Woodworking Characteristics of Beech
European Beech - Fagus sylvatica
Other names: English beech, Carpathian beech, Danish beech, French beech, Slavonian beech, etc according to origin.
Beech usually attains a height of 100 ft, occasionally 150 ft, and an average diameter of 4 ft, sometimes considerably more. In close forest the bole may be straight and clear of branches for 50 ft, but the length of clear bole is more often about 30 ft. It grows best on chalk and limestone soils.
It is found in southern half of England and eastern half of Scotland on the continent, from south Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, i.e. roughly between latitudes 30 degree and 40 degree N; and in western Asia. It grows in large quantities in Yugoslavia, Austria, and France and in Czechoslovakia, Romania, Germany, Denmark and Poland.
The Timber - General Description
The wood is typically straight grained, with a fine, even texture; whitish or very pale brown, darkening in time to light reddish brown, normally with no clear distinction between sapwood and heartwood although some trees show a dark colored heartwood core.
Irregular, dark colored zones (‘rotkern’ or ‘red heart’) are of more common occurrence in Continental Beech, owing, it is believed, to the effect of severe frosts. The broad rays are distinctly visible, especially on longitudinal surfaces, where they appear as dark lines for flecks against lighter background. The quality varies considerably according to climate and local conditions of growth. Thus home grown beech and timber imported from Denmark and northern Europe is typically hard and dense, averaging about 45 lb/cu. Ft, seasoned, and about 60 lb/cu. ft, green (80% moisture content).
By comparison, beech from Central Europe, notably Slovenian beech from Yugoslavia and Romanian beech, is milder and slightly lighter in weight, of order of 45 lb/cu. ft, seasoned. The reddish brown color of much of the central European beech is due to the steaming treatment commonly applied before shipment.
This species seasons fairly well and rapidly but nevertheless may be classed as being moderately refractory timber. There is a tendency for the wood to check, split and warp, and shrinkage in drying is very considerable. It is claimed that the common Continental practice of steaming accelerates the subsequent seasoning of wood but laboratory experiments have failed to confirm this claim. Some difference of opinion likewise exists as to effects such as a treatment has on the machining properties.
Kiln schedule C has given satisfactory results.
Green to 12% moisture content
about 1 1/8 in./ft or 9.5%
about 9/16 in./ft or 4.5%
Moisture content in 90% humidity
Moisture content in 60% humidity
Corresponding tangential movement
3/8 in./ft or 3.2%
Corresponding radial movement
13/64 in./ft or 1.7%
Beech is one of the strongest of home grown timbers. In unseasoned state it strength properties are very similar to those of oak, but after seasoning it is about 20% superior in bending strength, stiffness, hardness, shear strength and resistance to splitting, and some 40% more resistant to impact loads.
Wood Bending Properties
Beech is exceptionally good wood for steam bending properties and , with reasonable control of end pressures, pieces containing knots or irregular grain may be bent successfully.
In tests carried out at the Laboratory on a limited amount of material grown on the continent, the variation in bending properties from piece to piece was sometimes considerable, and much greater than is usually found with beech grown in the British Isles.
Resistance to Insect Attack
Damage by Ambrosia (pinhole borer) beetles is occasionally present. The bark and sapwood of logs and converted timber are liable to attack by the longhorn beetle, phymatodes testaceus. It is immune from attack by powder post beetles (Lyctidae) but is susceptible to furniture beetles. Anobium punctatum and Ptilinus pectinicornis.
Natural Durability - Perishable
Preservative Treatment - Permeable
There is a tendency for the saw to bind when green timber is being converted, and young material often splits lengthwise. Beech varies in working properties, according to conditions of locality and growth, from mild to fairly tough, the latter, when dry, being somewhat difficult to saw and tending to burn in cross cutting and drilling as the clearance to the teeth or drill is reduced through dulling.
Usually, the timber works fairly readily and to a good finish in most hand and machine operations. It turns particularly well owing to its close texture. Having a plain and uniform grain, beech lends itself to staining and gives good results with polish saw type E is recommended (type F for dense material). The timber can be glued satisfactorily.
