By Jo-Ann Kaiser
By Jo-Ann Kaiser
OTHER NAMES HEIGHT/WEIGHT PROPERTIES In the 17th century, beech was considered the poor man's furniture wood and often resembled walnut or mahogany after finishing. Its reputation was given a positive boost, however, when it was discovered to be an excellent wood for steam bending for use in bentwood furniture.
In the 17th century, beech was considered the poor man's furniture wood and often resembled walnut or mahogany after finishing. Its reputation was given a positive boost, however, when it was discovered to be an excellent wood for steam bending for use in bentwood furniture.
Today, European beech is a high-end item. The wood, normally white, pale cream or pale brown, is steamed or weathered to a pinkish or reddish brown tone and used for architectural applications and high-end cabinetry and furniture.
"The wood has been very popular for high-end office furniture, residential furniture and architectural uses for the past five years," said Attridge. "Beech became popular because it is available in dimensions you can't always get in woods like cherry. Also, as the price of anigre and cherry and maple went up, beech offered a good, attractive alternative."
Attridge said his company buys beech logs during the European season, which begins in late September or October and runs through April. "We look for the best quality logs for producing white lumber or veneer," he said. For this, the company seeks out logs which are cool and without stains, since beech has a tendency to stain. Some of the beech lumber and veneer is sold in its original white form, although the biggest demand is for steamed material.
Attridge said there are a few ways of steaming. One method steams the wood to a light pink while another gives a heavier, darker tone to the lumber or veneer. Steaming gives the wood and veneer an interesting color, "an earthy pink," according to Attridge, and also can camouflage any defects.
Beech has a close grain and good structure that makes it suitable for turnery, whittling, and carving. It has been a popular wood for centuries in the making of treen. Treen is a kitchen utensil or other item such as snuff boxes, bowls, platters, cups, ladles, chopping blocks, clothes pegs, mortar and pestle, all carved from wood. Treen is now a highly sought-after collectible.
In the book Decorating with Wood, author Jane Struthers says that treen was once part of the courting ritual. "Many young men who were tongue-tied in the presence of their beloveds, or who simply enjoyed romantic gestures would turn their treen into love tokens which carried secret messages. A spoon with a heart signified love, or spheres carved inside openwork cages showed the girl that her admirer's heart was held captive by her charms." Struthers said two objects linked together by a pair of spectacles either meant "I want to see you" or "love is blind."
Beech trees are commonly named for their country of origin. American beech is Fagus grandifolia, while European beeches are from the species Fagus sylvatica and weigh slightly less than their American counterparts. Japanese beech includes all of the beeches used commercially and is the lightest in weight.
European beech is one of the most commercially important trees in the United Kingdom. More European beech is used in the United Kingdom than any other hardwood. In the UK, beech is referred to as "Mother of the Forest," since it is one of the more prominent woods. European beech's existence is said to have helped the other hardwoods thrive because its leaves have a potent "drip" that kills weeds. The leaves also decompose to add to the richness of the soil.
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