Hardwood Primer: Birch Wood

Birch is one of several hardwoods common in North America. Most lumberyards will stock a variety of birch wood. Individuals interested in carpentry, furniture building, or other woodworking hobbies and professions will most likely become very familiar with birch wood. The following is a primer for people who are new to woodworking.

Birch Trees

There are at least a dozen species of birch native to North America. Only three of these, however, are widely used in the production of wood. These three varieties are the paper birch, the yellow birch, and the sweet birch. Birch trees prefer temperate areas, rarely grow taller than 80 feet, and are known for their peeling, paper-like bark.

Wood Qualities

In terms of grain, this pale wood is almost featureless, due to its minimal pores and the uniformity of its faint growth rings. Birch boards feature no significant odor. The outer wood of a paper birch log, the sapwood, is mostly white. The heartwood, the innermost part of the log, is darker in color. By contrast, yellow birch wood is a more uniform golden brown color.

Birch wood is on the extremely hard end of the hardwood spectrum. It dries quickly and only loses about 16% of its volume in the process. Birch wood has an unfortunate tendency to warp while drying if not weighted or stored properly. 

Uses of Birch Wood

The strength and fine texture of birch wood makes it ideal for a number of projects and purposes. In terms of furniture, birch offers excellent shaping properties. This quality is also very useful in making cabinets, doors, and wooden toys. Birch wood is also frequently used in interior construction because of its odorless quality.

Toothpicks, tongue depressors, and popsicle sticks are often made of birch wood because, in addition to begin odorless, the wood is almost entirely tasteless.

Finishing

Finished birch wood features a smooth, pleasing texture and appearance. As a side effect of its pore structure and pale color, birch wood also stains very easily. In fact, birch is often used as a substitute for maple wood as it is easier to stain to a dark finish and possesses similar qualities.

Price and Availability

Birch wood, like all woods, varies in price and availability by region. Those regions that boast forest with a large concentrations of birch trees will have more wood available, at lower prices, than those that do not. If you are unsure how common birch trees are in your area, ask your local lumberyard.

In general, birch is one of the more affordable hardwoods. This is one of its most attractive features, in addition to the others mentioned earlier in this primer.

Birch wood is an excellent wood for the beginning woodworker. It is easy to work with, common in many regions across the country, and, perhaps most importantly, is very affordable. Inquire at your local lumberyard for current prices and available varieties.