the fact that oak glues and finishes well, making it easy to work with by hand or with machine tools.

The Amish Traditional Wood Trim Arm Chair offers strength that will last decades.

Unique Characteristics of Oak Furniture

  • Strong and durable
  • Prominent wood grain
  • Coarse texture
  • Radiates warmth
  • Beautiful colors
  • Takes stain and finish well
  • Added resistance to wear, rot, decay and moisture
Amish 48 Traditional Bookcase with Optional Doors
The Amish 48″ Traditional Bookcase with Optional Doors is warm and welcoming in oak wood.

What does brown maple wood look like?

Unlike oak, brown maple has a sleek, smooth grain with uniform texture. This doesn’t make it boring by any means. Brown maple wood includes some irregularities in the grain pattern that can include gray-green mineral streaking. Because of this streaking, it is recommended that brown maple furniture be stained in darker stains so the streaks do not show through. Irregularities in the grain pattern cause brown maple to capture a stain unpredictably, meaning some areas of the wood will look considerably darker than others.

Amish Mid Century Modern Bathroom Vanity
Notice the combination of darker and lighter areas on this brown maple Mid Century Modern Bathroom Vanity where brown maple’s grain grabs more stain in some areas versus others.

A unique variation that can occur on maple wood is called bird’s eye, a distinct pattern that looks like small swirls with eyes. Other unique patterns that might be found in brown maple include flame, curly or wavy, each of which makes brown maple furniture even more stunning.

Brown Maple Performance

Brown maple is a leader when it comes to paint and distressing. Why? That smooth, uniform grain makes it take to paint very well, and not every wood type can. The same can be said for distressing, when you want a weathered, antiqued look for wood. The smoother surface makes it a great match for painting and distressing techniques.

Amish Mission Secretary Roll Top Desk
Brown maple’s smooth grain shows off stains and paints nicely. Here, the Amish Mission Secretary Roll Top Desk wears Antique Slate Stain.

Brown maple is a hardwood, although it is considered a “soft” hardwood. By “soft” we mean it is soft in comparison to other hardwoods. Brown maple is often compared to cherry wood and is just as durable and strong as cherry. It’s recommended to be more careful with a table surface made of cherry or brown maple versus a table made of oak.  Brown maple has a Janka hardness rating of 950.

Brown maple is another wood that’s great to have in the woodshop. It’s easy to cut and shape and can be crafted into many different furniture styles.

Amish Hampton Cannon Ball Poster Bed
Easy to cut and shape, brown maple wood can be sculpted with detail as shown in the Amish Hampton Cannon Ball Poster Bed.

Unique Characteristics of Brown Maple Furniture

  • Durable and strong
  • Showcases darker finishes beautifully
  • Perfect wood to paint
  • One of the least expensive hardwood options
  • Comparable to cherry in hardness and appearance
  • Versatile
  • Showcases unique grain pattern
  • Easy to stain, finish and glue
Amish Hillcrest Entryway Bench
The strength and durability of brown maple is often compared to cherry. Here, the Amish Hillcrest Entryway Bench is made in brown maple wood with a weathered beige stain.

Comparing the Cost

Oak and brown maple share a lower price tag when compared to other hardwoods like cherry or walnut. They are two of the least expensive hardwoods.

Fans of brown maple love that it shares some characteristics with cherry wood, without the higher price tag. The cost is lower since it’s a more common wood and it grows quickly.

Oak vs. Brown Maple

With oak you get some added hardness and strength when compared to brown maple. Oak has an active prominent grain. If a smoother look is more your style, brown maple catches points there with its smooth, uniform wood grain. Brown maple looks great painted, while oak’s textured grain will show through paint. Both woods can be crafted into a number of furniture styles, as they are both easy to work, shape and sculpt in the woodshop. When it comes to stain colors, it’s important to remember brown maple can have mineral streaking and looks best in darker stains. Oak shines nicely in lighter stains as well as dark ones.

Amish Frontier 16 Gun Carousel Cabinet
The Amish Frontier 16-Gun Carousel Cabinet in oak wood with Seely stain.

Oak Wood Pros

  • Strong and durable
  • A light colored wood
  • Prominent grain pattern
  • Timeless look
  • Easy to work with
  • Affordable

Oak Wood Cons

  • Prominent wood grain
  • Not a good wood for painted finish
  • Heavy to lift when needing to move furniture
Amish Indian Trail Platform Bed
The Amish Indian Trail Platform Bed in oak wood with Asbury stain.

Brown Maple Pros

  • Beautiful colors
  • Smooth, uniform grain pattern
  • Mineral streaking creates unique patterns
  • Easy to work with
  • Adaptable to many different styles
  • Great wood for painted finish
  • Great for distressed finish
  • Affordable

Brown Maple Cons

  • A softer hardwood that can get scratched and dented more easily than other hardwoods
  • Mineral streaking can show through light stain colors

So there’s oak versus brown maple and how they compare for wood furniture. Which one is best for your home?

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