Fagus sylvatica, the European beech or common beech, is a deciduous tree belonging to the beech family Fagacaea. It has a natural range extending from southern Sweden though to central Italy, west to France, northern Portugal and central Spain. Although oft regarded as a native in southern England, recent evidence suggests it did not reach here after until after the English Channel was formed in the ice ages.
It is a large tree, capable of reaching heights of up to 49 m and 3 m trunk diameter. It has a typical lifespan of 150 to 200 years, though sometimes up to 300 years. The appearance varies according to its habitat and forest conditions; it tends to have a long, slender light-gray trunk with a narrow crown and erect branches; in isolation with good side light, the trunk is short with a large and widely spreading crown with very long branches.
The leaves of beech are often not dropped in the autumn and instead remain on the tree until the spring. This particularly occurs when trees are are clipped as a hedge (as commonly seen in Denmark).
Beech was a common writing material in Germanic societies before the development of paper. The Old English bōc and Old Norse bókboth have the primary sense of “beech” but also a secondary sense of “book”. In modern German, the word for “book is Buch; with Buche meaning “beech tree”. In Swedish, these words are the same, bok meaning both “beech tree” and “book”.
The fresh look of European beech caught the imagination of the American Interior and Furnishing Design Industry in the 90’s. With such a wide range of possibilities in cabinetry, furniture, and flooring, it quickly became recognized as a versatile hardwood. From chairs to flooring and staircases, European beech can do almost anything other than heavy structural support, so long as it is not left outdoors; it rots easily if it is not protected. Trivia: Although beech wood is not very durable outdoors, its durability increases amazingly when constantly soaked. That’s why beech wood came to be used for building water wheels and underwater ship elements when white oak or other traditional water-resistant wood was not available.
With a reputation of sustainability, beech ranks among one of the most important European wood species offering excellent physical properties and a light colour suitable for a wide range of stains and finishes. It is a wood that machines extremely well. It is easy and clean to plane, rout, drill, sand and turn on a lathe; ideal for bent and formed parts. European beech is typically pale cream in colour, sometimes with a pink or brown hue. Veneers tend to be slightly darker in colour, as slicing the veneer usually requires the wood to be prepared with steam, giving it a more golden tone. Quarter sawn surfaces exhibit a silvery fleck pattern. Although severe allergic reactions are quite uncommon, European beech has been reported as a sensitizer (possible reaction over time and exposure); common reactions simply include eye, skin and respiratory irritation.