Beech as an Alternative to Maple

Cabinetmakers discuss Beech pricing, workability, and finishing characteristics. June 8, 2008

I'm pricing out a kitchen right now. They want a dark brown stain, but are on a budget. I suggested beech instead of maple (her suggestion) because I dislike finishing maple. Of course, it is the weekend, and I'm trying to figure this job. How does beech compare price-wise with maple? How does beech finish? Is it splotchy? Other suggestions of a wood species for a dark brown color? She doesn't want to see a lot of grain.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor K:
Also look into alder! I worked at a contractor's own home and he has alder cabinets which I thought were cherry until he told me it was alder. The best looking cherry knockoff I have ever seen and they were a box cabinet.

From contributor M:
Last time I ordered beech it was way cheaper than hard maple. It machines well and finishes well. The only thing I didn't like was the last batch I had. All the boards were not very straight. I had a lot of waste straightening them. Probably just the end of a batch. I should have sent it back, but I didn't.

From contributor J:
I've done a lot of beech cabinets. Nice wood. But if you're worried about it getting splotchy by staining it, it's the same as maple, or you can't just throw on some oil based stain without pre-sealers or special staining techniques. Get a sample and try some stain on it for yourself, and go from there. I only offer beech in a clear coat, which looks very nice. I push alder if they want color. In the old days you could get most anything done in red oak, any color, not anymore. Beech lumber should be cheaper. The plywood isn't any cheaper. Some import plys are reasonable. Plus I buy my doors, and there's no savings there. I price my beech the same as maple.

From contributor I:
The lengths and widths for beech are limited. I think my supplier offers 7', 9', and 11', and does not reorder until the material is gone. They are forced to take all lengths. It is usually S4S (abrasive planed). I think it is a great substitute for hard maple. It is a closed grain pattern, and very dense. The last time I bought, it was about $1/bf less. Can't help much with staining, but my guess would be it has the same properties as maple.

From contributor T:
I would also suggest alder. It machines nice (though quite soft) and will make a nice dark finished look. Takes stain nicely but must be sanded well to at least 280g. It will also splotch if the surface is left too soft.

From contributor B:
If you want stained cabinets to make them darker, why waste time and money trying to save a nickel? Cherry or mahogany would be less expensive in the long run. In any case beech is a nice wood to work with, costs less than maple, but I wouldn't want to stain it.

From contributor R:
I also would suggest alder. If they don't like the density, another option, if you buy your doors, as most suppliers carry it (I'm guessing they can because they run so much hardwood they have a bunch of sapwood), is stain grade cherry. It's harder and at my supplier only a tad more than alder.

From contributor Y:
Beech and maple are about the same in hardness and difficulty with stains. In general, I show my customers various samples of wood with clear finish only. Then they can try and select the look they want without having to stain. Staining is troublesome at times with almost any wood but especially so with maple and beech. Another aspect that you may not have considered is the availability of moldings. Suppliers don't often stock beech moldings. I make my own moldings but if you don't you could be very limited with beech. Watch out for recommending alder if there are kids in the house. Alder will show dents and scratches when abused since it is a medium hardwood. It looks quite nice with many stains, though. Try offering cherry with a clear finish.