Things You Need To Know About Beech Hardwood
Beech wood is versatile, economical and easy to source. Its light colour often with a pink or brown hue makes it a popular choice for those who don't favour darker shades of wood species.
This article examines the facts about beech including its history and associated mythologies and also the strengths and limitations of beech wood. We will also look at the different uses of this hardwood species and how beech wood compares to other woods.
To ensure we cover every aspect of beech trees, beech timber and its use as flooring, we will also cover maintenance and care of beech wood flooring.
But before we dive into the characteristics and applications of beech wood, we'll look at its categorisation as a hardwood. Is Beech a hardwood? Let's find out.
What Defines Hardwood?
Hardwood includes species such as oak, maple, teak, mahogany, walnut and our subject; beech.
Hardwoods are often defined in opposition to softwoods for clarity and that is what we will do too. Softwoods are those that include species such as pine, spruce, and fir.
Hardwoods are deciduous trees, meaning they drop their leaves in autumn/winter. Softwoods are evergreen - often with needles instead of the larger broader leaves associated with hardwood species.
Hardwoods are slow-growing, partly because they are more expensive than softwoods. The slow growth not only makes them more time-consuming and therefore costly to cultivate but the slow growth also creates a denser wood, which makes a stronger, more resilient timber.
Softwoods on the other hand are relatively fast growing, but have a less dense structure, making them easier and quicker to cultivate and therefore are a cheaper alternative to hardwoods.
Hardwoods also have a lower sap content, this helps hardwood to be more fire resistant than softwood species.
Generally speaking, hardwoods are also darker in colour and less pliable than softwoods.
Beech Hardwood: A Closer Look
Here in the UK beech tree species are commonly European beech (fagus sylvatica) or Copper beech (fagus sylvatica purpurea) but beech trees also grow in other areas of the world so we have American beech (fagus grandifolia) and Japanese beech (fagus crenata).
Beechwood, although defined as a hardwood, and although it does share many characteristics of the other hardwood types, it shares them to a lesser degree.
Beech wood is lighter in colour than many hardwoods, it is also one of the fastest-growing of the hardwood species. Beech is also more pliable than other hardwood species; especially when steam treated. However, beech is also more prone to rot and pests than other hardwoods.
Beech trees have long been considered special trees with many different properties; in ancient times and in Celtic folklore the Beech is the Queen of the trees; as the Oak is named the King and were prized for their medicinal qualities, especially beech flowers. They are also a food source; with the new leaves being edible as well as the beech nuts; also known as beech mast. Furthermore, the beech was used as a sort of paper, reserved for holy writings and is actually where the term 'book' comes from.
Applications of Beech Hardwood
Beech is strong and versatile and is easily worked. For these reasons, it is used in a wide variety of different applications.
Beech wood is used in carcase construction; that is the structures used in housing and other buildings, it is also used in furniture framing - often where more expensive wood types are used for the 'visible' parts of furniture, beech wood will be the solid (and more economical) structural base beneath such as chair legs and drawer bottoms.
Due to the pliable qualities of European beech wood it is also commonly used in the manufacture of musical instruments especially string instruments such as the violin and cello where the beech wood is steamed and bent. It is also used in pianos.
When it comes to flooring beech wood is becoming more and more popular. The light colouring and pink or brown hue works well in modern style properties and the good value for money it offers make it an affordable choice. Beech wood flooring is also commonly used in sports halls and dance studios. As beech wood is close-grained and doesn't always have visible rings it has a pleasingly uniform appearance this makes it suited to flooring where a uniform appearance is required.
Beechwood chips are used in beer production too and are also used in the smoking of meats and other foods, especially in Germany, where the specific beechwood smoke is an important part of the process.
Despite it seeming like a waste of such a versatile wood, beech wood also makes excellent firewood, due to the fact that it is a straight-grained wood it is easily split and it burns well with calm flames when it has been well seasoned. As beech bark is also not crumbly beech logs store well and don't make such as mess as other hardwood logs.
Advantages and Considerations
Strengths of using beechhardwood
Durability and resilience
Beech wood is strong and resilient though it is known for not being as durable as other hardwoods.
Workability and finishing
Beech takes most finishes well especially water-based lacquers, paints and oils. It is also highly prized for its excellent workability it can be turned, glued, bent and sanded easily.
Sustainability and eco-friendliness
One of the advantages of beech wood is that European beech forests are common across the UK and the rest of Europe. Furthermore, as far as hardwood tree species go beech trees are relatively fast-growing. A beech can grow and mature in 30-40 years, and although they can live to over 300 years if maintained carefully, this makes them a more sustainable option for timber than many other hardwoods, especially those sourced from overseas.
Potential limitations or considerations for certain projects
Beechwood is not as water resistant, pest and rot resistant as some other hardwood species. Therefore it is not a good choice for outdoor use or areas prone to a lot of dampness.
Comparisons with Other Hardwoods
Beech vs. Oak: Strengths and applications
Both European beech and oak are strong and dense. Oak, however, has a density rating of around 800kg per cubic metre, and beech sits at around 700kg pcm this makes oak more durable.
Oak also has antifungal properties which beech does not have. Neither does oak have the flexibility that beech does, especially when steam treated.
Both make excellent furniture and flooring choices. If the criteria are for affordability then Beech would win the day. However, if hard use is expected, or a more humid atmosphere then oak might be considered a better choice.
Beech vs. Maple: Which is the better choice?
Both beech and maple are considered to be strong and easily worked wood species. Maple is often placed into two categories; hard maple and soft maple but this usually refers to the heartwood or sapwood of the same tree types; maple is, like beech, a hardwood.
Maple is slightly harder, denser and stronger than beech and the appearance although similar has more variations than beech. The colour of maple is more yellow with orange tones as opposed to the pinkish tones of beech.
These two kinds of wood are both good choices for flooring, furniture, turned objects and worktops among other things and the choice ultimately lies with the individual preference of the consumer. If price though is a deciding factor then Beech is likely to come out on top.
Maintenance and Care Tips
Beech wood does not like water or dampness so ensure it is kept as dry as possible, that spills are cleaned immediately and that the humidity in the atmosphere is minimised wherever possible.
Keeping beech timber clean and free of dust and debris will help keep it in good condition as well as refinishing as required.
One of the most enigmatic of British trees with an above average density, straight grain and excellent workability fagus sylvatica or beech is loved for its variable usage and due to it being one of the most common hardwoods to source the fact that it is always economically priced.
If you are considering beech for your flooring needs, rest assured it would be a solid choice.