Beech

Botanical name Fagus sylvatica L.

Historical and cultural information:
In times of poverty, and also in the 20th century, oil was extracted from beech nuts for human consumption. Logs of beech wood could be found in every house because of their high heating power and for the need of ashes to produce lye. Beech wood is produced in steamed pieces one meter long which can be easily bent maintaining the new shape. This has made possible, for instance, Michael Thonet’s worldwide success for creating millions of long lasting and inexpensive chairs. Even if not bent, Beech is used for manufacturing inexpensive furniture.

General information
With a 9% presence in production forests, beech is not only one of the most common types of hardwood but also one of the most important. Without the impact of past forest management, it would be considerately more common and it would have a more widespread presence in our forests. Beech is therefore called the “mother” of the forest. Isolated beech trees grow a wide and extensive crown, which is rarely able to develop inside the forest. Beech trees can reach the age of 300 years, however for commercial purposes logs are used between the age of 100 and 140 years.

Characteristics
The clear wood, nearly white, takes on the well-known pinkish colour after steaming and drying. Colour shades to light yellow with light. Beech often has a reddish-brown false heartwood with irregular star-like edges. Once described as a typically widespread porosity wood, nowadays some experts classify it as semi-widespread porosity wood because the pores in late wood are less numerous and smaller. The medullary rays are clearly visible in all cutting sections and characterize the pattern of the wood especially in the tangential cutting plane, where they appear as short spindles a few millimetres long.

Properties
Beech wood is heavy (680kg/m³ dry density) and hard (Brinell hardness 34N/mm²) and unfortunately it shrinks considerably. The poor stability retention with changing humidity levels must be taken into consideration, especially for the larger sections. Thanks to its even structure, beech wood allows for an easy and clean processing and is suitable for shaping, turning and carving. Following adequate steaming, beech wood can be easily cut or peeled. Steamed wood also bends very well. Beech tends to bend and split during drying. For this reason the stacking of the boards and the drying process must be carried out with great care. The dense and smooth surface has to be treated with fairly liquid products. Beech wood is easy to colour in nearly any colour tone. It is not durable (durability class 5) and is very impregnable (not impregnable when the heart is red).

Use
Beech wood is widely used to manufacture interior furniture such as chairs (mainly in bent wood), veneering and plywood (also in bent plywood), stairs and parquet (in boards and mosaic). This wood is also used for making toys, kitchenware, brushes and parts of tools, as well as packaging such as fruit crates. Impregnated with tar, beech is still used for railway sleepers. Besides this, beech is used in the production of cellulose (from which textile fibres are obtained) and of various types of wooden panels. Beech is good firewood and is also fit for producing charcoal.