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Learn Your Lumber
There is so much to know about the material we all use in our hobby/craft/trade - wood! We will give you useable information on different woods and how to choose appropriate lumber to help you learn to better use this versatile substance.
We'll get things started off with an in-depth look at beech wood and add on from there...
Botanical name: Fagus Grandifolia
Beech is actually the family oak comes from. There are only two kinds of beech: North American and European. It has a unique bark that lends itself to having amorous couples carve their initials in it. The nut is edible, and many people may recognize this name from Beech-Nut gum. It is mostly found east of the Mississippi, from valleys to the tops of hills. It needs moist soil and we call it a "swamp wood" due to its loving wet conditions for growth. It has a high moisture content and is subject to shrinking and cracking when drying. As a "swamp wood," it will have a sour taste when licked (yes, we lick our wood here at WWR).
Beech only represents 1/2 percent of the wood commercially available to the public. Birch wood is sometimes mistaken for beech wood (beech does has smaller pores than birch). Beech can be pale but also can be subject to many different colorations due to uptake of different nutrients from the soil.
Most prominently used for food-preparation utensils, textile bobbins and snuff boxes. Beech is also excellent for hand-saw handles and was a main replacement after the apple supply disappeared. Disston used beech wood for handles even at the turn of the 19th century. Beech is flexible, with excellent elasticity, and often used in steam and other bending. It was a chief wood in making molding planes for its durability and high strength.
Beech tools very well and planes to a very smooth surface, and it takes screws and nails very well (pilot holes are strongly recommended). It is a small-pored, diffuse-porous wood that is not terribly happy about taking stain. Oil is the preferred finish and it can be buffed to a high lustre, especially on a lathe (beech turns very well). Shellac is also acceptable.
Planing requires a tight mouth on the plane, but the diffuse-pore structure allows high-angle block planing if you don't have an adjustable-mouth plane. Beech is one of the few woods that scraping and sanding have similar good effects on. Pares easily with 30-degree angle on the chisel bevel, but you will need at least a 20-degree angle if you are mortising.
One nasty thing about "swamp wood," however, once liberated from its moist growing conditions, it prefers to never return there. Beech and other "swamp woods" like poplar and sycamore tend to rot easily when exposed to moisture. For this reason, they should not be used in exterior conditions. Bugs think these "swamp woods" are delicious buffets, so they must be protected from infestation. For this reason these woods spalt quickly and readily.