Beech is a tree that has a number of possible uses. Among its lesser known uses is the production of creosote, a substance that stops other trees from rotting. The leaves and bark were once used as fabric dye. Leaves were once used by early European settlers in North America to stuff mattresses. Although beech is no longer used for these purposes, beech still has a number of uses in modern times.
The American beech tree is the only member of the genus Fagus native to North America. American beech are slow growing trees that can live for 300 to 400 years. A medium sized ornamental tree, the American beech tree grows to between 60 and 80 feet. Beech has smooth bark with a steel gray bark. The leaves are simple and range from oval to elliptical.
Beech is a popular firewood because of its high energy content per cord of air-dried wood. Although rock elm is at the top of the list, with 32 million British Thermal Units (BTU) per cord of wood, beech averages 27,800,000 BTU per cord. Balsam fir is at the bottom of the list offering 15,500,000 BTU per cord. One important consideration, however, is how many beeches grow in your area. In areas where beech isn't plentiful, it may not be a cost effective firewood.
Although not as common in the U.S. as hickory and other hardwoods, beech wood is used for food smoking in Europe. Some German beer manufacturers use beech to dry the hops, giving the beer a smoky flavor. Foods that work well with beech smoke include pork, beef, game meats, sausage, poultry, salmon and cheese. Beech works well either in a dedicated smoker or as a smoke source in a barbecue.
As lumber, beech is a wood with a medium density. It has a tight grain with close pores. The color of the lumber can range from medium brown to beige. It can be unstable unless properly dried. In some cases, keeping beech furniture next to a fireplace in a damp climate can cause the wood to warp and split as it alternates between the natural dampness of the air and the drying effects of the stove.