Birch Wood: Types & Uses

Instructor: Jennifer Perone

Ms. Perone has taught College Engineering, Ethics, Psychology, Perception, Statistics, Experimental Design & Analysis, Physics and secondary STEM topics for more than 15 years!

The Birch tree grows all over the world and is popular for its wood, bark and extracts. It's a hardwood used to make furniture, longboards and plywood.

Birch Wood Characteristics

Birch trees are members of the Betula family and grows abundantly in North America. Nine species of Birch are well known, while there are over 50 species that grow around the globe. Yellow and White Birch are the most common Birch trees found in North America, but Sweet, River and Gray Birch are also commercially popular. Hardwoods are from angiosperms (enclosed, flowering and fruiting seeds) and softwoods are gymnosperms (naked seeds, conifers). The terms hardwood and softwood refer to reproduction mechanism and seed type versus actual hardness properties in the physical sense.

Birch Tree Forest locations in the United States.

All members of the Betula family have smooth, resinous white bark that curls, with bark becoming thick and ridged as the ages. Birches are usually first to be established (pioneer species) in a new ecosystem (biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment) and are then crowded out when other trees move in and offer shade. On average, birch trees will grow to a height of 90 feet and diameter of two feet. The density of Birch wood is 40 to 45 pounds per cubic foot.

Birch Forrest

Birch wood traditionally appears creamy white in color in the sap wood and then golden brown in the heart stock. Paper birch is predominated by sap wood with small brown knotty hearts running down the center, while yellow birch is usually a larger diameter tree with a large amount of golden brown in the center and a bit of white creamy coloring closer to the outer rim.

Cross-section of a silver birch tree. Note the creamy white sap wood with golden brown heartwood.

Birch is most usually compared with Maple wood in terms of its properties. Birch has a fine and uniform texture, closed pores and no significant odor. Birch loses around 15% of volume during the curing process and will curl without proper application of pressure during the drying process. Although stable, it is not resistant to decay, fungus and insect invasion. Spalting (staining by fungus), is common and many people find the patterns produced to be attractive in finished wood products.

Guitar made out of spalded birch wood.

Due to Birch's closed pored structure, it stains and finishes to produce a beautiful and uniform finish with much less trouble than Maple wood. Birch is a favorite of woodworkers because it exhibits excellent machining properties and planes and sands to a smooth finish. It is easy to cut and drill and glues together nicely.

Uses of Birch

In terms of hardwoods, Birch is easy to use and reasonably priced, making it a great craftwood. Birch is a strong, hard and heavy birch that possesses good shock resistance. Birch is easy to work with using power tools. The wood is manufactured, turned and crafted to make toys, tongue depressors, toothpicks, paper pulp and high-end furniture. In addition, birch holds screws and nails securely and glues easily.

Red Lacquered Birch Chair

Birch longboard

Birch wood is fine-grained and pale in color with a satiny sheen. Birch plywood is made from laminations of birch veneer and it is light but strong. Birch plywood is among the strongest and most stable of all plywoods, but it is unsuitable for exterior use. Birch plywood is used to make skateboards because they give a strong, yet flexible ride. Birch is also used in speakers and musical instruments, as it gives resonance to both higher and lower frequencies, providing a fuller sound than woods such as maple.

Birch chair

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