When choosing between different wood species, the primary considerations would be cost, availability, appearance, and durability. Two types of wood that are commonly compared and used by woodworkers are birch and beech. When you compare both kinds of wood, each one has its strong and weak points. The differences may not be very significant but it is worthwhile knowing them to get the most out of each type of wood.
Birch vs Beech is an interesting comparison because of the similar features of each type of wood. Birchwood is easy to process. We also consider beech to be durable and dimensionally stable. Birch is lighter than beech in both weight and color. You can use birch without having to waterproof it but we cannot say the same for beech.
Birch vs. Beech
Birch and beech as we mentioned above are similar to each other. Both have the color of honey or maybe light brown or slightly darker. You get a tighter and straighter wood grain pattern with beech. Birch tends to have swirls that are dark brown. Beech has a more uniform grain pattern.
The distinguishing factor between birch and beech is the small reddish dots or flecks that beech exhibits that you will not see in birch. These flecks look like the pattern in birdseye maple which makes it sometimes resemble maple. Therefore the deciding factor in identifying beech is to look for the dots in the woodgrain pattern.
Birch grows primarily in Europe and also in Russia where it is the national tree. It also grows in Asia. However, you will find yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) in the northeastern region of the United States. The trees grow to heights of 100 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 3 feet.
Birch is a light wood and although it occurs commonly in Europe, yellow birch grows in the United States. Because this wood is strong yet elastic and soft, it makes good furniture. We also use it in the construction industry. But the primary use of birch, particularly Baltic birch is to make plywood.
American beech (Fagus grandifolia) grows in the eastern region of the United States. The trees are tall, growing up to heights of 100 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 5 feet. Beech is a light-colored wood and can vary between grey-white to pinkish. Sometimes you will see a red heartwood. The woodgrain pattern is fine and straight.
Beech is good for exterior applications if subjected to high-temperature treatment. But it also makes good furniture and we also use it to make veneer, flooring, and musical instruments. Although beech is a bland-looking wood it is strong and hard and presents a cost-effective solution for woodworkers.
Birch vs. Beech: Appearance
The major part of birch timber is sapwood, which makes it pale. Therefore, you can identify birch by its white to pale pink tone. Some birchwood looks completely white.
You may also see some figure pieces in birch with curl patterns similar to those in cherry wood. There is no clear demarcation between the growth rings which makes birch dull-looking.
Beech is also a light wood with little demarcation between the heartwood and sapwood. Beech has a straight grain pattern with a fine or medium texture with a moderate, natural luster. But it comes in different shades, so you can choose your wood accordingly.
Overall, beech is darker than birch and you will see beige and brown shades. You will see this, especially with beech veneer, due to the heat and steam process used to manufacture the wood.
Birch vs. Beech: Durability
Birch doesn’t produce natural resins. Although it is hard and mechanically strong and can withstand shock loads, it will quickly deteriorate if exposed to moisture for long periods. It is also susceptible to fungus and rot. So, we consider birch as a perishable wood.
Beech is flexible being comparably hard at 1,300 lbf. Janka hardness. It is easily workable but dimensionally unstable in the presence of moisture. Beech responds well to steam bending. It makes good furniture, but you will need to treat it against parasites and woodworm.
Birch vs. Beech: Maintenance
Birch is an easy wood to maintain, but a stabilizer will help to stabilize the wood. You can wash the wood but take care not to use stiff-bristled brushes that can damage the wood surface. It does not split easily.
Beech on the other hand, splits easily and won’t survive if exposed to excessive heat. Therefore, it is advisable to keep beech furniture away from excessive heat. Also, do not place it in areas of direct sunlight.
Birch vs. Beech: Workability and Uses
Birch is a comfortable wood to work with using both machine and hand tools. You should be careful about the knotted or curly sections where tearout can occur. Birch is easy to work with, and you will find both kinds of wood easy to apply glue, stain, or a finish.
We use birch to make boxes, turned objects, interior trim, plywood boards, veneer, curved moldings, toys, and curved furniture. Birch also makes good firewood because it burns easily, gives off a lot of heat, and emits a pleasant aroma.
Beechwood is also easy to work with and you can make carved objects and furniture with it. The wood is a bit harder than birch, making good flooring. However, the downside of beech is that it tends to shrink. It makes indoor furniture, flooring, doors and windows, cladding, and plywood. We also use beech to produce agricultural implements like tool handles, plows, and hoes.
Birch vs. Beech: Price
Birch costs a bit more than beech. It depends on how the lumber is cut and the quality of the wood. But there is not much price difference between the two types of wood and neither is a very expensive type of wood. However, Baltic birch plywood can cost considerably more than either type of wood.
Birch vs. Beech: Sustainability
Neither birch nor beech is on the list of endangered species of wood.
Birch vs. Beech: Any other characteristics
Although birch is well-known for making plywood, beech has no special characteristics.
Birch vs. Beech: Comparison Table
|White to reddish-brown
|Pale cream color
|Mechanically durable but no resistance to rot or insects
|Hardness (Janka Scale)
|Easy to maintain
|Moderately priced except for beech plywood
|Suitability for outdoors
|Indoor use only
|Indoor use only
|Suitability for wood carving
|Easy to work with
|Easy to work with
|Special features if any
|Well-known for making plywood
If you are a woodworker who lives in the United States, you will find birch and beech as viable options for most of your woodworking projects. Neither of these types of wood is expensive, and neither beech nor birch has a striking appearance. However, both types are durable, stable, and easy to work with.
If you have a basic project that doesn’t call for striking looks or a spectacular finish, you can use either of these types of wood with satisfactory results. So, for your next woodworking project, consider using either of these fine, sustainable types of wood for a satisfying woodworking project.