Common Name(s): American beech
Scientific Name: Fagus grandifolia
Distribution: Eastern United States
Tree Size: 100-130 ft (30-40 m) tall,
3-5 ft (1-1.5 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 45.0 lbs/ft3 (720 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): 0.54, 0.72
Janka Hardness: 1,300 lbf (5,780 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 14,900 lbf/in2 (102.8 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,720,000 lbf/in2 (11.86 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 7,410 lbf/in2 (51.1 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 5.5%, Tangential: 11.9%,
Volumetric: 17.2%, T/R Ratio: 2.2
Color/Appearance: Beech is typically a pale cream color, sometimes with a pink or brown hue. Veneer tends to be slightly darker colored, as slicing the veneer usually requires the wood to be prepared with steam, which gives the wood a more golden tone. (See scan below.) Flatsawn surfaces tend to be very plain, while quartersawn surfaces exhibit a silvery fleck pattern.
Grain/Texture: Grain is straight, with a fine to medium uniform texture. Moderate natural luster.
Rot Resistance: Beech is considered non-durable or perishable; it is also susceptible to insect attack.
Workability: Overall good workability; it machines well, and glues, finishes, and turns well. Beech also responds superbly to steam-bending. It does, however, have a large amount of movement in service, so movement and wood stability must be taken into account.
Odor: No characteristic odor.
Allergies/Toxicity: Although there is no confirmed safety data on American beech, the closely related European beech (Fagus sylvatica) has been reported as a sensitizer. Usually most common reactions from this related species include eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.
Pricing/Availability: Within its domestic range, beech is readily available and affordable. With its high density and hardness, it may be a cheaper alternative to hard maple (Acer saccharum) in some applications.
Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, and reported by the IUCN as a species of least concern.
Common Uses: Lumber, veneer, flooring, crates/pallets, railroad ties, musical instruments, furniture, turned objects, and other small wooden objects.
Comments: American beech is sometimes underrated and under-appreciated: which may be due to its somewhat bland appearance. Yet considering its decent strength and hardness—and its comparatively low cost—beech represents an excellent value for woodworkers.
Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood. The first sample shows a quartersawn piece with ray flecks, while the second sample shows a more typical piece with flatsawn figure.
Porosity: diffuse porous, though sometimes closer to semi-ring-porous with visible growth ring boundaries with decreased pore frequency and size in latewood
Arrangement: solitary and radial multiples
Vessels: small to medium, numerous
Parenchyma: not visible (even with 10x lens)
Rays: medium to very wide; normal spacing; noded
Lookalikes/Substitutes: Because of its very wide rays that produce ray fleck patterns, beech can sometimes be confused with other woods with large rays, such as maple (Acer spp.) and sycamore/plane (Platanus spp.). Without reference material and/or experience with wood from each genus, it can be difficult to tell the three apart. Platanus species have consistently wide rays that are apparent even on flatsawn surfaces, while rays of Acer appear very small and numerous on the flatsawn surface, while Fagus is in the middle ground with both large and small rays with less consistency.
Notes: The European counterpart, Fagus sylvatica, is more or less indistinguishable from the North American F. grandifolia.