Beech is among the most popular woods in the woodworking industry. The light-colored wood, alongside oak, accounts for the majority of furniture, floors, cabinets, and other woodworking projects in the US.
But is it a good wood? Is it strong and durable? Should you consider it for your next project?
We’ve compiled this guide to answer these and other common beech wood questions, including whether beech is a hardwood or softwood, so you have enough information to make the right decisions.
What is Beech Wood: Is Beech a Hardwood?
Yes, beech is a hardwood. It has a Janka rating of 1300 lbf, putting it among the most popular hardwoods, including oak and maple. It’s also within the density range of popular hardwoods. But most importantly, beech wood is a deciduous angiosperm and a flowering dicot with two embryonic leaves (dicotyledons). All flowering angiosperms are hardwoods.
What is Beech Wood?
Beech is a light hardwood obtained from beech trees. The beech tree is a deciduous plant from the native to North America, Europe, and Asia.
Beech trees are round-headed, tall and wide-spreading plants with thin, super-smooth and steel-grey barks. The trees are extremely slow-growing but can reach 400 years before dying.
Beech trunks can reach 80 feet tall. The heavily-veined leaves are 2.5 inches wide and up to 6.0 inches long. The male beech wood flowers are tiny, round and yellow. Meanwhile, the female flowers are red.
The tree flowers in early spring, after which female flowers produce edible nuts.
Beech Wood Species
There are at least a dozen beech wood species, including the tri-color beech, copper beech, Japanese beech, and weeping beech. However, the European and American beech species are the most popular.
European beech (Fagus sylvatica)
Also known as the Fagus sylvatica, the European beech is the most common beech tree in the world. It grows naturally in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden and is the most valuable of all beech timber.
The trees grow to 80-130 feet tall, with 3-5 foot (diameter) trunks, and can live for 200 years. However, they take 30 years to reach maturity.
European beech wood is pale cream with dark specks and no characteristic odor. You may also notice brownish-red hues in the lumber.
The American beech (Fagus grandifolia)
The American beech wood is called so because it’s native to America. It’s known by many other names, including red beech, ridge beech, and Carolina beech wood.
The trees grow to 75 feet tall, sometimes reaching 120 feet. Meanwhile, the trunks rarely exceed five feet in diameter. The plants can grow for 400 years.
The main distinction between the European and American beech woods is the color. The American species is darker and less consistent. The sapwood is white with a tinge of red, while the heartwood is dark reddish brown.
Beech Wood Properties
Beechwood species share many similarities despite minor differences. The following are common properties of beech lumber;
- Color: Beechwood has a pale cream color, sometimes with a pink or brown hue. However, it turns into a beautiful golden wood when steamed.
- Grain: Beechwood is a straight-grained wood with distinct growth rings and a medium uniform texture.
- Strength: Beech wood is very strong. For instance, the American beech is rated 1300 lbf on the Janka scale, about as strong as red oak. Meanwhile, the European beech wood is 1450 lbf on the Janka scale, equivalent to sugar maple.
- Durability: Beech wood is moderately durable. Its high natural strength means it can last many years with good maintenance. Unfortunately, it’s susceptible to insect attacks and rots far too easily. Also, beech wood isn’t moisture-resistant. Therefore, you must treat it for commercial use.
- Workability: Workability is one of the strong points of beech wood. Though it’s a hardwood, it’s a very soft one that cuts, planes, sands, and turns very easily. It’s especially easy to turn after steam-bending.
- Availability and price: Beech wood is readily available in most parts of Europe and the US as it’s native to these regions. The only problem is that it grows slowly and takes many years to mature. Nonetheless, it’s highly affordable.
What is Steamed Beech Wood?
Steaming is the process of “cooking” beech logs to enhance and streamline the wood’s appearance. Beechwood takes a distinctive and highly uniform dark look after steaming.
In particular, the naturally white sapwood turns dark, taking the color of the heartwood. However, be warned that steamed beech wood isn’t as strong as natural beech lumber.
