Magnolia is a woody emblem of Southern America. The prevalence of this beautiful tree in the Southern states is best represented in Mississippi being recognized as “The Magnolia State”. Big, waxy leaves further adorned with radiantly colorful flowers, it is unsurprising why magnolias are famously deployed for ornamental duties. Aside from the fascinating tree itself, how about the wood? Is magnolia wood good for anything?
Previously, magnolia wood was dominantly used in producing Venetian-blind slats, thanks to its straight grain. Magnolia wood is further deployable in making upholstered furniture frames, veneer, interior trim, and general-purpose utility wood.
For woodworkers, magnolia is an exciting species. Their straight grain, fine texture, workability, and non-warping capacity, are some of the features that stand this wood out. How about I tell some 17 interesting facts about this wood?
1. Is Magnolia softwood or hardwood?
I admit this is a raging question in the woodworking community. Magnolias don’t religiously follow the rules that typify hardwood trees with broad leaves, yet they can’t be correctly classified as softwood.
Magnolia thrives in zone 5-10 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone Map. In sharp contrast to hardwoods, magnolias are evergreen. This means when winter and fall come, magnolias retain their leaves.
Given this distinction, magnolias are more readily classified as soft hardwoods. This classification is even more reflective of the significant air space contained in magnolia wood.
With this space in mind, it is easier to understand the relatively less (when measured against other hardwoods) heaviness or density of magnolia wood. The weight commonly mirrors cherry.
That said, not all cultivars of magnolia have such magnified air space. Bigleaf magnolia – typically found in Kentucky – is denser and heavier. This species is classified as hard hardwood.
2. What grain and color are magnolia wood?
Magnolia wood stands out for the straightness of its grain. Definitely, I am not forgetting the fine texture that characterizes this wood. This wood comes with a reduced quantity of yellowish-white sapwood.
For the heartwood, magnolia has a coloring anywhere from dark brown to faint green. The wood is further decked with exciting mineral streaks ranging from green to purple-black and green-black.
Precisely the end grain is diffuse-porous. These are almost innumerable, with medium to microscopic pores scattered about in no distinct pattern. The growth rings can be conspicuous, with the narrow rays equally apparent.
Overall, magnolia boasts a smooth texture, especially when it is young. As the tree ages, the bark gets scalier, losing its characteristic smoothness.
3. How does Magnolia wood dry?
Warping, you will agree, is one of the worst nightmares of every woodworker. The good news is that magnolia wood readily dries, substantially reducing the risk of warps.
Nevertheless, it is important to immediately saw after you harvest the magnolia tree, as is advised for white-colored woods. Such quick sawing should be immediately followed by drying to avoid oxidation stain. It is recommended that you dry your magnolia in low-humidity environments.
4. How well does magnolia glue?
I love the way magnolia glues, especially when it is freshly prepared and the surface flat. This is not a wood that easily splits.
Thanks to this capacity, joining magnolia wood is far less of a headache. Your normal woodworking adhesive will work just well for joining this wood.
5. How dense is magnolia wood?
In the U.S hardwood index, magnolia ranks intermediate. When magnolia is dry, it records an average density of 35lbs per cubic foot. Effectively, a piece of dried (to an estimated 7% moisture content) magnolia lumber measuring 15/16 inches x 6 inches x 12 feet will weigh 17lbs.
6. How workable is magnolia wood?
Workability is a strong suite of magnolia wood. I am thrilled with how manipulatable this wood species is. Just like maple (with magnolia sharing the straight grain and fine texture maple is famed for), it is easy to work magnolia with power tools – be it handheld or machine.
Such ready machinability can also be attributed to the moderate density of magnolia wood. When you thin-saw magnolia, it is not warping, and the finishing is fantastic.
I am also impressed with how efficiently it turns. This wood is further endearing for its capacity to stain and steam bend.
Planing magnolia to a smooth surface – which needs little or no sanding – is easy. Unlike other woods, magnolia doesn’t require filler before you finish it with whatever coating, paint, or stain you desire.
