Being hard wearing, it is also suitable as stair treads and flooring. As a flooring timber, it has an attractive, figurative appeal and lustre, and is significantly harder and more resistant to impact than alternative softwood species, such as rimu and matai.
Sustainability of supply
All New Zealand indigenous timbers are now sourced from privately owned forests.
These forests are required to be managed to exacting standards under detailed long-term sustainable management plans.
Every forest managed for timber on a sustainable basis has its own individual Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry approved Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) Plan or SFM Permit.
Red beech is abundant in the forests of Nelson, north Westland and parts of the central North Island and East Coast of the North Island.
SFM Plans and Permits are in place in each of these regions, although management for timber to date has centred on north Westland. This will change as and when demand for red beech timber increases.
As credible supplies of native rimu decline to minimal levels, beech forests will move to the forefront of providing New Zealanders with sustainable supplies of quality indigenous timbers.
For further information please contact the Indigenous Forestry Unit, Ministry of Primary Industries, Wellington.
Botanical name: Nothofagus fusca
Other common names: Tawhairaunui, red beech
Strength: Good strength properties.
Durability: Red beech is naturally durable to Hazard Class H3.2 and not prone to borer attack.
Finishes: No particular considerations.
Working properties: Red beech combines the qualities of excellent sawing, machining, turning, finishing and bending properties with good strength, durability, hardness and exceptional dimensional stability.
Appearance: The dry heartwood is a light to medium red-brown colour. The sapwood is light brown to white and exhibits toning in greys, browns and greens.
The dry heartwood is a light to medium red-brown colour. It has a tight, close grain appearance. Good machining characteristics allow high-quality finishes to be attained.
The timber often darkens and becomes richer after several months’ exposure to natural light, and tonal variations even out.
The timber has a lustre and natural sheen that tends to improve with age, meaning red beech remains lively and does not appear muddy like some contemporary timbers.
The sapwood is light brown to white in colour and often generates unique sap stains because of the reaction of sugars in the protracted drying process. This ‘colour’ exhibits toning in greys, browns and greens, and is well suited to feature furniture making and select panelling where high character is required.
Once dry, red beech is considered the most stable timber in New Zealand because of its tight cell structure.
Heart red beech achieves Hazard Class H3.2 durability. The heartwood is considered durable, lasting for 15–20 years in the ground. The timber can be used in exterior exposed situations, such as pergolas and outdoor decking, without the need for chemical treatment.
Untreated beech sapwood, however, is non-durable, but treatment is unnecessary for uses where it is completely protected from moisture, such as indoor furniture and other internal uses.
Both the heartwood and sapwood are regarded as impervious to anobium borer attack.
For 12 percent moisture content defect-free timber, the following are average indicative properties: Please note these comparative measures of strength are “laboratory” values using standardised short lengths of clear timber.
These will not be the same strength properties as structural lengths of timber. For the properties of structural length timber please see the tables under the structural design section.
Density at 12% moisture content (MC) 630 kg/m3* Modulus of elasticity 11.6 GPa Modulus of rupture 116 MPa Shear strength parallel to grain 13.6 MPa Compression strength parallel to grain 54 MPa Bending strength 116 MPa Side hardness 5.4 kN Tangential shrinkage – green to 12% MC 7.6% Radial shrinkage – green to 12% MC 2.4%
*Note that the density usually ranges from 625–740 kg/m3, however, timber from the Murchison–Maruia area is of much lower density than the rest of the country, at 560 kg/m3 average density.
Despite these high shrinkage values, once dry, the heartwood is the most stable timber available in New Zealand.
Mechanical properties vary with density, knots, sloping grain and other natural features.
Red beech combines the qualities of excellent sawing, machining, turning, finishing and bending properties with good strength, durability, hardness and exceptional dimensional stability to make the timber suitable for a range of uses and products.
The timber is moderately easy to split, and less likely to blunt cutting knives than other beech species because it does not contain a high silica content.
Because of its strength, fine-line furniture can be manufactured from red beech. The fine turning and routing properties of red beech mean that minimal sanding is required after machining to achieve a smooth finish.
- Machining – excellent.
- Turning – excellent.
- Steam bending – excellent.
- Gluing – good.
- Nailing – satisfactory with care.
For further information: Wardle, J A. 1984. The New Zealand Beeches: Ecology, utilisation and management. Wellington: New Zealand Forest Service.
Red beech has no particular considerations for gluing and coating beyond what is normally specified by glue and paint suppliers – these being that the timber must be dry and free of dust and grease. It accepts paints and stains well.
Red beech is suitable for veneer and decorative and special plywood manufacture.
Red beech is difficult to obtain dry in thicknesses greater than 30 mm. It has a reputation for corroding metal fastenings when used out of doors.
Red Beech is suitable for:
- interior joinery;
- stair treads.
- Case Study - Flooring
Red beech makes excellent flooring because of its hardness, stability, fine finishing and attractive natural colour.
The lustre and warmth of red beech flooring works well in conjunction with other timbers in contemporary and more traditional settings. Natural colour variation can be used to good effect.
Solid and overlay flooring, commonly produced in traditional 19 mm and 12 mm overlay thicknesses in 128 mm and 83 mm cover.
Red beech is available in several engineered flooring products that feature click-lock jointing and pre-finished coatings for ease of installation.
Forever Beech Ltd is currently the major producer of red beech timber and has been selected by the United Nations Forestry Commission as one of the leading examples of exemplary forest management in the Asia–Pacific region.
In 2007, the estate managed by Forever Beech Ltd comprised 4,500 ha of confirmed forest, providing an annual yield of 7,000 m³ per year of red and silver beech saw logs, of which red beech comprised 70 percent of the yield.
Forests are harvested annually in a sequence to provide a continual reliable log supply to the market.
Certificate of authenticity (.pdf)
For detailed information on vendors supplying red beech including their location in New Zealand and products supplied refer to the Suppliers Database or go to the NZ Farm Forestry Association Marketplace for availability.