Professionals and Amateurs Together

Does Yellow Birch Dull Tools


I have some yellow birch in the rough. Since this wood is so hard, do I need to be concerned about prematurely dulling saw blades, jointer and planner knifes when working with this wood?—Roger Grey


Jon Siegel replies: Very hard wood does not normally cause blades to become dull prematurely. It’s not hardness, but abrasion that dulls blades. Some woods, almost all of them tropical, contain naturally occurring abrasive minerals. Teak is the best example. It is somewhat soft, but it is very abrasive and will quickly dull HSS planer knives. Some other hard tropical woods that are notoriously abrasive are wenge and purpleheart. No domestic woods that I know of are very abrasive—certainly not birch. But having said that, note that any wood can be abrasive if the surface is dirty, and this can be caused by contact with the floor, or the ground; or exposed to wind-borne dirt in the air-drying process. Such lumber should be cleaned with a stiff brush before machining.

Al Breed replies: You should not have any problems with yellow birch dulling tools any more than maple or another hardwood. When using hand tools, especially planes, you will have to make sure they are very sharp or the tool will not bite in, but skid. When air dried, birch is a fantastic turning wood and will leave a polished sheen on the final cuts.

Peter James replies: The short answer is no. For years I worked with red oak that I cut myself, had a local sawyer come with a bandsaw mill and then air dried. I never had issues, however, one thing that I did do was to rough the pieces to size in my jointer and planer and then sharpen the knives after it had acclimatized to the shop if I was doing a large project and wanted that “perfect” surface off the planer.

Bob Oswald replies: The Birch I’ve used doesn’t tend to be harder than many other woods. Other woods high in silica, the exotics, however beg the same question. And you can worry about them prematurely dulling your tools. The only answer is to sharpen them more often. Of course carbide cutting edges help, like on the tablesaw. Also be aware that in well over half of my tool sharpening adventures, the blade really just needed cleaning. This is especially true if you use high resin woods like cherry, pine and all softwoods.. You should clean tablesaw blades every week if you use your tools often. I work in the shop at least a couple hours every day. Every time I switch the saw from crosscut to rip, I clean the blade. You can see the resin buildup on the sides of the teeth. Any dirt visible on the saw blade will cause more burning and splintering.

Dave Emerson replies: Lucky you. I love yellow birch—it works well. I have never noticed it to dull my tools unusually. Certainly less so than cherry or oak.

Tags: Tools, Wood