Interior Design & Architecture
Hardwood Flooring Product Profile: What Is Beech?
Beech hardwood flooring is a dependable and attractive domestic species. What are the strengths and drawbacks of beech wood floors? Find out here.
I have to admit, the beech tree isn’t a tree I’ve thought a lot about. It was a bit of a mystery, this tree. I knew it was a hardwood: deciduous, leafy, green in the spring and fading to orange and brown in the fall. But that’s about all I knew.
I enjoy a little digging into a mystery, though. Finding the key to the story of beech proved very interesting indeed, especially for a writer like me.
And it all started with falling in love.
Origins of beech
Here’s the big thing about beech: the name of the tree itself actually derives from the old English word for book, boc. All throughout northern Europe, from the British Isles through Russia, beech trees and books were synonymous because the wood was used for light, disposable writing tablets long before we developed the technology for paper. In fact the reason that this is the case is because beech trees have always had a special place in the human heart: they’re actually the most popular trees in the world for lovers’ initials.
Because the indentation lasts and lasts, the bark grows around the carving so that this sign of love lasts seemingly forever. That’s why, as time passed, people began to cut off their initials, taking a chunk of the beech tree with them. Doing so allowed early populations to understand the power of passing on the written word. And so, the book was born.
Given our love affair with this tree, it’s not a mystery why we’ve learned to explore all of the possibilities that beech has to offer. Its applications include everything from textiles to drums to railroad ties to hardwood floors. Here’s why beech is an excellent choice for your home.
American Beech stats
Latin name: Fagus grandifolia
Janka Hardness rating: 1300 (harder than red oak)
Common color spectrum: Pale cream with red or brown tones
Stability: less than red oak
A mother of a tree
In biological terms, what beech trees are known best for is their outstanding ability to ‘mother’ other species. They are a highly perishable tree, which means that, left untreated, their wood fiber breaks down quickly and easily. This allows the wood to feed insects, mosses, and fungi, and it also creates havens for small woodland creatures like birds, mice, and even foxes so that they can build their homes in its nooks and crannies.
Beech trees weren’t just useful for writing materials and for forest animal homes, though. Beech actually tastes good, too. They were, and are, used as the foundation for smoked malts in beer from Germany to the United States, and provide the flavor sensation we all love in smoked sausages and Westphalian ham.
From the old world to the new, beech is beautiful
While its use as an early form of paper may have been forged in Europe, beech trees from North America are just as strong and pliable, and have a reputation for gorgeous wood colors. The American Beech, which grows on the east coast, is the only native variety found here, and it grows quickly to an average of 120 feet in height, making it a great option for lumber.
But the reason that we keep coming back to beech for flooring is that it produces a naturally light and creamy color in its sapwood, sometimes accented by gorgeous pink to brown knots in its heartwood which look lovely when they are cut and sanded. The grain is a straight one, and fine in texture. It even has inspired the creation of porcelain tiles with the same fine texture.
Action-packed and ready for anything
As you’re now aware, the beech tree provides a very versatile material that has many applications. The reason that this is the case is that it’s such an easy material to work with. It not only is simple to cut and shape on industrial machines and by hand, but it also glues and finishes well. Steam-bending works well with beech, too.
How did the beech tree become such a useful part of human life? It grows fast and it’s both strong and pliable, and its range is considerable, popping up everywhere from China to North America and everywhere in between. It grows in both acidic and basic soils, so it’s easy to find and to maintain.
When a wood is this easy to grow and to manipulate, it means that it is one of the best choices for flooring. No matter whether the floor is made of hardwood slabs or is an engineered wood manufactured with glued particulate, beech is an excellent material for the floors in your home.