Hand Tools Archive

Re: ahhh...cormier...
Response To:
Re: ahhh...cormier... ()

David Weaver
Beech seems to occupy the space in europe that red oak does in the US, or sometimes some maple. That is, when I looked up lumber prices, if you're looking for a plain or utility hardwood to make anything inexpensively, it's available everywhere and inexpensive.

Red oak can sometimes be found here locally for $1 a board foot, and even if purchased through a local sawyer QS in wide boards, it's not that expensive (there's no really organized market for american beech here, I guess because other woods are cheaper and more widely available - most beech is burned or perhaps used for things like railroad ties).

From an aesthetic standpoint, I have a bias - american beech is pretty - often pinkish in color and doesn't have as common looking of brown flecking that euro beech does (And euro beech is probably a great wood for planes, but looks cheap because it's just all over the place). Since it's an old forest tree and most of this country has been stripped of wood at least once for railroad fuel or industry, there's less beech than there would've been long ago (the oaks seem to grow first and they grow large quickly in open space). As much as I thought they would be locally unfound, I've actually found them in pretty large numbers on township land here. When they get to 3-4 feet in diameter, for one reason or another, they seem to die, fall over and go to waste.

Large fruit trees here (The kind that you'd need to make larger disston handles in number) are long gone. Domestic apple here air dried is perhaps the nicest wood to work that I've ever worked, but it's a pain to dry and requires hands on attention at least once a day for the first week or two, gluing or sealing any cracks. Beech is kind of like that if it's wet and there's a weather change to dry or even if it's seasoned and there's an abrupt snap to below 0ºF temperatures.

Other than getting a few large pieces of QS apple (from someone who cut down an old wild tree), I've seen nothing of the sort since, and most commerical wood that's kiln dried either doesn't see the same, is small or is ugly.

As far as lifetime? I've got a pair of english mid 1800s beech planes and an american made plane from the early 1800s and all have a nice texture to them still (not rotted, not dry rotted and light weight, etc). The only shortcoming I can think of is that I'd like a wood more dense than beech for coffin smoothers, but that can be addressed just by finding large bowl blanks of denser woods. Right now, rosewood is relatively inexpensive and once in a while, I come across 3x4 blanks of it quartered on ebay (for guitar parts) for about the same price as I have to pay to get properly sawn beech (lumber is available flatsawn here for much less, but 16/4 billets sawn dead straight with no defects is not common).

It can be difficult to convince someone who comments from europe on YT that the sentiment is different here, but mostly, nothing is found with beech showing here unless it's something made in china with wood from europe.

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