Choosing between birch and beech wood can be challenging due to their similarities. I’ve created this comprehensive guide comparing beech vs birch wood to help you avoid issues like warping cabinets or unattractive furniture.
Drawing on years of experience, I’ll break down their differences across various factors, enabling you to make informed wood selections for your projects.
Beech vs Birch Wood Overview
It’s easy to get confused about the complexities of wood types, preventing you from maximizing their assets. Birch and beech are among the most widely used types of dry wood for woodworking projects and furniture.
Here are the key things to know about beech wood and birch wood:
- Appearance: Birch wood has an attractive reddish-brown appearance with a more uniform texture. Beech is a plainer, yellowish wood with a flecked appearance.
- Hardness: Beech wood has a hardness of 1300 Janka. Meanwhile, birch ranges in hardness from 910-1470 Janka.
- Workability: Birch wood is more difficult to work by hand, although it takes well to power tools. In contrast, beech wood is easy to work by both hand and power tools.
- Durability: Both types of wood are perishable and prone to rot and insect attack, yet they can take preservatives well.
- Stability: Beech is prone to splitting and checking when drying. Birch wood tends to warp and move more when drying.
- Availability: Both are widely available lumber types.
- Uses: Birch is preferred for furniture due to its attractive appearance. You can use these woods for making floors and cabinets.
What Is Birch Wood?
Species in the deciduous hardwood genus Betula are the source of birch wood. This soft wood is common in the more northerly temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere and the boreal fringe.
Birch has 30 to 60 species, most of which are relatively short-lived pioneer species. The main ones you are likely to purchase in the United States are paper birch, sweet birch, river birch, and silver birch, commonly used for furniture.
You may also encounter silver birch or downy birch wood from Eurasia, especially in Russia, where it is the national tree. These wood types have somewhat similar properties, with the notable exception of weight and hardness. This genus is part of the Betulaceae family, related to the Fagaceae.
Uses of Birch Wood
Here is where I generally recommend using birch wood:
- Manufacture of wooden and plywood boards
- Carpentry, molding, and skirting boards
- Manufacture of veneer and toys
- Good firewood for burning
- Production of spears and discus discs
- Production of guitars and pianos
Over the years of using birch wood, I have found them beneficial because of these aspects:
- Easy to process and work with
- Can withstand shock loads
- Affordable price
- Quick to grow and find
While useful, birch wood also has some downsides:
- Vulnerable to bad weather
- Quite challenging to cut into small pieces without using power tools
- Cracks on drying
- Difficult to store
What Is Beech Wood?
Species in the genus Fagus, in the family Fagaceae, yield a smooth bark of the beech tree. This genus has some dozen species found across the Northern Hemisphere’s temperate regions, growing alongside maple trees in dense forests.
Perhaps you are buying birch wood in the United States. You will most likely encounter lumber from Fagus grandifolia, which grows in the eastern United States. There’s also the Fagus sylvatica from Europe.
These two kinds of wood are very similar in properties and price, although you will probably pay slightly more for wood imported from Europe, especially good furniture. Aesthetically, beech wood looks like light wood.
Uses of Beech Wood
Here is where I generally recommend using beech wood:
- Indoor furniture
- Carpentry, floors, cladding, doors
- Manufacture of plywood boards
- Production of veneer, carts, plows, and tool handles
- Production of musical instruments and toys
- Firewood for cooking
These are among the things I like about beech wood:
- Easy to maintain
- Ideal for tarnished outputs
- It can be varnished and stained very well
- Cheaper than other wood types
There are also some disadvantages to using beech wood:
- Prone to cracking
- It needs wood preservatives to become weather-resistant
- Not ideal for outdoor use
Comparing Birch vs. Beech Wood
Birch and beech are related types of wood with similar-sounding names and many similar properties, but these two kinds of wood are not the same. The differences will affect which one to use for your woodworking project.
