The hornbeam, sometimes known as white beech, is widespread throughout Europe and the Caucasus with the exception of Spain and coastal regions of the Mediterranean. The hornbeam grows in hilly regions and flatlands and is often to be found in mixed woodland, seldom together. Hornbeam grows to a height of between 20 and 25m and can reach 150 years of age. They are generally felled at an age of between 70 to 80 years of age.
The hornbeam/white beech is not related to the beech family. The hornbeam belongs to the hazel tree family (Carpinaceae) and is often also classified under the birch tree family (Betulaceae).
The wood of the hornbeam is even and light, grey-white to yellowish-white in colour. Sapwood and heartwood are difficult to differentiate from one another. The annual growth rings are visible but not strong. The pore structure is very fine and not visible by the naked eye. It has a smooth texture.
Due to it considerable density and hardness, wood of the hornbeam is used wherever high-load wood is required. It used to be used for shoe-making, tools, carriages and windmills. It is not so suited for carpentry. Although many uses no longer apply, hornbeam still has a role to play, for example for piano making, plane bases and other tools, cutting blocks for butchers or billiard cues.
The wood of the hornbeam is the hardest of all the native trees. It is dense and hard, tough and elastic. It is more resistant to breakage than oak. A disadvantage is the considerable shrinkage, and it has a tendency to crack and warp. Its natural durability is generally low, though better when used under water.
Despite its hardness, hornbeam wood can be worked with most tools and machines. Provided sharp blades and tools are used, sawing, planing, turning and profiling are all straightforward. The wood is difficult to split but can be bent. Nail and screw connections require more strength but are then correspondingly strong.
The surface can be stained and polished, but yellows under exposure to sunlight. The combination of iron and water can lead to colouring of the wood.
Hornbeam is available as round or sawn timber.
Other names: white beech, Horn beech
- Piano making
- casting moulds
- Sports equipment