The different species of hardwood have slight variations when you consider their hardness and aesthetics. One of the most popular choices for flooring is birch. The birch family has several sub-species and are considered a domestic species to North America. The durability and availability, together make it a popular option for flooring.
This post discusses the origin and various beneficial features of birch hardwood specifically so that you can invest in the flooring, being fully aware of its benefits.
History and Origin
Birch trees are found around the Lake State and in the Northeast and in regions of the Appalachian Mountains. They have been put to various uses for generations.
- The bark of the birch tree was used by Native Americans to cover the canoe frames and shafts of the arrows.
- It is a popular ornamental tree which is also significantly used as building materials and to make cradles, spools, bobbins, agricultural implements, and flooring.
- The sap can be used for making wine, the leaves for medicinal purposes and the bark is also useful in leather tanning.
- According to Celtic mythology, this tree is the symbol of purification and renewal. It was used during the new year celebrations of Samhain and birch is a part of several important celebrations, including Beltane.
Birch has a unique quality which sets it apart from other hardwood species- one can get two different looking wood pieces from a single species as there is a distinct difference in colour between the sapwood and heartwood of birch trees.
The Birch Family
There are several sub-species of birch trees. However, yellow birch is most commonly used for hardwood flooring. It has a Janka rating of 1260 and is harder than other sub-species of birch. The following are the different varieties of birch tree you can come across:
- Yellow birch
Yellow birch has two distinct colour variations. The sapwood is pale white or creamy yellow while the heartwood has a brown colour with a hint of red. In general, you will come across birch flooring that is referred to as yellow birch. A variant called red birch is made only from the heartwood of the birch tree.
- Sweet birch
This sub-species is harder than yellow birch and has a Janka rating of 1470. The sapwood is light brown while the heartwood is reddish dark brown in sweet birch. This is harder than red and white oak as well and known as black or cherry birch.
- Paper birch
With Janka rating of 910, paper birch is used for flooring because of its softer than yellow or sweet birch. It is also known as canoe or silver birch.
- Flamed or curly birch
There is an appearance of waves that are like flames in the wood grains of certain birch and soft maple trees. This curling texture is unique and occurs naturally for reasons unknown. The hardness of flamed or curly birch is 1260 like yellow birch. This graining pattern looks very beautiful and adds a unique texture to your home. However, it is difficult to replicate since this is not a genetic condition among the trees. It has been suggested that these curly grains are the result of being subjected to extreme growing conditions like drought or snow.
Advantages of Birch
Birchwood has some notable advantages, making it a preferred option among homeowners and even contractors. These are:
With Janka rating varying between 1260 and 1470, birch is among the most common flooring choice because of its durability. Hardwood flooring can have a Janka rating up to 4000 which is extremely difficult to work with and hence, not used for flooring. The hardness of birch makes it suitable to work with and it can withstand medium to heavy foot traffic. Yellow birch which is the most widely used species for flooring is harder than hard maple but slightly softer compared to red oak.
It has densely packed tight grains which impart a unique look to the floorboards even when the floor is unfinished. Some floorboards exhibit the contrasting colour of the sapwood and heartwood together which is unique and creates a striking contrast in the overall flooring which is a very desirable style among homeowners.
If you are using only hand tools, birch is rather difficult to work with, but it does respond well to machining. Birch can be sanded easily but too much can roughen the surface which will look unsightly. Moreover, the tightly packed grains of birch create a uniformity which reacts well to paints, stains and other lacquers. Sweet birch, for example, reacts especially well to dark stains. The tight graining of the wood and its dense texture make it ideal for nailing as it grips the nail well. This is an important factor to consider if you prefer nailing down for flooring installation. Other than that, gluing down or screwing the floorboards also works well for birch.
There are no specific maintenance requirements for birch hardwood. Any preventive and maintenance necessary for hardwood flooring, in general, is applicable to birch as well. Take preventive measures to ensure the floor does not get scratched or scuffed using floor mats at entryways and area rugs. A regular routine of sweeping and vacuuming the floor should be maintained and depending on the finish of the flooring, the contractor can best advise you about any specific cleaning routine that you must follow.
- Eco-friendly Choice
Hardwood is never considered an eco-friendly choice but birch is a variant which can be justly called so. It is considered a pioneer species which can rapidly grow in open grounds. Even in areas which have undergone major calamities like a forest fire, birch can thrive. Its rapid growth rate makes it an ideal choice for preventing erosion as well. However, its growth can be problematic for other species with slower growth rates. Birch seedlings must be thinned from time to time to ensure they don’t overwhelm other species growing nearby.
Birch is a domestic hardwood variant which is noted for the unique bicolour texture and the variety of benefits it offers. If you want a break from the common oak and maple flooring, birch is a good alternative that you can invest in.