Log Blog: Flame Birch
Not an accurate depiction of a Flame Birch tree
The Log Blog is back! Like a mighty Oak, this series of articles is growing very slowly. But it is growing. So without further ado, on to entry number 6… Flame Birch!
Like a high-end assassin, Flame Birch has many aliases: Silver Birch, Curly Birch, European White Birch. We call it Flame Birch simply because that’s what our mill calls it. Any wood that is described as Flame or Curly refers to the flame-like pattern that comes from abnormally wide medullary rays and exceptionally oriented tissues. The formation of curly grained wood actually slows down the growth of the tree. Birch is one of the most widely used woods for veneer and plywood worldwide and is also used for doors, furniture, and paneling.
Flame Birch heartwood is pale in color and doesn’t have a distinct heartwood. Lumber that comes from the core of the tree will exhibit brown, flame-like patterns that can be quite dramatic. We try to showcase these pieces in prominent places in our products.
The Silver Birch Tree is native to Europe, though in southern Europe it is only found at higher altitudes and is a medium-sized deciduous tree. Silver Birch generally grows 49–82’ in height, with a slender trunk that tends to be under 16” in diameter. The Silver Birch grows naturally from western Europe eastwards to Kazakhstan, the Sakha Republic in Siberia, Mongolia and the Xinjiang province in China, and southwards to the mountains of the Caucasus and northern Iran, Iraq, and Turkey. It has also been introduced in North America. It is the official wood of Finland. There is an old Finnish proverb about Curly Birch: “Curly Birch grows only so far from a church that one can hear the sound of the church bell.” Immediately after typing those words, “Ring My Bell” by Anita Ward popped into my head. I am guessing it is now in yours. You are welcome.
Like my mom always said to me, don't peel that!
The bark of the Silver Birch is quite striking. It begins purplish brown in young trees but turns silver white when the tree matures. It is paper thin and peels off on older trees. It is also very easy to ignite, even when wet. Please, don’t pull the bark off of the next Birch you see, it harms the tree and takes nearly 5 years to grow back.
IS SILVER BIRCH JUST WOOD? NEIGH, I SAY!
In 2007, an Irish-trained racehorse named Silver Birch won the John Smith’s Grand National. Just to be clear, no horses have ever been harmed in our shop. Puzz Longbeard’s wolf animal companion did come to an early demise in our Pathfinder game, however. A Drider hit him with a mace. In the face.
A solid jumper but this Silver Birch would've made a terrible Dice Chest
IS LUMBERJACK JUICE MADE FROM BIRCH?
Birch Sap is used in the manufacture of wine and beer in Northern Europe, Russia, and China. Please, I beg of you, do not tell the guys in the Dog Might Shop that they can make beer from the Flame Birch we have in stock.
TREE OF THE GODS
Birch is a sacred tree in Celtic Astrology and has been linked to many gods, including Angus Mac Og, Dagda, Audhumla, Cerridwen, Fand, Freya, Frigg, Lugh, Eostre, Venus, and Thor. Druids held that the Birch trees were the keepers of tradition and secrets, and honored them as such. I perpetuate this by whispering my deepest, darkest secrets to any Fiery Adventure Case that goes out.
SAVE THE CHILDREN
Some people believe that cradles made of Birch wood are designed to protect a child and keep fairies from switching the baby with a changeling. I don’t know if that’s true, but do you really want to risk having a changeling baby? I sure as hell don’t.
WOOD FOR CHOMPERS
Almost all toothpicks are made from Birch. I have a little bit of an obsession with toothpicks and have, many a time, expressed my demand that any establishment that serves food have a full stock of toothpicks on hand.
THOUGHTS FROM A WOODWORKER
Our Fiery line made from Flame Birch sells like hotcakes. We order Flame Birch in units of 1,000 board feet. We have a standing order with our mill for 5,000 board feet. We use a ton of Flame Birch. We know it well. And everyone in the shop loves it. It is easy to cut, takes a nail well, drills easily, and sands fairly easily. It can be tough to finish, especially for a newb woodworker. It has a slight tendency to raised grain, especially with the Fiery finish. If we get a complaint about a rough feeling finish, 99% of the time, it’s Flame Birch. That being said, it is stunning in our Fiery line. While I was coming up with those crazy finishes, I tried a lot of woods. Some of you that have been with us a while may remember our Abyssal Black Cherry finish. That finish was a complete nightmare. It required about 16 steps done very carefully. Not an exaggeration. And it sold like crazy. We also used Hickory for our Demon’s Blood finish. Easier to apply than Abyssal on Cherry, but Hickory is very tough to work with for building. Desperately seeking another wood for our best selling finishes, I tried Maple, Ash, Red Oak, some old Elm that we had, White Oak, and then a very pricey piece of Quilted Maple. Kablam! We had a winner. I remember it like yesterday. It was a Sapphire Adventure Case and it was AMAZE-BALLS. Only one problem. Quilted Maple is super duper expensive. Not what we wanted for a middle product tier. Then, Mike and I were at the mill and saw this old, dusty pile of Flame Birch, about 500 board feet of it. The owner told us that nobody buys it anymore and he couldn’t understand why. We picked up a board and, just like a newborn changeling baby, we brought it home with us. My first test, the dreaded Abyssal Black. What was once a 16 step process became a 3 step process. I am not good at the math but that’s like 27 steps fewer. The rest, as they say, is Birch-story. Like History. Or Herstory.
It took me an hour to find a pic of the original Quilted Maple AC
Since then we have expanded our color range and Flame Birch just keeps on keepin’ on right along with us. It took to our new Catalyzed Varnish like a champ and the new finishes look better than ever.
Imperial Ruby on a fine piece of Flame Birch
If you ever work with Flame Birch at your home shop, I have a couple of suggestions... Watch for tear out when planing, especially on heavily curled pieces. If it occurs, try a shallower depth and spin it around so you are feeding it in the opposite direction. Same goes for jointing. Because the grain can be very interlocked, it often works better from another direction. When finishing, use an alcohol-based finish and apply a top coat very quickly. Don’t give that grain a chance to raise. Just like my huge Ragnarok mug, as soon as it is dry… hit it again!
Our newest Fiery finish on Flame Birch, CAKE!
That's what us old folks call a CD, kids.
A Moss Flame Birch GM System
Sources: A bunch of pages from the innertubes and the only book I will ever read, The Wood Bible. For full disclosure, I also read the first paragraph of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.