Birch is popular for various applications due to its unique properties. But it can be difficult to tell if the wood you have is authentic.
So, I’ve compiled everything you need about birch wood, so you can quickly determine if what you have is the right one for your needs!
Birch Tree at a Glance
What is Birch Tree Wood?
Birches are deciduous trees native to the Northern Hemisphere.
These trees are light in color, with a fine, uniform pattern or texture. Several types produce wood with a reddish-brown color.
Several types include white, yellow, and paper birch. They are strong, durable, and resistant to decay and insect damage.
Those harvested from birches are found only in the Northern Hemisphere. White, yellow, and paper birches are just a few varieties. The United States, Canada, Russia, and other European countries are only a few places where you can find them.
Where Do They Grow?
They prefer cool climates and moist, well-draining soil. They can be found in various habitats, including forests, wetlands, rivers, and streams.
Color and Appearance
When it comes to birches, the white sapwood, or outermost layer, is where the value lies. It’s normally a bit creamier than pure white, but it can get that way occasionally.
As time passes, it takes on an aged, reddish-brown hue. Heartwood, the centermost section, is also put to good use. The color of the heartwood is closer to a crimson brown.
Does its Color Change?
Like most wood species, it may change color over time due to exposure to light and other environmental factors.
Generally, it will tend to darken as it ages, taking on a golden or honey-colored patina. This color change is usually subtle and may not be noticeable for many years, depending on the conditions in which the wood is stored and used.
Although most birch trees have a fine, straight, and uniform texture, some may have a wavy texture or even a curl like cherry.
Yellow birches typically grow to 60-80 feet, while some can exceed more than a hundred in height. In addition, they can attain a diameter of three feet when given the time to develop.
Types of Birch Timber (Black, Yellow, and White Birch)
1. Betula Uber (Virginia Round-Leaf)
Native to the southeastern United States, particularly in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
2. Betula alleghaniensis (Yellow Birch)
Also known as American Yellow Birch. Originated in the eastern United States and Canada.
3. Betula Populifolia (Gray Birch)
Also known as Poplar-Leaf Birch, it is native to eastern parts of Canada and the northeastern United States.
4. Betula Borealis (Northern Birch)
Originated in Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire.
5. Betula Papyrifera (Paper, American White Birch, Canoe Birch)
Its natural habitats include the northern US, Canada, and Alaska.
6. Betula Caerulea / cordifolia (Mountain Paper Birch, Blue Birch)
Originated from eastern Canada and the Northeastern United States.
7. Betula Occidentalis (Water, Red Birch)
Originated from Alaska, Canada, and the western US.
8. Betula Glandulosa (American Dwarf Birch)
Its natural habitats include the highlands of western and eastern North America, Canada, and other countries.
9. Betula Nigra (River, Black Birch)
Originated from the eastern United States.
10. Betula Lenta (Sweet, Black, Cherry Birch)
Originated from Ontario, Quebec, and the Eastern US.
11. Betula Neoalaskana (Alaskan Paper, Resin Birch, Alaska Birch)
Originated from Alaska and parts of Canada.
12. Betula Minor (Dwarf White)
Originated from the mountains of eastern Canada and the northern New England states, including the Adirondacks.
13. Betula Nana (Dwarf or Bog Birch)
Originated from the far northwest of the United States, the northeastern United States, and eastern Canada.
14. Betula Murrayana (Murray's Birch)
Originated from the Great Lakes region.
Is Birch Lumber a Softwood or Hardwood?
Dicot trees, such as broadleaf varieties, are the source of “hardwood.” However, it is typically an indicator of the wood’s durability.
Those knowledgeable about birches can only tell whether it is a hardwood or dicot by looking at its leaves .
You’ve got a lot of options when it comes to lumber. On one end, you have hardwoods like Maple, cherry, walnut, oak, and paulownia wood. Contrarily, you can choose from needle-bearing trees like pine, cedar, and fir. They’re softwoods since gymnosperms aren’t true conifers.
Hardwood trees, including birches, are an important resource for many industries and an essential component of many ecosystems worldwide.
How Hard/Dense is Birch Lumber
Yellow Birches have a Janka rating of 1,260 lbf, similar to maple. It would take the weight of several fully grown adults to harm a piece significantly. Nonetheless, it’s a close call compared to black walnut. The best are sugar maple, red oak, white oak, and ash. I’ve had my run-ins with birch, and it’s proven itself time and again. You’d be hard-pressed to easily damage it.
Birch Tree Lumber Uses
Birch brings me back to the late ’60s and early ’70s when this wood was a big deal for furniture and even wintergreen oil. While it’s not as prominent in today’s furniture market, don’t underestimate its versatility.
Birch still holds its own, especially in less visible but equally important applications like chair frames or the bones of upholstered sofas. Trust me, I’ve built a fair share of kitchen cabinets and paneling with birch, and its resilience never disappoints. Plus, the bark can also burn a fire and be lit while wet.
Let me tell you, if there’s one plywood that’s won the popularity contest among woodworkers, it’s birch plywood. It is both strong and inexpensive, which allows for producing vast, flat sheets of intact birch veneer.
The distinctive creamy, brown, and white swirls of birch plywood are created when the layer glues to plywood. But let’s talk practicality. One of the things I appreciate about birch plywood is how it eliminates the need for a solid lumber face-frame. This means you can craft an entire kitchen cabinet out of this more cost-effective material.
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Working with it is straightforward; it glues well, holds fasteners like a champ, and if you pre-bore the holes, you won’t have issues with nails or screws. For a color change, staining birch plywood is possible following the proper steps and using the right materials.
Is Birch Tree Wood Ideal for Outdoor Use?
Look, I’ve had some folks ask me if birch is good for outdoor furniture, and my answer is always the same: It can be, but with caveats. Birch furniture should hold well in an outdoor setting as long as it is properly treated and maintained. However, it is important to remember that all wood can be affected by the elements, and birches are no exception.
Without proper protective treatments or regular maintenance, birch wood can deteriorate quickly when exposed to rain, sunlight, and humidity. If you ask me, birch is best suited for indoor settings. It rots more easily than some other woods and tends to attract all sorts of unwanted critters.
How to Tell a Yellow Birch Tree Wood
Yellow birch has a distinct hue that helps set it out, especially in the light sapwood. The fact that it lacks sheen is a giveaway as well. This is especially noticeable when the texture is curly or wavy.
As someone who’s been around the block with various types of wood, I can tell you that birch isn’t the kind of wood that people typically try to fake. It’s generally affordable enough that there’s no incentive for impostors. Still, if you’re concerned about authenticity, my advice would be to buy directly from an artisan or a well-known shop. It’s the best way to ensure you’re getting the real deal.
Is Birch Lumber Eco-Friendly? Is it Endangered?
The yellow specie is marginally endangered. Illinois has a declining population of yellow birches, and now, the state classifies it as endangered. It’s not like this in any other section of the United States.
Apart from this, birches can be safely classified as eco-friendly. They are plentiful across the continent, so when people opt for locally sourced, natural wood products, they reduce their environmental impact and keep “junk” cabinets or furnishings out of landfills.
Factors to Consider When Buying Birch-Made Furniture
Most artisans no longer like birches since other woods provide the same color, uniform texture, and same grain pattern results. Those on the hunt for natural wood kitchen cabinets or furniture, however, should keep the following in mind at all times:
When properly cared for, birch wood furniture can last many years and is a timeless addition to any home. It is important to maintain these pieces, and you must regularly dust, clean, and protect them from moisture and heat to prevent them from warping and staining.
Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.
Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.