Veneer and Plywood
Beech is widely used in Europe for plywood manufacture.
Beech, both homegrown and from the Continent, is the hardwood used in largest quantities in UK. It is mainly employed for furniture and cabinet making, turnery, including tool handles, shoe heels, toys, bobbins, domestic woodware, brush ware, clog soles etc. the largest consumer is the furniture industry, which in addition to using the home grown, purchases large quantities from Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, France, and Sweden. This imported material usually comes in graded and often steamed and dry condition. In the war, beech was considered next best to American walnut for rifle butts. The timber makes good plywood and a large quantity is manufactured and imported from the Continent.
Japanese Beech - Fagus spp.
Japanese Beech also known as buna in Japan is the product of two of possibly three species of Fagus. It is very similar in general character to European beech. Judging by the limited number of samples examined, the timber is fairly mild and moderately light in weight, about 39 lb/cu. ft, seasoned i.e. comparable to central European rather than home grown beech. The timber is used for the same purposes as European beech.
Silver Beech - Nothofagus menziesii
Other Names: Southland beech (Although it is understood that practically the whole of New Zealand beech timber imported into the UK is furnished by N. Menzeisii, at least two other species, N. fusca, red beech and N. truncate, hard beech or clinker beech are of potential importance)
Silver beech grows 100 ft in height, with a frequently buttressed trunk 2-5 ft in diameter. It is found in both North and South Islands of New Zealand.
The Timber - General Description
The wood is of lustrous, uniform pinkish brown or sometimes a pale salmon color, and has a fine, even texture. It is similar in appearance to closely related rauli (Nothofagus procera) and bears a superficial resemblance to European beech but lacks the characteristic large rays of the latter. The sapwood occupies a narrow outer zone and is lighter in color than the heartwood; between the two is a zone intermediate in color which for most practical purposes should be regarded as sapwood.
Silver beech is somewhat variable in density; the weight of timber from Southland and probably elsewhere in South Island, the source of most of the export timber, is about 33 lb/cu. ft in seasoned condition. That from North Island is, in general, considerably harder and heavier. The same tendency to decrease in density from North to South has been observed in other species of Nothofagus in New Zealand.
Red Beech (N. Fusca) and hard beech (N. truncate) are similar in general appearances but both are appreciably heavier than silver beech, an averaging 43 and 47 lb/cu. ft in the seasoned condition, respectively.
The timber appears to season fairly easily but the difficulties in extracting the moisture increase rapidly with thickness of material. There is some tendency for end splitting to develop but distortion is comparatively slight.
Kiln schedule E appears to be suitable.
Drying from about 30% to 12% moisture content:
about ¾ in./ft or 6.0%
about 3/8 in./ft or 3.0%
The unseasoned timber is comparable with unseasoned homegrown beech in its mechanical properties. After seasoning it is 15-20% inferior in bending strength, stiffness, compressive strength and resistance to splitting and about 30% inferior in hardness and in shear strength. Its resistance to shock is of the same order as that of home grown beech.
Wood Bending Properties
Tests carried out on a limited amount of material have indicated that it is a good bending wood. Slight buckling is, however, not infrequently produced on bends of comparatively large radii.
For solid bends (steamed):
Resistance to Insect Attack
Standing trees are reported sometimes to be attacked by ambrosia (pinhole borer) beetles which may also infest logs. It is reported in New Zealand to be susceptible to attack by common furniture beetle (Anobium punctatum)
Natural Durability: Non Durable
Preventative Treatment: Extremely resistant
The timber maybe worked fairly easily and cleanly in most hand and machine operations. It is about 20% milder than medium quality European beech and has rather dulling effect. Straight grained material finished smoothly, but a reduction of cutting angle of 20 degree is needed in planning curly timber. It has reasonably good nailing and screwing properties and takes a satisfactory finish with stain or polish. Saw type E is recommended.
Silver beech is suitable for flooring, furniture, turnery and other purposes for which European beech is used. It is also employed in New Zealand for butter boxes, cheese crates and other food containers and in motor body work.