Birch for Cabinets

      Yellow Birch (but not other Birch varieties) is widely used in cabinets. Here are some thoughts on its pros and cons.March 22, 2013

Most of the kitchens I do are maple, cherry or oak. It seems like a lot of my customers are looking for darker colors, which can be a lot of extra work when using maple. I thought maybe birch would be a better choice - easier to get darker, plus it might have less adhesion issues. My concern with birch is warping and twisting. Will the birch cause me more grief than what it's worth?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor W:
We use alder for dark finishes. It's cheaper than cherry and is easy to stain dark.

From Professor Gene Wengert, Sawing and Drying Forum technical advisor:
There are several birches, so specify yellow birch only. Sometimes the birch accepts penetrating stains unevenly, giving a blotchy appearance (technical reason is tension wood). You may need color in the finish. However, yellow birch is indeed widely used for cabinets. Alder is a good suggestion, but you may notice a natural color difference from one supplier to the next.

From contributor K:
If the birch is dried properly and maintained at that moisture content, you should have no unusual problems with birch lumber. For very dark colors, consider dying the wood. I like Mohawk's Ultra Penetrating Stain which is a dye stain. You can stain light wood almost totally black if you want.

It's best sprayed and requires several hours to thoroughly dry for a recoat, if necessary. You reduce the color intensity (or darkness) by diluting the stock dye with Ultra Penetrating Stain Reducer. The blotching problem is no longer an issue because you're actually dying the wood fibers themselves instead of piling up coloring material on, and between, the fibers.

I've had best results spraying it on. If you try to wipe or brush it on it's too wet and goes beyond dying and starts acting like a penetrating oil/pigment stain. Once you get the hang of using dyes you'll feel a surge of power and pity the hapless woodworker fooling around with pigments and penetrating oil stains.

From contributor P:
Is the dye more resistant to sunlight these days?

From the original questioner:
I did consider alder, but I am concerned it's too soft for kitchen cabinets. A lot of times, my customers ask how hard or durable the wood is before they agree to a wood species. I will also experiment with some different stains.

From Professor Gene Wengert, Sawing and Drying Forum technical advisor:
The softness of alder is indeed a concern.

From contributor K:
Fading seems to be no problem with the modern dye formulations. I have dyed wood samples which have been exposed to daylight for years with no noticeable color loss. These dye colors are the same as the fabric industry uses - except they're mixed with different solvent blends to control the application to wood surfaces.

From contributor J:
I've used a fair amount of red and yellow birch and find it more of a nuisance than sticking with maple. I have one client I work with off and on as I have time, and everything in his house is birch. The color of the red birch is a bit darker, but really not that much. Yellow birch is only off of white by a shade. They're pretty darn close. I find birch is a bit more difficult to work than maple, too. It tends to tear out a bit more and move after milling a little more. That's just my experience, for what it's worth. If your clients want darker, I'd go with cherry. It's darker to begin with and takes stain so easily it's a win/win situation!

From contributor L:
We've been using more yellow birch lately. Avoid the pieces with wild grain and it is fine. There is a big heartwood - sapwood color variation. To get a uniform stain we wash coat before stain. If the stain isn't dark enough we will use a toner coat after the seal coat. With some good control of the spray gun you can even out the dark/light variations that way too. Don't put too much color in the toner coat, better to make several light passes.

Would you like to add information to this article?
Interested in writing or submitting an article?
Have a question about this article?

Have you reviewed the related Knowledge Base areas below?
  • KnowledgeBase: Knowledge Base

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking

  • KnowledgeBase: Cabinetmaking: General

    Would you like to add information to this article? ... Click Here

    If you have a question regarding a Knowledge Base article, your best chance at uncovering an answer is to search the entire Knowledge Base for related articles or to post your question at the appropriate WOODWEB Forum. Before posting your message, be sure to
    review our Forum Guidelines.

    Questions entered in the Knowledge Base Article comment form will not generate responses! A list of WOODWEB Forums can be found at WOODWEB's Site Map.

    When you post your question at the Forum, be sure to include references to the Knowledge Base article that inspired your question. The more information you provide with your question, the better your chances are of receiving responses.

    Return to beginning of article.

    Refer a Friend || Read This Important Information || Site Map || Privacy Policy || Site User Agreement

    Letters, questions or comments? E-Mail us and let us know what you think. Be sure to review our Frequently Asked Questions page.

    Contact us to discuss advertising or to report problems with this site.

    To report a problem, send an e-mail to our Webmaster

    Copyright © 1996-2016 - WOODWEB ® Inc.
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission of the Editor.
    Review WOODWEB's Copyright Policy.

    The editors, writers, and staff at WOODWEB try to promote safe practices. What is safe for one woodworker under certain conditions may not be safe for others in different circumstances. Readers should undertake the use of materials and methods discussed at WOODWEB after considerate evaluation, and at their own risk.

    WOODWEB, Inc.
    335 Bedell Road
    Montrose, PA 18801

    Contact WOODWEB

  • WOODWEB - the leading resource for professional woodworkers

      Home » Knowledge Base » Knowledge Base Article