December 15, 2020

Beech; the very commonly used wood you’re not always likely to see!

beech-worktop

A beech worktop may not sound so strange to you, the whitish barked trees seem common in the world of fantasy-based fiction. It must have been a medieval staple, and a beech chalet in a disused wood sounds about right. Doesn’t it? Well not so much. Any of our craftspeople can tell you why.

Beech is a pale, smooth, long-grained wood. It is a hardwood with exceptionally soft bark. It takes varnish and stains well and dries faster than most; it is not resinous and has no odour. Its high density makes it heavy for its volume, and very tough, but not hard in a brittle way. So, theoretically, a beech worktop sounds like it would work well and does so in our worktops.

So why was it primarily used for firewood?

From the view of a humble serf, its strengths equated to a litany of woes. To him, there were no stains or vanish, only beeswax which will do very little to bring out the grain of this pale wood. The drying time from its greenwood was nice but not essential. Its lack of resin would stop it from igniting easily, unlike ash and pine. Its neutral odour would also be a low priority. The real problem is it’s tough and dense; working this with hand tools wouldn’t be pleasant, blunting your saws and chisels, forcing a trip to the blacksmith. After a hard day of blistering carpentry, the finished piece would be heavier than one made of oak and in a time where moving things required a horse and cart, extra weight was a significant extra cost.

Then there is one more small detail, cut beech is far from water-resistant. From the moment the bark is removed or the ends exposed, it will suck up all the water it can, swelling and rotting. In a damp and drafty medieval home, the only useful place for beech wood was in the fireplace.

But you said it was common? What about beechwood chalets and worktops?

We are getting to the beech worktop. The traditional beechwood chalet was not a standard or common home. The use of beech would have been based on the very high availability and therefore the lower cost of beech. The log house design keeps as much of the bark on the wood as possible, with the mitre butt corners reducing exposure to the elements.

Beech has come

With the use of power tools, mechanised lifting and cheap transportation, beech is now everywhere but is unlikely that you have ever seen it. If you’re sitting in a building with any structural or load-bearing wood, it’s probably beech. Density is not an issue if your job is to stand in place and hold up a roof. In spite of pressure treating the timber, the water-loving/rotting issue persists, therefore it would not be used as part of an exterior. Quietly hidden deep in the walls to keep them dry, beech is the most common wood you will never see.

Perhaps now you see that a beech worktop is an odd thing. With a little pre-treatment in our workshop, your beech worktop will happily allow water to bead off from its surface and have no issue with swelling. Whilst also giving a beautifully cool, minimalist, pale, hard wearing surface for your kitchen.


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