For reasons not entirely clear to me, American beech, one of my favorite domestic woods, is often looked down on. No doubt this disdain stems in part, or largely, from its wide use in cheap or second-rate tools, where it is often stained or painted in an attempt to conceal its plainsawn grain.
Perhaps that plainsawn figure is the real reason for its reputation. Unlike woods whose figure is less dependent on grain orientation, beech’s appearance is entirely dependent upon how it is sawn. Looking at quartersawn and plainsawn beech samples side by side, it would be easy to believe that they are two entirely different species. Plainsawn samples are boring and somewhat unattractive, but turn that same wood 90 degrees and it comes to life, with golden flecks and rays set against a cream or pinkish background.
Although larger manufacturers cannot individually select each piece of wood to ensure that this figure is prominently featured, the best toolmakers (most notably planemakers) go to great pains to do so. The reward for this effort is well worth it.