Birch is pale cream to yellow brown in colour with non-distinct heart and sap wood. Birch wood has a natural shine and generally uniform appearance with a fine texture. Despite the normally featureless appearance of birch, changes occasionally take place due to beetle attack.
The larvae of the agromyza carbonaria beetle burrows into the cambium of the tree and can produce a highly decorative veneer known as masur birch; irregular dark flecks appear on the wood and contrast well with the silky white background.
Birch is found throughout Europe and it permeates farther north than any other broad-leaved tree, it is even found in Lapland where it is one of the country’s few native trees.
Birch will grow well in hot climates as well as endure extreme cold. Birch is known as a pioneer species because of its ability to easily populate un-colonised lands. Birch wood is tough and heavy and can be used to make furniture, toys, flooring, doors and canoes.
Birch is fairly straight grained; it is fine-textured and weighs around 660 Kg/m3 when dried.
mythology and Symbolism
In early Celtic mythology, the birch symbolised renewal and purification. Bundles of birch twigs were used to drive out the spirits of the old year, and gardeners still use the birch besom, or broom, to ‘purify’ their gardens.
It is also used as a symbol of love and fertility. In Scottish Highland folklore, a barren cow hearded with a birch stick would become fertile, and a pregnant coe would bear a healthy calf.
The birch tree is considered the tree of enchantment and is often referred to as ‘Lady of the Woods’.
Mature birch trees can grow to a height of 30m, the average lifespan of a birch tree is 60-90 years but in optimum growing conditions, birch trees have been known to live as long as 150 years. As a pioneer species it was one of the first trees to colonise northern Europe after the last ice age 12,000 years ago. These slender trees form a light canopy, with elegant drooping branches. The white or greyish-white bark of the birch tree has medicinal qualities to cure stomach pain and can be used to tan leather. Birch sap is used to make beer and wine throughout Europe and is often used as a substitute for sugar, in the form of birch syrup. Birch is a highly flammable wood that will even catch fire when wet, for this reason; it provides high quality fire wood.
Birch trees provide food and habitat for more than 300 insect species and are particularly associated with a wide range of fungi. Birch trees can have a symbiotic relationship with fly agaric; the tree roots pass sugars to the fungus which in turn provides the tree with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. A mature birch tree can produce up to one million seeds in a single year.
Birch air dries and kiln dries fairly quickly with little difficulty beyond a tendency to warp. It should be dried quickly after conversion in order to avoid fungal discoloration, or decay to which it is prone.
Dried birch timber has a high bending and crushing strength and is similar in toughness to ash (the toughest British hardwood) when dry, but not when green.
Works relatively easily by hand, planes and moulds to good finish. Sawing and machining is generally satisfactory, but some boards will require a reduced cutting angle to prevent tearing of cross-grained material and irregular grain, particularly around knots. Bends well if free from knots and irregular grain; pre-boring is recommended for nailing. Glues easily, stains and polishes well.
Durability : Not Durable
Treatability : Moderately Easy
Moisture Movement : Large
Density (mean, Kg/m3) : 670
Uses : Furniture
Colours : Light Brown