Working with Red Birch

Red Birch is the heartwood of Yellow Birch. Here are tips on how it behaves. August 15, 2006

I have been asked to make a kitchen and other cabinets from red birch. My supplier doesn't carry it and can't get it. I need from 300 to 500 bd ft. Has anybody used red birch? Is it similar to yellow as far as working? Anyone have a lead on where I might find some? I'm in the Minneapolis area.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
I'm in northern Ca. I have done several red birch kitchens. It looks good with a natural finish. It machines well; slightly softer than maple. It's pretty pricey out here, at around $8.00 bd ft., and outsourced doors around $20.00 sq ft. for a simple raised panel door, so before bidding, check your material cost. Red birch is readily available in my area.

From contributor J:
Red birch is very close to white birch (like right next to it, since it comes from the same tree). Red Birch is the heart wood and white birch is the sap wood. Natural birch is the stuff that has sap and heart mixed. Red birch also goes for around $8/board foot here in SoCal. If we can get the stuff here, I would think you can get it up there somewhere. The color is similar to cherry. It works pretty well, and it tends to blotch if you try to stain it.

From contributor E:
I have also done a number of jobs in red birch. It should be readily available in lumber and plywood form across most of the country. Maybe you need a new supplier? I like working with it.

From contributor K:
What kind of natural finish do you recommend? I am doing my kitchen in red birch. I want to bring out the shimmering grain of the wood.

From contributor L:
Could someone please post a picture of a natural-finish red birch kitchen? Sounds very nice, but it's never been requested of us.

From contributor L:
Use a wash coat to get away from the blotch.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
In addition to a wash coat, you can also use sanding sealer. Don't forget that we have very active selling and buying of lumber areas here at WOODWEB.

From the original questioner:
I have located 500 bd ft of red birch. The price is okay, I guess. I will be paying around $5.60 per ft. Someone mentioned a wash coat for blotchiness. I would agree if the red birch were to be stained, but with a clear coat, why would any wash coat be needed?

From contributor D:
No reason. You can, however, use Zinsser seal coat as a sealer as the shellac will do a great job of popping the grain.

From Professor Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Red birch is the heartwood of the yellow birch. Yellow birch is harder than white birch. Yellow birch is preferred for cabinets, as it is harder than the other birches. The bark of white birch was used to make the so-called birch-bark-canoes. (I do suppose that sometimes the heartwood of the white birch could be sold as red birch, but this would not be typical.)