Machining and Stability Characteristics of Birch

A few facts and some hands-on impressions of Birch as a cabinetmaking material, compared to other similar woods. July 8, 2014

I'm considering using birch for a solid wood cabinet and furniture project that will be painted. I'm looking for feedback on eastern or western birch re-machining and stability.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor D:
Birch is usually used for a wood finished look. Eastern maple either soft or hard are great choices with very closed and smooth grain.

From contributor M:
Birch is a nice solid wood. It's more common as a veneer it seems. It's hard, and prone to crack if fastened too close to the end grain; it'll crack anywhere if you don't pre-drill. In my experience (SE USA) you can't order 100 board feet and expect any kind of color consistency. It's like walnut supplies in those regards; if you want matching or even usable material, then you have to pick it out at the supply house.

From Contributor B:
I use yellow birch a lot - mostly figured. I have never heard of western birch. The natural color has both heart and sap in it. I have not had an issue with color. I dye all my work and the red heart blends in. You spoke of paint, so that will not be an issue. It is as hard as hard maple and should take paint well. Soft maple may be a bit less expensive and do as well painted.

From the original questioner:
I can't find a note as to whether birch is a fairly stable wood. I know I've used it before, but that was quite a while ago. My other option for a painted job is as Contributor B said soft maple, but I'm also thinking of poplar. It is less money and I find it machines very well.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Yellow birch is an excellent wood. The other birches are softer and may not be acceptable. What properties do you need? Here are some hardness numbers:

Soft maple 700 (silver) to 950 (red) pounds
Hard maple 1450 pounds
Yellow birch 1260 pounds
Paper birch 910 pounds
Walnut 1010 pounds
Need any others?
For stability, a 3% MC change will give the following size changes:
Soft maple 0.72% (silver) to 0.82% (red)
Hard maple 0.99%
Yellow birch 0.95%
Paper birch 0.86%
Walnut 0.78%

My conclusion is that the differences are small and probably not important for these species. (Teak is 0.58% and red oak is 0.86%).

From Contributor A:
It's hard, and prone to crack if fastened too close to the end grain. It'll crack anywhere if you don't pre-drill.