Using Beech to Build Cabinets

It's a beautiful wood, but is American Beech too unstable for cabinets? Not necessarily, say those who've tried it. August 21, 2006

A customer has asked me to build their kitchen cabinets from beech that was harvested from their property. According to the sawyer, the material was flat sawn on a band-mill, and dried in a dehumidification kiln to 7% MC. I've noted that the shrinkage percentage value at WOODWEB's calculators is 11.9%, one of the highest for hardwoods (cherry is 7.1%, for example). Will the material described above be acceptable?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor J:
I think there's some risk here. I got 1000 b.f. of beech last summer and it's now almost all warped and twisted! I had tried air drying. You may be fine since it was kiln dried. I think it's really difficult to dry beech, but it's fantastic lumber. Mine was milled to a heavy 6/4 and I was able to joint and plane it to a usable 4/4.

From contributor I:
If it is 7% MC, it should be fine.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Check the published shrinkage values on p.35-37 of Chapter 1 at the link below. There are quite a few hardwoods that have 10% or greater tangential shrinkage, green to 0% MC.

Dry Kiln Operator's Manual

From contributor P:
I have a cabinet that I built in about 2000 out of beech that I harvested, sawed and dried in my small DH kiln to 6-7%. It is in my basement where the RH gets to 50% in the summer if I run my dehumidifier, close to 70% if I don't. No more problems so far than with any other of the woods I have used (cherry, soft and hard maple, and ash).

From contributor G:
American Beech is a wonderful wood and beautiful when properly finished. It was used widely in the old wooden school desk because of its durability and price. I'm getting ready to build a set of kitchen cabinets for a customer out of beech and I can't wait to get started. Beech must be sawed from fresh cut logs, and put in the kiln ASAP if you want good lumber. I would not recommend the use of air-dried - kiln-dried beech for furniture or cabinetry. It must also be cut from good straight logs that weren't leaning toward the
sunlight. If the lumber has a lot of growth stress, then you might as well burn it in the fireplace. It is a shame that American beech has been shoved aside to be used mostly
in paper, plywood, and crossties, as is the case in our area. Very beautiful lumber.

From contributor G:
I got an e-mail to elaborate on the finish we use on beech. I like 4 or 5 coats of Magnalac, clear with a satin sheen. Very beautiful.

It is hard in our area to get good beech lumber. American beech, at least in our area, is not harvested for lumber. Mostly used for crossties and cants. A lot of loggers won't even cut it because it doesn't bring much at all. If you get lumber from a tie mill, it usually isn't sawn properly. They just want a cross-tie. Any lumber is used for barns and fences. When an American beech is sawn for high grade lumber and not cross-ties, things are different. The wood must still be properly kiln dried. I would love to see woodworkers rediscover some of the wonderful hardwoods in this country that have long since been forgotten, like American beech, sweet gum, sycamore and sassafras.

From contributor M:
We make custom kitchen cabinets, and in about 2011, we had a customer that didn't pay us, but traded us American Beech for some of the pay. It was about 6 years old and had been stored outside under an awning. We are in Utah, so it was quite dry. We had some rentals, and decided to use the beech for cabinets. After about a year, one of the kitchens had doors that started to split apart, and interestingly the swelling of the wood was not on the length, but the width. After a few years, the other two kitchens started doing the same. Beech is probably fine if you use it for counter tops, drawers, flooring, but not doors with styles and rails that have a panel. It was the panel's swelling that caused the trouble. We had to knock the doors apart and cut the panel down,then it seems to be okay.