If you want to build something around your home, then solid wood is always a great option to consider in terms of material. However, there are of course dozens of different types of wood out there.
Two very popular types of wood for woodworking and construction include oak and beech. Today, we are going to do a side-by-side comparison of both to figure out which of these two types of wood is best used for your next project. Let’s get to it and help you make a choice.
What Is Oak?
First, we have the oak tree. Today, we are going to focus on one specific type of oak tree, the red oak. The reason for this is that it is one of the most commonly found in North America, as well as one of the most popular types to use for basic home construction, renovation, and other such projects.
That said, there are technically over 160 different species of oak tree that can be found across the world, with most being located in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in Northern Europe, North America, North Africa, and North Asia.
This is a deciduous flowering tree, which means that it does lose its leaves during the colder months, and it is also a type of hardwood. In fact, oak is one of the harder types of hardwood that can be found in North America. It is a fairly dense, heavy, hard, and structurally sound type of wood that is also resistant to many different forms of physical damage.
With that being said, if oak is not properly sealed or treated, it should not be used for outdoor purposes. Untreated or unsealed oak is just not very moisture-resistant at all and will begin to rot fairly quickly. At the same time, this wood is also not very resistant to pests of any kind.
For this reason, it should only be used for indoor purposes. Oak is often used for many indoor applications, including flooring, walls, cabinets, furniture, and decorative pieces. As for appearance, oak features a relatively straight and tight grain, along with a coarse and uneven texture, and a few knots, gaps, or holes. It also has a brownish-red color, with it usually being fairly dark.
What Is Beech?
We then have the beech tree or beech wood. across the world, there are two main types of beech trees, and these include the American beech tree and the European beech tree.
Seeing as we are residing in North America, our focus is going to be on the American variety. The North American beech tree can be found in some parts of eastern Canada as well as throughout the eastern United States. This is a very tall tree that can grow up to 130’ tall.
Beech has a uniform texture and a relatively straight grain, along with a moderate natural luster. It also has a good amount of knots and gaps. This wood usually has a pale cream color, along with a slight brownish or pinkish hue. This material is quite hard and durable, as well as relatively resistant to damage and physical impact.
That said, in terms of the elements, beech does not perform very well. It’s just not resistant to moisture, rotting, pests, mold, or fungus. This is another type of wood that is best reserved for indoor use.
Beech wood is best used for basic indoor purposes, such as flooring, general lumber, lower-end furniture, veneer, turned objects, musical instruments, crates, pallets, boxes, and other relatively low-end projects. This wood is known for being very durable, as well as fairly cost-effective, which does make it quite popular, although it’s definitely not known for having a great appearance.
Oak vs. Beech: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both oak and beech are, let’s figure out what makes these two types of wood different from each other.
Oak is a fairly hard type of wood, and it features a Janka hardness rating of 1,220 lbf. On the other hand, beech is also a very hard type of wood, with a hardness of 1,300 lbf. As you can see, beech is just a little bit harder than oak.
This means that as far as things like indoor furniture, doors, and walls are concerned, beech is going to be slightly more resistant to denting and scratching. Therefore, it might make for a better choice for indoor furniture.
As with hardness, beech is also slightly heavier. Oak comes in at roughly 43 lbs per cubic foot, whereas beech wood comes in at about 45 lbs per cubic foot.
This does in part lend to beech being slightly more durable and structurally sound than red oak, but its heavier weight does also make it a bit harder to work with. That said, as you can see, in the grand scheme of things, the difference in weight between the two is relatively small.
Pest and Moisture Resistance
Okay, so this really isn’t a difference between the two, but it is worth noting. The simple reality is that neither red oak nor North American or European beech is ideal for outdoor purposes.
These types of wood simply do not have very much moisture resistance, and if they get wet, they will start to rot and decay quickly. Both are also not very resilient towards pests and will be consumed by them rather easily. Therefore, neither of these types of wood should be used for outdoor purposes, and both should be reserved for indoor use.
In a separate article, we wrote in detail about oak’s water resistance (or lack thereof).
Overall Durability and Strength
Red oak has a higher modulus of elasticity than beech, which means that it takes a bit more weight to cause red oak to bend. However, beech has a higher compressive strength, a higher modulus of rupture, and a higher density and hardness rating.
Therefore, oak doesn’t make for a good option for flooring, as it can’t take a lot of weight before it sags. On the other hand, in four of the five categories determining how durable and strong a piece of wood is, beech wins, making it the more structurally sound of the two.
Both of these types of wood are relatively easy to work with, as they are easy to saw, stain, and paint. With that being said, because beech is a little harder and heavier, it can be just a bit harder to work with than oak. However, the difference here is rather small.
Appearance – Grain and Color
Beech is not a type of wood that is known for its aesthetic appeal. It features a relatively light color with a very unimpressive grain and texture. This is why it is most often used for basic purposes, not for anything that needs to be decorative or overly appealing.
On the other hand, most people would say that red oak is a very good-looking type of wood. If you need a material that is aesthetically appealing and pleasing to the eye, it is definitely oak that you should go with.
Beech is a very affordable type of wood, which is why so many people choose it. It comes in at no more than $9 per board foot. On the other hand, red oak will cost you up to $25 per board foot.
When to Use Oak
What it really all comes down to here is that oak is a very beautiful and durable type of wood. It has great structural soundness and is therefore more than ideal for a variety of building purposes.
It can be used for indoor furniture, walls, floors, cabinets, decorative pieces, and anything in between. The fact that it is both durable and good-looking means that it serves many purposes. That said, just be aware that it is not an ideal type of wood for outdoor use.
When to Use Beech
If what you are going for is hardness, durability, and structural soundness, and you don’t want to spend a lot of money, then beech does make for a great option.
Beech is ideal for indoor purposes, mainly for everything that oak can be used for. The biggest difference is that beech does not look very nice, whereas oak does. Just like with oak, remember that this wood cannot be used for outdoor purposes.
Alternatives to Oak and Beech
Neither oak nor beech is ideal for outdoor use. If you need something that is resilient to the elements, options such as mahogany, teak, spruce, cedar, and ebony all make for much better choices.
Both beech and oak are ideal types of wood to use for indoor purposes, with oak just being the much better-looking of the two. Now that you know what the main differences between them are, you can make an informed decision.