Here is a comparison table for birch vs. beech wood covering the key factors:
|Factor||Birch Wood||Beech Wood|
|Appearance||Light reddish-brown heartwood, nearly white sapwood. Uniform or light wood color without distinct growth rings||Light wood color. Plain texture with conspicuous rays on quartersawn surfaces|
|Visual appeal||Attractive figure||Less visually appealing|
|Hardness||Janka 910-1470||Janka 1300|
|Resistance to humidity||Can resist humidity better||Prone to changes caused by humidity|
|Workability||Challenging to work by hand, although it takes well to power tools. Prone to dulling cutters||Easy to work by hand and power tools|
|Durability||Perishable, susceptible to rot and insect attack. Takes preservatives well||Perishable, susceptible to rot and insect attack. Takes preservatives well|
|Stability||Prone to warping and movement when drying||Prone to splitting, checking, and warping when drying. Significant movement in service|
|Suitability for DIY assembly||Good with glue, decent with screws and nails||Excellent with glue, good seal using with screws and nails|
You can use several types of wood for simple woodworking and other home improvement projects. The difference is that each of them has their own strengths and weaknesses.
The appearance is the most notable difference between the two. Particularly from older trees, the heartwood of birch is generally light reddish-brown, and the sapwood is completely white. There’s also the black birch wood, which has flame-like patterns.
The grain pattern is straight or slightly wavy, whereas figured wood is occasionally available with a wide, shallow curl in dark brown. The texture is fine and even, and the end grain is diffuse-porous. Some woodworkers compare the appearance of birch wood to that of maple.
On the other hand, beech is generally a light wood color like oak with a fine, plain texture on flatsawn surfaces. While there are different shades, quartersawn surfaces show a silvery fleck pattern. Compared to light wood, it has conspicuous rays, tiny pores, and straight grain. Woodworkers generally consider it a plain, unattractive wood.
These wood types have comparable weights. However, beech tends to be heavier than birch.
- River birch: 37 pounds per cubic foot
- Paper birch: 38 pounds per cubic foot
- Yellow birch: 43 pounds per cubic foot
- Sweet birch: 46 pounds per cubic foot
- European beech: 44 pounds per cubic foot
- American beech: 45 pounds per cubic foot
Both birch wood and beech wood are perishable and will rot quickly, making them susceptible to attack from pests. Moreover, they are permeable to preservatives. Birch has an average lifespan of 25 years, whereas beech can last longer if well-maintained.
However, birch tree bark is fairly durable, allowing it to withstand shock loads due to the absence of natural resins. Despite being soft, its good flexibility properties make it an easy wood to maintain. The downside is that it is susceptible to degradation caused by fungal attacks.
Beech is a hardwood, making it resistant to traction, bending, compression, and external stresses when making furniture. Unfortunately, it’s highly sensitive to humidity and tends to deform and result in structural changes.
Hardness and Mechanical Properties
The hardness of dry wood depends on its specific weight, so it’s crucial to consider bulk density when comparing hardness. Birch wood and beech wood have high crush strength. Both kinds of wood have low stiffness and high bend strength and respond superbly to steam bending.
Beech’s Janka hardness is 1300, higher than paper birch at 910. In comparison, yellow birch has a Janka hardness of 1260, and sweet birch’s hardness is 1470.
Both kinds of wood respond well to steam bending. Both types of wood are perishable and susceptible to insect attack.
Seasoning refers to the process of drying wood correctly to eliminate dampness. This is a crucial procedure to turn wood into firewood.
Birch dries slowly, with little degradation. In contrast, beech dries rapidly, although it tends to split and check. It is also liable to warp and tends to move a lot in service.
You can work birch fairly quickly with power tools, although it has something of a dulling effect on cutters. It is pretty challenging to work by hand. On the other hand, you can work beech easily with hand and power tools.
Both kinds of wood allow the efficient use of nails, screws, and glue. They also take stain and polish very well. Birch is excellent for white enameling.
Availability and Sustainability
Both birch wood and beech wood are readily available. Neither the CITES Appendices nor the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists these wood types as threatened.
However, birch is easier to find because there are more local sources. It’s also sustainable because of its low transportation footprint.
Birch has a higher moisture resistance, making it a good indoor or outdoor furniture option. Beech has less moisture resistance, making furniture from this tree susceptible to high humidity. Overall, cedar is better than beech and birch at resisting moisture and being ideal for outdoor furniture.
