American Beech: No Day at the Beach
By Jo-Ann Kaiser | Posted: 08/02/2012 8:17AM
EDITOR'S NOTE: Article excerpted from Wood of the Month archives.
American beech, or Fagus grandifolia, is the only species of beech native to the United States. Long considered a general utility hardwood, beech’s biggest claims to fame might be its strength and bending properties. American beech is often compared to oak and European beech in strength properties and is exceptionally good for steam bending.
The wood is usually straight-grained, with a fine and even texture. It is an excellent choice for turnery and has long been used in woodenware, cooperage and food containers because the wood is odorless and tasteless.
American beech’s long list of other uses includes furniture, chair and furniture frames, flooring, interior joinery, handles, boxes, crates, toys and bending stock.
Fagus grandifolia of the Family Fagaceae
American beech, beech, Carolina beech, gray beech,
red beech, ridge beech, stone beech, white beech, winter beech
Average height is 80 feet, but can grow to 100 feet or taller with diameters of 3 feet or more. Average weight is 45 pounds per cubic foot.
Experts recommend careful drying to avoid distortion, splitting and other problems.
Wood suitable for steam bending.
Wood machines easily.
Beech is a hard, strong and close-grained wood.
Wood rates high in strength and shock resistance.
Easily stained, painted and bleached.
Experts recommend close control of gluing.
Beech can be used as an inexpensive secondary wood for painted furniture. It also has construction uses, such as pallets, railroad ties, etc.
Beech has a market for use as drawer sides, backs and other parts, but there are so many other woods that will fulfill that application that are more stable — a drawer side manufacturer doesn’t need to worry about making 100 sets of drawers and throwing away 12 of them, says a supplier.
Some hardwood vendors prefer European beech, which they find more stable than American beech. For instance, with American beech, one supplier said if he received a shipment of 4,000 to 5,000 feet of it, he would end up throwing away 700 to 800 feet because it would twist and turn.
According to that supplier, he gets approximately one call a year for American beech. For fine furniture and architectural millwork, it has almost no use because there are so many other woods that are more stable.
Steamed American beech is almost identical to European beech.
About the Author
Jo-Ann KaiserJo-Ann Kaiser has been covering the woodworking industry for 31+ years. She is a contributing editor for the Woodworking Network and has been writing the Wood of the Month column since its inception in 1986.