Beech is often referred to as the mother of the forest and its presence in mixed broad-leaved forests aides the survival of many other hardwood tree species. Beech woodland is shady and is characterised by a dense carpet of fallen leaves which provide humus to the soil and prevent most woodland plants from growing. Only specialist shade tolerant plants can survive beneath a beech canopy. Beech from Britain, Denmark and northern Europe weighs about 720 kg/m³ when dried, heavier and stronger than Beech from central Europe.

Further Information

Mythology and Symbolism

Beech is associated with femininity and is often considered the queen of British trees, where Oak is the king.

In Celtic mythology, Fagus was the god of beech trees. It was thought to have medicinal properties; beech leaves were used to relieve swellings. Forked beech twigs are also traditionally used for divining.

The Tree

Mature Beech trees grow to a height of over 40 metres and can live for hundreds of years, with coppiced stands living for more than 1000 years. The name ‘beech’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word boc and the Germanic word buche which gave rise to the English word ‘book’. In northern Europe ancient inscriptions were carved in beech wood tablets and bound in beech boards. Its delicate bark is smooth and light grey in colour; it scars easily making it a favourite for carvings of lovers’ initials and other graffiti, this can harm the tree as it is unable to heal itself of the scars. Fresh from the tree, beech leaves in spring can be eaten in a salad, tasting as sweet as a mild cabbage though much softer in texture. The leaves also provide a good food source for livestock. Beechnuts have a high enough fat content that they can be pressed for edible oil. In France beech nuts are still sometimes roasted and used as a coffee substitute.


Although it dries fairly rapidly and quite well, beech can be difficult to manage, tending to warp, twist, check and split, and shrink considerably. It requires expert care both in air drying and kiln drying.


Green beech has general strength properties roughly equal to those of oak. After drying, most values increase, and beech is about 20 percent stronger than oak in bending strength, stiffness and shear, and considerably stronger in resistance to impact loads.

 Working Qualities

Good - Beech varies somewhat in its ease of working and machining according to growth characteristics and dried condition; the red heart can be extremely difficult to work. On the whole, this reasonably tough material works willingly, and is capable of a good smooth surface. Beech turns well, takes glue readily, and takes stains and polish adequately. It produces excellent veneer.

Wood Properties

Durability: Not durable

Treatability: Easy

Moisture Movement: Large

Density (mean, Kg/m³): 720

Texture: Fine

Availability: Readily available at timber merchant

Price: Low

Chemical Properties: Excellent bending properties

Use(s): Joinery - Interior, Furniture, Flooring

Colour(s): Pink/pale red, Reddish brown - after steaming, White/cream

The Timber

Normally, there is no clear distinction in colour between sapwood and heartwood. The wood is very pale brown when freshly cut, turning reddish-brown on exposure and deep reddish-brown under the influence of steaming treatment commonly applied in parts of the continent. Some logs show an irregular, dark reddish-coloured heart. It is believed this is caused by the effect of severe frosts and more commonly occurs in continental beech. The wood is typically straight grained, with a fine, even texture, but its density and hardness varies depending on its location of growth. Beech timber is used for making a variety of products including furniture, flooring, cooking utensils, tool handles and sports equipment. The wood burns well and was traditionally used to smoke herring.

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