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European Beech vs. American Beech: Understanding the Differences

Timber Knowledge Tips & Guides
18 July 2023 min read

European Beech vs American Beech: Understanding the Differences

Wood is an essential and versatile material used for centuries in construction, furniture making, and various artistic applications. With its unique qualities, wood offers a natural beauty and durability that synthetic alternatives cannot replicate. 

And when it comes to woodworking, choosing the right type of wood is crucial to achieving the desired outcome. 

In this article, we will compare European beech and American beech, two popular hardwoods used extensively in the woodworking industry. Understanding their differences will help you decide which wood to use for your project.


1. Appearance

European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and American beech (Fagus grandifolia) both belong to the same genus but have distinct characteristics in terms of appearance. 

European beech, native to Europe, is renowned for its pale, light brown to reddish-brown heartwood and creamy-coloured sapwood. It often exhibits a straight grain, fine texture, and a subtle lustre. 

In comparison, American beech, indigenous to North America, tends to have pinkish-brown heartwood and pale sapwood. It also displays a fine, even texture, but the grain is typically straighter and less pronounced than European beech.


2. Durability

Durability is vital for woodworking projects, as it determines the wood's ability to withstand wear, decay, and damage. 

European beech is known for its moderate durability, which can withstand wear, decay, and damage to a certain extent, although it’s not the most resilient wood type. It reasonably resists the effects of time and environmental factors such as moisture, though it’s still susceptible to insect infestations and rot in damp conditions. Despite this, its hardness and strength can still be a good choice for interior applications like furniture and flooring. 

Beech is known for its relatively high density and even texture, which can make it somewhat tricky for preservatives to penetrate deeply into the wood. This characteristic makes it suitable for outdoor applications after proper treatment. However, if the wood is prepared correctly, it can accept certain treatments fairly well. For example, the wood can be kiln-dried to lower its moisture content, which helps the preservative to penetrate. Also, some preservatives are better suited to beech wood than others.

On the other hand, American beech is classified as non-durable, making it less resistant to decay and insect infestations. Proper protective measures, such as finishes and treatments, should be applied to increase its longevity.


3. Workability

European and American beech offer excellent workability, making them sought after in woodworking. 

European beech is known for being easy to work with, as it machines, cuts, and joins well. It also responds exceptionally to steam bending and is commonly used for curved components in furniture making. 

American beech is also known for its workability, but it may require extra care due to its tendency to splinter. Pre-drilling may be necessary for certain applications to prevent splitting.


4. Stability

Wood stability is crucial to avoid warping, shrinking, or expanding after it has been shaped and installed. 

European beech is stable, displaying minimal movement in response to moisture and temperature changes. It can be relied upon for furniture, flooring, and other applications where dimensional stability is vital. 

While still relatively stable, the American beech is more prone to movement than its European counterpart. Proper acclimatisation and moisture control are essential when using American beech, particularly in large panels or installations.


5. Applications

European and American beech have extensive use in various woodworking projects, although they may excel in different applications. 

European beech is highly desirable in furniture making, cabinetry, flooring, turned objects, and veneer production. Its pale colour and smooth texture allow it to be stained and finished beautifully, lending itself to various interior styles.

American beech is commonly used for general woodworking, interior joinery, veneer, and speciality items like wooden utensils and tool handles. It provides a warm, natural feel to projects and can be stained or painted to suit the desired aesthetic.


6. Density and Strength

Understanding density and strength is essential in selecting wood for specific projects.

European beech, for instance, is relatively heavy and strong. Its high density makes it an excellent choice for furniture pieces that need to endure significant weight or wear. The hardness of this wood also contributes to its ability to withstand dents and scratches.

While still classified as a hardwood, American beech is slightly less dense than European. However, it still maintains good strength properties, lending itself well to projects requiring durability but without the higher weight of its European counterpart. This makes it a practical choice for smaller furniture items, tool handles, and wooden kitchen utensils.


7. Finishing

Both European and American beech are receptive to finishes, but the type of finish can influence the appearance significantly. 

With its uniform, pale colour, European beech can take on various hues depending on the chosen finish while maintaining its subtle lustre. This allows for a broad spectrum of possibilities in terms of colour and style, ranging from a light, natural finish to a richer, darker stain.

On the other hand, American beech tends to exhibit a warm pinkish hue, which can be accentuated with the right finish. It's beautiful with a clear or lightly tinted finish, allowing the wood's natural colour and less pronounced grain to shine.


8. Pricing

The cost of wood is always a consideration, especially for larger projects. In general, European beech is typically more expensive due to the demand for its attractive characteristics and its extensive use in high-quality furniture and flooring. 

Conversely, the American beech is usually less costly, reflecting its relative abundance in North America and its wide use in less specialised applications.


9. Sustainability

Given the growing importance of sustainable practices, the differences in the sustainability profiles of these two types of wood are worth noting. 

European beech is widely cultivated in sustainably managed forests throughout Europe, making it a responsible choice for woodworkers prioritising eco-friendliness. 

American beech, while still relatively sustainable, is more commonly wild-harvested. However, it remains an important source of hardwood in North America, and it can be a sustainable choice when sourced responsibly.


High-quality Wood From Woodshop Direct

Understanding the characteristics and differences between European and American beech is important when selecting the right wood for your projects. 

European beech offers a pale, reddish-brown hue, excellent workability, and good stability, making it ideal for furniture, cabinetry, and flooring. With its pinkish-brown colour, American beech is more versatile in general woodworking projects and lends itself well to specialised items like utensils and tool handles. 

By considering these distinctions, woodworkers can make informed decisions and maximise the potential of these magnificent hardwoods.

At Woodshop Direct, we specialise in European beech wood and other premium quality hardwoods sourced sustainably. Whether you’re a professional carpenter or a do-it-yourself enthusiast, our wood can help bring your creative visions to life. Browse our website or contact our knowledgeable team to discuss your woodworking needs and explore the possibilities with the finest wood.