Due to the lack of cavities, hardwood contains a higher calorific value than soft firewood. For example, beech has a calorific value of 2100 kWh per cubic meter of firewood. Meanwhile, birch has 1900 kWh per cubic meter.
Although birch burns faster, it’s much easier to light than beech. With beech having a higher calorific value, it has more energy per volume when burned. Reminder to keep beech furniture away from excessive heat.
It reacts well to high-temperature treatment for making furniture and exterior applications. Thus, it tends to burn longer while producing a pleasant smell. This is also why birch is commonly used as firewood in Scandinavian countries.
Ease of Use and Maintenance
Birch wood and beech wood are sometimes hard to cut. I used to experience a dull effect on saw blades, so I switched to carbide-tipped blades.
In terms of maintenance, birch is much easier to care for. It doesn’t split easily, mainly when using a stabilizer as you cut through. Whether it’s beech or birch wood, be careful not to use stiff-bristled brushes to avoid damaging the surface.
While there’s not much price difference, birch tends to be a bit more expensive than beech. However, this still depends on the quality, quantity, and cutting process. If you’re looking for something like birch that’s cheaper, maple gives a similar look to birch for a reduced price.
Final Verdict: Birch or Beech Wood?
Based on the properties and comparison between birch wood and beech wood, I recommend birch as the best option for most applications.
- Birch wood has a more visually appealing figure with red-brown heartwood and uniform texture. Beech is considered quite plain.
- The hardness of birch varies by the tree source, although it is generally slightly higher. Both provide good durability.
- Birch is more difficult to work by hand, although it takes well to power tools. Beech wood is easy to work on both by hand and by tools.
- Both kinds of wood are prone to rot and insect damage if left untreated. Birch wood tends to warp more during drying.
- The cost is very similar for both types of wood. Availability is comparable.
Which Wood Is Better for Furniture?
Along with oak, beech and birch are among the most popular wood choices for Scandinavian countries and Nordic-inspired interior furniture. Woodworkers use birch wood for aspects of furniture making, as it has a pleasing appearance and works well.
Some furniture makers prefer beech for chairs and parts of furniture that curve. Woodworkers have historically used beech as a secondary wood for the backs and sides of dressers or the legs of tables and chairs. Its uniform patterns and color also make it appealing for modern decorations.
Which Wood Is Better for Floors?
Most birch used in the United States is hard enough to be suitable for floor projects. Woodworkers have historically used birch wood for this purpose in the North-East. Wood from this tree is usually more costly for floors, although it is easy to work and holds up reasonably well to traffic.
Which Wood Is Better for Cabinetry?
Similar to oak, a birch tree is a suitable option for cabinetry, although you must adequately protect it against moisture. Some cabinetmakers consider cabinets made with birch wood to have a dated look, as the distinctive figure of birch was in fashion in the 1960s and 1970s.
Beech wood does not impart odor or flavor to food and does not dull knife blades. However, you must properly seal it to avoid warping from humidity.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Beech the Same as Birch?
No, beech and birch are two different types of wood despite their names sounding alike. The most noticeable difference between the two woods is their appearance. Birch wood has an attractive red-brown color with a uniform texture, while beech wood has a plainer, yellowish appearance.
Are Beech and Birch Woods High Quality?
Yes, both beech and birch woods are considered types of high-quality hardwood, though birch is generally regarded as the more attractive and workable of the two. They are durable and strong, take stain and polish beautifully, and are commonly used for furniture, floors, and cabinetry.
How Should I Choose Between Birch vs. Beech?
When choosing between birch wood and beech wood, consider the appearance and workability required for your project. Birch is generally better if an attractive look is important. However, if easy workability is the priority, beech may be preferable as it is easier to work by hand and takes well to power tools.
While beech wood is suitable for cabinetry, the beauty and versatility of birch wood make it a better option for most projects where the wood’s appearance matters. Both kinds of wood are highly suitable for flooring or cabinetry applications, provided they are appropriately protected against moisture and pests to compensate for their perishable nature.