The majestic sycamore is one of the largest, most valuable assets to both animals and mankind in our forests today. Their wood, while not always the top choice for woodworkers, is plentiful and versatile. In this article, we’ll discuss the characteristics of sycamore wood and its many uses.
What You'll Learn Today
Can Sycamore Wood be Used For Anything?
Sycamore trees have proved to be useful for hundreds of years. As early as pioneer times, there are records of horsemen using sycamore trees to find shelter in the hollow base of an old sycamore tree – horses and all. Early settlers also used to rely on the woody giants for temporary housing and stables while their cabins were built.
In addition to providing protection for humans, a home and sustenance for wildlife, sycamore trees continue to provide wood – a valuable resource. Here are some of the most common uses for sycamore wood:
- Particle board
- Butcher blocks
What Are the Disadvantages of Sycamore Wood?
There are many experts who believe that sycamore is a highly undervalued, underrated wood. But some professionals who work with wood for a living may disagree. Here are some of the downsides of using sycamore wood:
Quality Cuts are Expensive
Sycamore wood is best used as a quarter sawn wood. Quarter sawing is when a log is cut lengthwise into quarters, which produces wedges that have a right angle that ends at the center of the original log.
Next, each piece is tipped up on its pont and sawed in boards along the axis. This process leads to a lower chance of shrinkage, swelling, or splitting and produces a more stable log.
While quarter sawn sycamore is a highly useful product, it can be pricey for consumers due to the labor intensive procedure that is used to make such a high quality product.
Not Ideal for Firewood
Since sycamore retains so much water, when it’s cut it can take at least 2 years to season for firewood. If you don’t wait long enough you risk an unpleasant smell that’s associated with burning green sycamore wood.
Another disadvantage of using sycamore for firewood is that it can be difficult to split – also due to the high water content.
Despite these negative qualities, using some sycamore to supplement your fire can be beneficial. The wood produces a lot of heat very quickly, so it’s good for starting fires.
Prone To Decay
Sycamore’s high moisture content means that it is not resistant to decay. It’s common for the heartwood in mature trees to be rotted out.
Wood that has a high chance of decaying quickly should not be used for things like hardwood flooring and structures that are exposed to the elements.
Difficult to Work With
Many woodworkers will agree that sycamores produce attractive, durable logs, but it’s not always worth the hassle of using it. Sycamore wood has an interlocking grain that makes it difficult to shape without splitting or chipping.
The wood also has a tendency to warp while drying in a kiln. Although there are measures that can be taken to prevent warping, there are other types of wood that are similar to sycamore and are easier to work with.
Is Sycamore a Hard or Soft Wood?
Sycamores are technically considered hardwood trees. Hardwood refers to trees that have seasonal life cycles – meaning the leaves fall in Autumn, and the tree goes dormant in winter.
Softwood trees generally refer to evergreen conifers, which don’t produce flowers, and their leaves are needle-like.
Despite its hardwood status, many consider sycamore to be low-density, given that it is softer than some softwood trees.
What Is Special About Sycamore Trees?
Aside from the many uses of sycamore wood, these vast trees deserve to be revered for several reasons. Here are just a few fun facts that you may not realize about sycamores:
- Sycamore trunks can grow to incredible diameters. For instance, there is a stump of a fallen sycamore tree in Indiana that measures over 57 feet around, and 18 feet wide.
- The credit for the largest leaves of any tree in North America goes to the sycamore.
- Sycamore bark is covered with areas of white and brown due to its exfoliating nature. The bark peels in patches, revealing different colored layers.
- Pennsylvania is home to the Lafayette Sycamore tree – believed to be over 300 years old. This tree stands in Brandywine Battlefield Park and is known for protecting General George Washington’s soldiers during the Battle of Brandywine in 1777.
- Sycamore trees provided food for ancient Egyptians, until they were destroyed by plague.
Although sycamore wood isn’t the top choice for many woodworking purposes, it deserves recognition for its beauty. Since sycamore trees are large and plentiful in North America, they prove to be a worthy option for many projects.
If you’re interested in seeing how sycamore lumber is cut from a felled tree, watch this YouTube video:
For more information about sycamore tree, check out this guide about sycamore syrup.