It dries fairly quickly, increasing the risk of warping and checking. That said, steamed beech wood is great for cabinetry and high-grade joinery. It also makes some of the best solid and laminated furniture.
The logs are steamed right after sawing and before the sapwood dries. Otherwise, you may not achieve color uniformity.
What is Beech Wood Used for?
Beechwood has endless applications. Though a staple in the woodworking industry, you’ll also find it in construction, boat building, and tool-making. The most common applications are as follows;
- Interior decor
- Laser engraving
- Sporting equipment
- Hardwood Cutting boards
- Chairs and chair legs (Also find some of the best outdoor chairs for elderly in our guide.)
- Others (wooden spoons, musical instruments, plywood, handles for hand tools, veneer, cabinetry, railroad ties).
Beech Wood Advantages and Disadvantages
Beech Wood Pros
- Strong and durable
- Highly workable
- Beautiful color and grain pattern
- Readily available
- Highly affordable
- It’s extremely versatile
Beech Wood Cons
- Prone to insect attacks
- Readily absorbs water
- Cracks and warps easily
Is Beech a Hardwood?
Yes, beech is one of the most affordable hardwoods. Its tender back may be confusing. But it’s indeed one of the harder hardwoods. For instance, beech has a Janka rating of 1300 lbf.
No softwood is that strong. Additionally, beech is a flowering plant. Flowering plants are typically hardwoods.
Is beechwood strong?
Yes, beech wood has decent strength. Rated 1300 lbf (5782N) on the Janka scale, it’s one of the strongest furniture woods. It’s also stronger than soft maple. On the other hand, beech wood is indeed harder than walnut or oak.
The only problem is that beech wood isn’t as durable as the other hardwoods like ash in its class. First, its low moisture resistance makes it prone to warping, shrinking, and even rotting.
It also attracts mold. By comparison, oak and maple are highly moisture-resistant. That said, beechwood furniture can last 30+ years with good maintenance.
How hard is beech wood?
The American beech wood is rated 1,300 lbf on the Janka scale (5782N). Meanwhile, the European beech wood is rated 1450 lbf on the same scale, similar to sugar maple.
That’s decent strength, by all accounts. But you may also be interested to know that it has an ultimate tensile strength of 130 MPa (18900 PSI) and compressive strength of 46 MPa (6670 PSI).
Read also: Is cypress a hardwood?
Beech vs Other Woods
Let’s now compare beech to other hardwoods to see how it measures against the best. We’ll consider beech versus oak, maple, walnut, and birch.
Beech Wood vs Oak: Is Beech Harder than Oak?
Beechwood is stronger than oak, specifically the American red oak. While oak is rated 1290 lbf on the Janka scale, beech wood scores 1300 lbf. Strangely, beech flooring is also more expensive than red oak flooring, as it offers a better balance of durability and workability.
That said, oak is more durable than beechwood. It is more resistant to moisture, extreme temperatures, and pests. Therefore, beech is better for indoor applications; it is the best wood for interior doors, while oak is a better choice for outdoor applications.
Beech vs Maple: Is Beechwood Harder than Maple?
Beech is harder than soft maple (rated 800-900 lbf) but softer than hard maple (rated 1450 lbf). However, both are sufficiently strong for most woodworking applications. Unfortunately, both are also prone to pest attacks.
But that’s where the similarities end. For instance, while beech wood is pinkish pale honey with a straight grain, maple wood is an almost warm blonde with a more varied grain pattern.
Also, maple is more moisture and rot-resistant, thus more durable than beech wood.
Read also: Is maple hardwood or softwood?
Beech vs Walnut: Is Beech Harder than Walnut?
Beech and walnut are quite different woods, from their appearance to physical properties. First, beech is significantly stronger than walnut timber.
The former is rated 1300 lbf on the Janka scale, while the latter scores 1010 lbf on the same scale. Additionally, walnut is dark brown wood, while beech is light-colored.
