The Properties & Uses of Birch Wood

birch image by Henryk Olszewski from

Birch trees are deciduous hardwood trees that grow in temperate climates. The white birch, the most distinctive of the birches, is easily recognised by its white, paper-like bark. Birch wood is widely used for various purposes because of its easy availability and low price, relative to other species of hardwood.


Birch is a hard, close-grained wood that is resistant to warping in changing climatic conditions. Most birch is straight-grained, although the straightness of the grain is dependent to some extent on the growing conditions of the individual tree. A number of subspecies of birch exist, and are commonly known as Gray, Yellow, Black, White and Red Birch. Yellow birch is more prone to have a twisted grain than other subspecies of birch.


Birch wood is widely used in furniture making. The tight, straight grain of birch wood makes it ideal for panel construction, because it is resistant to warping and doesn't grow and shrink as much as woods with more open grains, which causes them to aborb and release higher levels of moisture. Birch takes a stain well, and doesn't succumb to mottling and discolouration like some species.


Birch also can be used for carving and whittling, wooden kitchen implements, and parts of musical instruments. Birch treated with linseed oil or white spirit is food safe, and can be used for spoons, salad servers, cutting boards, and bowls. Stable birch panels are used for guitar backs, dulcimers, violins, and other components of musical instruments where both strength and stability are required.


White birch trees are frequently used in landscaping. Their unusual white trunks provide beautiful accents to a yard or a forest. Birch trees are relatively fast growing and opportunistic trees, and thrive in disturbed landscapes, such as clearcuts. Because of these qualities, they also grow well in lawns and open spaces.

Turning and Trim

Birch can be turned on a lathe to make round furniture components such as chair spindles or balusters for banisters. Birch is also used for interior finish trim such as baseboards, door and window trim, crown mouldings, and wainscoting. Birch can be finished with a clear finish such as polyurethane, stained to resemble walnut or cherry, or painted.


In cold areas where it grows widely, birch is used as firewood. It dries well when cut and stacked far enough in advance, and its heavy, dense nature gives it a lot of heat per piece when burnt. Straight grained birch splits easily, and birch with paper bark burns well because the bark helps it to catch fire.