Q: I have noticed that the price and availability of white birch - same as paper birch - is much better than yellow birch. What is the difference between these two species?
 
A: In brief, yellow birch is a better species in many respects than paper birch. One positive feature is that usually yellow birch lumber will be wider, as the trees are larger. The result is that you will find more high-grade lumber. Of course, as you mention, a concern is that yellow birch is more expensive. But you do get more for your money.
 

KNOWLEDGE CENTER

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Gene Wengert, aka The Wood Doctor, troubleshoots wood related problems, and explores lumber and veneer qualities and performance, species by species, in Wood Explorer, inside FDMC's Knowledge Center.


 
Here are comparison data on the two species, with a few editorial comments.  
 
Shrinkage - paper, 16.2 percent (green to oven-dry; total volumetric shrinkage); yellow, 16.8 percent. This difference is too small to be of practical importance.  
 
Color - paper is light brown; yellow is reddish brown. However, color variation between the two depends more on the kiln drying procedures and operation than on the species themselves.  
 
Density - paper weighs 40.5 lbs. per cubic foot at 8 percent MC; yellow is 45.5 lbs. per cubic foot. SG - that is, density compared to water - at 12 percent MC is 0.55 and 0.62 respectively. This 10 percent higher density with yellow birch means more than 20 percent more screw, staple, and nail holding power in yellow birch, plus higher strength and stiffness.  
 
Strength - paper has an MOR, the ultimate strength , of 12,300 psi; yellow, 16,600 psi. This is 25 percent stronger for yellow birch!  
 
Hardness - paper is 910 lbs.; yellow is 1,260 lbs. This is important too.  
 
Nail holding - for a 6-penny nail, paper is 199 lbs. withdrawal; yellow is 268 lbs.
 
Stiffness - paper has an MOE of 1.59 million psi; yellow has 2.01 million psi. This is not critical in most furniture, millwork, and cabinet operations.  
 
For comparison, the same numbers are listed for soft (red) and hard maple.
 
Shrinkage - 12.6 percent and 14.7 percent. Both maples are more stable.
 
Color - both are white to light reddish brown. Again, drying makes a big difference in color.  
 
Density - 40 and 46 lbs. per cubic foot; SG is 0.54 and 0.63. With similar densities - paper and soft maple are nearly the same, and yellow birch and hard maple are nearly the same - we will see similar strength and stiffness properties.  
 
Strength (MOR) - 13,400 and 15,800 psi.
 
Hardness - 950 and 1450 lbs.
 
Nail holding - 184 and 279 lbs.
 
Stiffness (MOE) - 1.64 and 1.83 million psi.

 

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