Birch Lumber

Botanical Name: Betula alleghaniensis

Family: Betulaceae

Other Common Names: American birch, Birch, Gray birch, Silver birch, Swamp birch, Yellow birch.

Uses: N/A

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Distribution: Yellow birch is reported to occur in Lebanon, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Quebec in Canada. Its growth range in the United States is reported to be Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Delaware, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Tennessee Valley, Illinois, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. The tree is usually found growing with other hardwoods and conifers in cool moist upland soils, including mountain ravines. Birch is also reported to grow in Northern Europe and Northern Asia. The tree is described as very hardy and can even survive at the polar regions. Some dwarf races of Birch are reported to survive in the Arctic tundra, on the perma-frost soils that are usually frozen over during most of the year.

General Characteristics: Fresh sawn logs produce a distinct aromatic fragrance. Leaves and bark of the tree have a sweet birch beer flavor, which is the source of extract for the manufacture of birch beer. In European countries the Birch trees are tapped much like Maple to provide sap to be made into Birch Wine. The fully grown tree is reported to be often 70 to 100 feet (21 to 30 m) in height and 30 inches (80 cm) in diameter. Birch bark is reported to be full of natural waxes that render it waterproof. The tough and durable bark is also reported to remain in the soil long after the inside of the tree has rotted away. The birch tree is reported to be rather short-lived, and rarely exceeds 80 years of age. The heartwood is light to dark brown or reddish brown. The sapwood is described as whitish, pale yellow or light reddish brown. The sapwood is reported to be sometimes marketed as 'white basswood. Texture is fine and even; the grain is reported to be typically straight, but some logs may contain wavy or curly grain. Birch is described as one of the most featureless of all North American hardwoods, but it has a natural pleasing figure which makes it very attractive for furniture. Annual rings, grain and pores are often indistinct, and a uniform scattering of fine pores or vessels throughout the material gives it a dull and lusterless appearance. There is no distinctive odor or taste.

Weight: Basic specific gravity (ovendry weight/green volume) 0.62; air-dry density N/A.

Working Properties: Material containing irregular grain is reported to be generally difficult to machine in most operations and may be accompanied by some grain tearing unless cutting angles are reduced. Straight-grained wood is reported to work without too much difficulty. Yellow birch is reported to have very good turning properties. Boring characteristics are reported to be very good. The wood has exceptional mortising properties. Carefully controlled conditions are reported to be required for best results. The wood is reported to have poor nailing properties. Screwing properties are reported to be rather poor. Sanding properties are reported to be only fair. The timber is reported to have very good steam bending properties. 

Durability: The species is reported to have little natural resistance to decay, and will deteriorate rather rapidly if exposed to damp, outside conditions without proper chemical protection.

Preservation: The heartwood is reported to be fairly or moderately resistant to preservative treatment.

Mechanical Properties

Bending Strength:

Green: 8,300 psi
Dry: 16,600 psi

Modules of Elasticity:

Green: 1,170 @ 1,000 psi
Dry: 2,170 @ 1,000 psi

Maximum Crushing Strength:

Green: 3,380 psi
Dry: 8,170 psi

Drying and Shrinkage

The wood is reported to dry rather slowly. It is reported to be accompanied by little degrade, but shrinkage tends to be fairly high. End-checks, surface-checks, collapse and honeycomb due to wet wood (usually in the heartwood) and mineral streaks, are some common drying defects associated with the wood. Kiln Schedule T8 - C4 is suggested for 4/4 stock and T5 - C3 for 8/4. Shrinkage green to ovendry: radial 7%; tangential 10%. The wood is reported to have poor dimensional stability, and shows considerable movement in use.

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