This woodworker found some beech he really likes for bedroom furniture. Wants to know what it’s like to work with and how durable it is.
Michael Dresdner: Beech is the first cousin to hard maple. It looks similar, is very durable, and works (and takes finish) about the same as maple. If you have handscrews – those clamps with big parallel wooden jaws and two offset threaded handles – the jaws are probably made of beech.
Ellis Walentine: Durability has a very particular meaning in wood terms, and it means how well will a species hold up under outdoor conditions. I don’t think that’s what this fellow has in mind. In terms of hardness and resiliency, beech is outstanding, which is why it is one of the first-choice woods for workbench tops. But beech is also more prone to warping and cupping than most cabinet woods. You can build with it, but you have to allow for its movement and engineer the furniture to control the twisting and cupping forces.
Simon Watts: American beech, (Fagus Grandifolia), has good points – and bad ones. It is a hard-wearing, dense wood with an attractive color that finishes well. When green, it’s one of the best timbers for steam bending. The famous Thonet bent-wood chairs were made from beech – and many are still around more than 100 years later.
But…it has little resistance to rot and, what is worse, has a tendency to warp as it dries. And it continues moving with seasonal changes in humidity. When dried from dead green to oven dry its shrinkage (tangential to the annual rings) is 11.9%. This compares with 8.9% for red oak and 4% for teak. When working beech, your best bet is to pick a design in which the wood is free to move but is restrained from warping. A good use would be loose panels in a solid frame; a bad choice might be a drop-leaf table.
Ian Kirby: Beech is a perfectly good choice for furniture building. It needs to have been dried carefully or it may do some gymnastics once it’s cut. It’s hard, so don’t try to drive screws in it without pilot holes. It takes a polish well and it’s very strong. The stuff you have is likely to be American beech, which is fagus grandifolia. It’s English counterpart is fagus sylvotica and is a staple, a work horse, that equates with maple (the American work horse of woods).