As a woodworker, you would have to deal with different wood species having different properties. These woods would vary in appearance, texture, hardness and stiffness. A better understanding of the properties of various types of wood can enable you to choose the best wood for your projects.
Oak and beech are two of the most prominent hardwoods that you can find in the United States. We use them for a variety of applications because they are both strong, hard and versatile. Beech serves as a more cost-effective alternative for oak, but throughout the country, you will see both of these types of wood in several places.
Oak vs Beech
Both oak and beech play a prominent role in woodworking projects by the common properties they share. But there are some differences as well, and we cover the main characteristics of each wood in this post.
Both types of wood make furniture, countertops and flooring, the three main categories of most woods.
Both red oak and beech are identified by their reddish-brown color. However, white oak is paler, distinguishing itself from the other two kinds of wood. You will find beech a strong wood with a fine texture and quite dense.
Beech is easy to work with using both hand and machine tools. You will also find that beech stains quite readily. Red oak is pink to light tan but with a reddish tint. It is a bit coarse-textured. Oak is not as hard as beech but is quite strong and responds well to steam bending.
The density of red oak tends to vary, and it can be hard on the blades of cutting tools. Beech has a more or less constant density and goes easier on blades than oak.
It takes a long time for an oak tree to grow to maturity. The long growing time makes it difficult to find an abundant supply of harvestable oak trees. The limited availability of oak timber makes it a bit costly.
We equate oak to strength and solidity because of its high density and weight. It is an easy wood to stain, but it’s best is brought out by using a transparent or semi-transparent finish. We usually do not paint oak wood.
The main distinguishing feature of oak is its dark shades and beautiful wood grain patterns. This look may not be the preference of everyone, especially those who look for a more chic or modernistic finish.
The high durability and strength of oak make it more than suitable for all types of furniture. It also exhibits a reasonable resistance to moisture and humidity, making it a suitable candidate for hardwood flooring.
Beech (Fagus grandifolia) is native to the eastern region of the United States. The trees grow as high as 130 feet and the tree trunks up to 5 feet in diameter.
The wood has a fine to medium grain but is not a very attractive wood in its natural state. It has the unique property of becoming dark with a reddish tint after steaming. It is common practice to steam beech lumber to make it look more appealing.
Beech is one of the more hard-wearing types of wood as it is strong and hard. But is susceptible to insect attack. Keeping beech indoors with a suitable finish will help to prolong its life. Therefore, we use this wood for making indoor furniture.
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Oak vs Beech: Appearance
You will find oak in different colors, but oak’s primary claim to fame is its unique grain patterns. You will not find two identical pieces of oak wood. It paves the way for being creative and innovative in the way you work oak and finish it. The beauty of oak is further enhanced by its natural golden color.
Coming to beech, it is more about its use rather than looks. If you want to make beech more attractive, you need to steam it. Beech comes in various textures and it is one of the characteristics that contribute to good beech veneer. Beech plywood looks good due to steam processing while manufacturing the material.
It is usually used for indoor applications, but the wood tends to become splotchy if stained. The best approach is to use a clear finish.
Oak vs Beech: Durability
Considering the time that oak trees take to grow, it results in highly durable lumber. Of course, as with most woods, oak will become more durable with the right type of finish in combination with a sealer.
Beech is moderately hard with a 1,300 lbf. Janka hardness rating. So, you will find this wood durable and long-lasting and therefore suitable for making good-quality furniture, cabinets and flooring.
This wood will not scratch or dent easily, but oak and beech both will not withstand insect attack. Mostly, you won’t find either of these woods used for outdoor applications.
Oak vs Beech: Maintenance
You will find oak easy to maintain and you can clean it with soapy water and then wash it off without damaging the wood. Every year or so, if you remove the finish and reapply it, you can enhance the life of oak furniture and floors considerably.
With beech wood, you can lightly steam it to enhance its appearance. If you do some basic maintenance every few years or so, it can improve the durability of the wood.
Oak vs Beech: Workability and Uses
Oak works well with hand tools and machine tools. It shows a moderately high level of shrinkage. As a result, beech has mediocre dimensional stability, particularly in the case of flatsawn boards.
Oak also reacts with iron in the presence of water, which results in discoloration and staining of the wood. It however responds satisfactorily to steam bending, stains, and glues. It also finishes quite nicely.
Oak makes cabinets, furniture, flooring, veneer, and interior trim. We also use this wood for wall paneling. Oak also plays a prominent role in the tannery industry due to its high tannin content.
We also use oak to make whiskey barrels thanks to the unique flavor it imparts. Japanese oak makes musical drums and white oak has medicinal value.
We can consider beech to be an easy wood to work with. It glues, turns, finishes, and machines quite well. It also has the added advantage of responding to steam bending.
Other than making furniture and plywood, beech makes lumber, veneer, flooring, crates, pallets, railroad ties, musical instruments, turned objects, and other small wooden objects.
Oak vs Beech: Price
An oak tree takes decades to grow, sometimes even more than 100 years. The oldest oak tree on record was the Mingo Oak in West Virginia, United States, and was estimated to be over 500 years at the time of its death in 1938. The wood is dense and heavy, pushing up transport costs. The United States also imports several species of oak from overseas. All the above make oak more expensive than beech.
Beech is cheaper than oak. You will find it easily all over the United States. One exception here is beech plywood, which, depending on the grade can cost more than some types of oak.
Oak vs Beech: Sustainability
You need to exercise caution while procuring oak. A lot of the oak in the U.S. comes from the U.K. and various parts of Europe. You should ensure that you buy FSC-certified wood, in which case you can consider it sustainable.
Beech is also sustainable and does not feature on the list of endangered species of wood.
Oak vs Beech: Any Other Characteristics
Oak is well-known for its use for making whiskey barrels. It is also widely used by the tanner industry.
Beech is a popular wood for smoking meats due to the nutty flavor that it imbibes into the food. Beech is also used by the beer industry.
Oak vs Beech: Comparison Table
|Botanical name||Quercus rubra||Fagus grandifolia|
|Color||Light to medium brown with a reddish tint||Pale cream color|
|Durability||Highly durable||Mechanically durable but no resistance to rot or insects|
|Hardness (Janka Scale)||1,220 lbf.||1,300 lbf.|
|Strength||Extremely strong||Strong wood|
|Maintenance||Less maintenance than beech||Less maintenance|
|Price||Expensive to highly expensive||Moderately priced except for beech plywood|
|Suitability for outdoors||No||Indoor use only|
|Suitability for wood carving||Yes||Good to make turned objects|
|Workability||Yes||Easy to work with|
|Availability||Abundantly available||Easily available|
|Special features if any||Used in the tannery and brewery industries||Nothing significant|
Oak and beech are two types of wood that you need to take seriously as a woodworker. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. If you are looking for the ultimate, dignified look in your furniture and flooring, you can use oak.
But if you are not too concerned about the appearance of the wood you use and are looking for a budget-friendly material for your project, beech should fit the bill. Use your discretion and the information we have provided here to make the right decision for suitable wood for your woodworking projects.