Wood of the Month:
European Beech Gaining Popularity In the States

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

Fagus sylvatica of the Family Fagaceae

Common beech, European beech, German, Danish, French, etc. beech according to the country of origin.

Beech trees typically grow to heights of 100 to 130 feet but can grow as tall as 150 feet. Average weight is 45 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of 0.72.

Beech can be difficult to dry. Steaming helps eliminate drying problems, which can include checking, warping, splitting, and shrinkage. The wood works well depending on the method of seasoning. Badly dried timber will machine poorly, but generally the wood works well with hand or power tools with moderate blunting on cutting surfaces. Wood is easy to shape and turn. Preboring is recommended before nailing. Wood glues and stains well. Finishes very well with a wide variety of materials.

Beech trees grow in North America and Europe as well as in western Asia, Japan and North Africa. European beech has long been a popular commercial timber and veneer in Europe - in fact, in the United Kingdom, European beech is one of the most used hardwoods.

In the United States, European beech is a relative newcomer, but it is making inroads with cabinetry, furniture, flooring and millwork manufacturers.

Douglas Martin, president of sales and marketing for Pollmeier, Inc., in Portland, OR, says his company has been importing German beech to the U.S. market for the past two years from its parent company, Pollmeier Massivholz GmbH. Martin thinks the market for European beech will grow as American customers become familiar with the properties of the wood. He stresses that European beech has properties that make it superior to American beech. "American beech is a different species and makes up only about 1 percent of domestic hardwood lumber production. It's multi-stemmed so it has more knot structure, and it is shorter-lived, so it tends to rot from the center. It also competes with 98 percent of the other species for light and soil and water, making it a more 'stressed' tree.

"European beech makes up 57 percent of the German forest," he continues. "It is the primary hardwood, and so it is less stressed. The species tends to grow tall and straight up to 40 feet with clear boles. It turns red in the heart when it ages, but it doesn't have much of a color disparity between the heartwood and sapwood. You get a higher yield with clear fiber and less defects. It machines better than American beech, and its light, uniform color takes all sorts of finishes well."

The origin of the wood and the manner of drying are said to be key in how the material will work. Trees from plantations or well-managed forests yield material that is easier to work and show less stress than trees that grow in the wild. Martin says the material Pollmeier cuts in Germany is plantation grown and lightly steamed. The wood is uniform in color with a density similar to red oak.

Bentwood and Beech
Beech trees have become well known for their ability to be steam bent. Beech and ash are two woods that, because of their cell construction, become supple and pliable during steaming.

Beech is more closely associated with bentwood furniture, most likely due to the fact that beech was cheaper than ash. "Viennese cabinetmaker Michael Thonet (1796-1871) is credited with developing the steaming method that made it possible to create "structurally sound and aesthetically desirable furniture to be produced in huge quantities at economic prices without recourse to traditional expensive joining," write the authors of The Encyclopedia of Wood.

Beech is often found in bentwood rockers, chairs and hat stands because of its excellent ability to be transformed into curved parts via steaming.

Versatile Material
European beech has long been a favorite for cabinetry, furniture, high end joinery, sports equipment, toys, bobbins, musical instruments, flooring, heavy construction, corestock and utility plywood. Beech is a strong, hard and heavy wood with a close grain that has traditionally been used to make tool handles. Because it is non-toxic and has no taste or odor, the wood is a popular choice for woodenware and food containers. Solid material is used for barrels and boxes. The wood's unique properties make it excellent for use in applications where it comes in contact with other woods, making it a good material for drawers, fixtures, and guides. Friction makes beech wear well and drawers operate better with use, say experts.


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