The common beech (Fagus sylvatica) is a tree widespread throughout Europe and known since ancient times. Its wood is considered quite valuable: it can be used in carpentry or for heating, always ensuring good performance. It is considered an ideal essence for the realization of furniture and structures such as stairs and floors, but only indoors: it is particularly sensitive to moisture and in those conditions can not guarantee the right durability.
Let’s take a closer look at its specific characteristics and what to pay attention to when purchasing it.
Characteristics of beech wood
Beech wood is essentially characterized by its hardness, the almost total absence of knots and the ease of impregnation. On the other hand, it is not very durable (especially outside) because it is easily attacked by mold (it never lasts more than 5 years, if not properly treated). It also tends to shrink considerably, even after being well seasoned: this factor, together with its low elasticity, makes cracks very frequent.
Greys are also frequent, i.e. alterations caused by fungi. They are quickly established at the time of cutting (or by cracks in the bark) and lead to considerable deterioration (deep cracks) if specific treatments are not carried out immediately.
The color is usually light yellow, but it is not uncommon to find beautiful pinkish nuances. It has a homogeneous appearance down to the depths, given the almost total absence of heartwood, with a very fine and homogeneous grain. If cut tangentially, it has slight veins, while its typical darker lenticels are clearly visible in the transversal. It is quite heavy as it weighs about 700 kg per m³.
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Beech growth and cultivation
The beech is a slow-growing tree, but can easily reach and exceed 30 meters in diameter and almost a meter and a half in the lower part. In intensive cultivation, therefore, with many trees placed side by side, there are homogeneous stems, vertical and very slender. The specimens that grow spontaneously as isolated or in the midst of other essences have instead a more expanded shape, larger trunk and branches that start already in the lower part.
Commercial uses beech
Beech cultivation is widespread throughout Europe; in Italy, production is not sufficient to meet domestic demand. The uses are countless: the largest and most valuable are used for the manufacture of furniture, flooring, interior furnishings and for turning. It is also appreciated for the quality of the fibres it provides, which are useful to the paper industry.
Of course it has plenty of space as heating wood, given its calorific value.
There is also interest from the food and pharmaceutical industry: the bark is used for herbal preparations (useful as an astringent, antiseptic and disinfectant)
Its fruits (beechnuts) are edible: at home they are used similarly to chestnuts. They are also used by industry to obtain edible or lampante oil. In the past they were roasted and ground and were used as a coffee substitute.
Beech wood in Joinery
Beech wood is commonly used for the manufacture of numerous objects and tools. Thanks to its fine, short and homogeneous grain, it is considered the ideal subject for turning. It is in fact commonly used for the realization of the legs of chairs and tables or for bowling pins, toys, bases of brushes, kitchen utensils. Once it was the essence of choice for the realization of the typical wooden sabots of Northern Europe and the Alpine valleys.
It is also used in the making of musical instruments, airplane propellers and laundry clothespins.
It is also very popular for the production of floors and stairs (after being deeply impregnated).
It is very common for defective logs to be treated and then used as railway sleepers.
Beech is appreciated as firewood because of its hardness, weight, compactness and ease of ignition. Thanks to these characteristics, it burns slowly, keeping the heat constant for a long time. It can be used in stoves for heating, but it is also suitable for cooking food (it is much sought after by pizzerias).
In Scandinavia beech is very popular because it is excellent for cold and hot smoking fish, especially salmon. We can use it for the same purpose, but, given its delicate flavour, it also goes well with raw ham, sheep meat and poultry. We use untreated wood, dried and reduced to small flakes. We totally avoid the bark because it contains compounds with an excessively intense flavour.
You can also create valuable mixes, especially with other delicate essences such as apple and cherry.
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