Durability is another key difference. Though softer than beech wood, walnut is much more durable and resistant to elements. It can last 50+ years with good maintenance.
On the other hand, beech wood is perishable. It doesn’t handle moisture well and easily warps or shrinks in fluctuating temperatures.
Beech vs Birch Wood: Is Beech Harder than Birch?
Yes, beech wood (1300 lbf) is harder than yellow birch (1260 lbf), but only slightly. The two are also nearly similar in appearance.
Birchwood is a yellowish-white to reddish-white color that turns brown or dark brown with age. Similarly, beech is a light wood that turns dark brown when steamed.
Unsurprisingly, the two are equally susceptible to moisture and common furniture beetles. But they’re both highly workable. So, you’ll enjoy sawing, cutting, planning, sanding or nailing the two wood types.
The only difference is that beech wood is slow and difficult to dry white beech dries quickly and easily.
Read also: Is birch hard or softwood?
Is Beech Good for Outdoor Projects?
No, beechwood isn’t suited for outdoor and profitable woodworking projects. It’s strong and highly durable for interior projects where there’s limited exposure to moisture and extreme temperatures.
However, its poor rot resistance makes it susceptible to outdoor weather. Moreover, beech attracts mold easily. Nevertheless, you can seal the wood with quality epoxy to fill any cracks or open pores for moisture resistance and UV protection.
Is Beech Wood Toxic?
No, beechwood isn’t toxic. An easy way to determine whether a wood species is toxic is by checking whether the fruits are edible.
As expected, beech fruits are 100% edible. Birds, wild animals, and humans enjoy the fruits. Indeed, some historians believe beech nuts were the first food eaten by humans.
Is beech wood good for furniture?
Yes, beechwood is an excellent choice for furniture. First, it’s a non-porous wood with a solid density. Also, it’s a beautiful wood with a straight grain pattern. But most importantly, it doesn’t require seasoning like other wood types, retaining its strength and beauty even in the harshest conditions.
Is beech wood good quality?
Beech is definitely a high-quality wood. The evenly-textured, straight-grained surface makes it ideal for most woodworking applications, including furniture, cabinet, and flooring. Additionally, beech wood is hard, heavy, and strong, with a high-pressure resistance. Few wood types have all these qualities. Above all, beech wood is inexpensive.
Is beech a good hardwood?
Yes, beech is a good hardwood. A 1300 lbf hardness rating puts it between red oak (1290 lbf) and white oak (1360 lbf), an indication that it’s as good as any hardwood. Also, who doesn’t love the pale cream color and gorgeous straight grains? This explains why it’s used for nearly all woodworking applications.
Is beech wood expensive?
No, beech wood isn’t expensive. On the contrary, it’s an affordable hardwood, often priced in the same range as softer exotic hardwoods. For instance, the cost of oak wood is way above the cost of beech wood. As a result, many woodworkers use beech as a cheaper alternative to more expensive woods, like cherry and hard maple. A few also use it to mimic mahogany.
Is beech wood good for anything?
Yes, beech wood is good for a lot of things. First, it’s a popular furniture wood because it’s inexpensive and readily available. Additionally, beech is an exceptional flooring material, as it’s strong, durable, and scratch-resistant. Other common beech wood applications are veneering, boatbuilding, cabinetry, and wood turning.
Is beech real wood?
Yes, beech is real wood. There’s common confusion around its authenticity, given that it’s the most popular plywood material. Thus, many beginners think beech is manufactured wood. But no, it’s not. Natural beech is real wood sawn from Fagus trees, part of the Fagaceae family.
Next read: Is redwood a softwood?
Beechwood is one of the most popular wood types in Europe and the US. Its high availability and cost-effectiveness make it a darling among woodworkers and constructors.
More importantly, beech wood is very strong. At 1300 lbf on the Janka scale, it’s stronger than walnut boards and the American red oak. So, it’s highly dependable for regular furniture, cabinetry, and flooring projects.