7. How much does magnolia wood cost?
Given the prevalence of magnolia trees in the southern American states, magnolia is cheaper (and easier to procure) in the southern region than in the Northern region.
Compared to your traditional hardwood, magnolia is cheaper. Its price is closely tied with yellow poplar, coming around $2.5 per 2 board feet in regions where magnolia is readily available.
In other South Eastern American states like Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Maryland, you can easily procure Magnolia wood in boards as thick as 2-4 inches.
8. Does Magnolia wood smell?
Truth is, magnolia wood has no distinctive odor. Nonetheless, I would advise you wear a protective mask when working magnolia.
This is especially considering that the fine dry dust emanating from this wood can trigger breathing difficulty in specific clusters of people.
Cases of allergies to magnolia wood aren’t that infrequent. I have heard incidences of magnolia wood triggering runny nose and asthma-related symptoms in woodworkers.
9. How stable is magnolia wood?
Given the remarkable straightness of magnolia grain, there won’t be significant warping when the moisture content changes — as typical of a drying process.
You can expect magnolia to shrink by about 5.1% tangentially and 4.1% radially when dried from a typical green tree to a 7% moisture content.
Magnolia wood is moderate in strength, with a surface hardness of 1020lbs. Its bending strength (precisely its Modulus of Rupture, readily known as MOR) reads 11,200 psi. For stiffness, magnolia’s modulus of elasticity (MOE) reads 1.40 million psi.
Compared to the yellow poplar – which magnolia readily mirrors – magnolia is 15% lighter, with yellow poplar recording 10,100 psi in MOR, 1.58 million psi in MOE, and 540lbs. in surface hardness.
10. How sustainable is magnolia wood?
Magnolia wood is admittedly not the most sustainable you can get. Indeed, this wood is more prone to insect attack. Magnolia is generally not durable with a not-too-impressive decay resistance.
11. Is it legal to cut down a Magnolia tree?
As to if magnolia is endangered, magnolia wood is not formally listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Nonetheless, the legality of cutting down a magnolia tree is quite complicated.
Before you fell a magnolia tree, it is essential to ascertain if that tree is protected and native to the U.S. Conventionally, trees in the United States can be protected at both the federal and state levels.
Take, for example, the Ashe’s Magnolia. It is protected at the federal level in the United States, with its rarity established in every section of its native range. Consequently, the law prohibits you from felling the Ashe’s Magnolia.
However, the cucumber magnolia is appreciably abundant in the United States and lacks federal protection. For such species of magnolia with a substantial population in their native range, it may not be illegal to fall such a tree.
Take note that the cucumber magnolia is scarce in areas like Indiana – despite Indiana being in this tree’s native range. Consequently, cucumber magnolia is federally protected in Indiana. Commonly, Southern magnolia is commercially harvested in the United States given their increased weight and hardiness.
12. How well can you use magnolia wood for furniture?
Once upon a time, magnolia wood was the wood-of-choice when it comes to producing Venetian-blind slats. Such preference was due to the straightness of magnolia’s grain, making it preferable to basswood.
Also, thanks to such stability, woodworkers saw magnolia as a befitting alternative to yellow poplar. The ease with which custom furniture and cabinet producers can manipulate magnolia also explains why it is beloved by these professionals.
These days, magnolia still finds use in furniture applications like pallets, toys, doors, interior trim, and millworks. Personally, I love how brilliantly the colors emanate from magnolia, especially when you give it a clear finish.
I also use this wood for producing turned bowls. I have buddies who use magnolia wood for making food containers. When I ask them why such a ridiculous choice, they tell me they fancy how magnolia doesn’t add odor or taste to what it carries.
13. Is Magnolia Wood toxic?
Commonly, I am asked if magnolia wood is poisonous. Well, going by stipulations of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, magnolia (particularly the Southern variant) has no toxic effect, be it on animals or humans.
This means that upon ingestion or handling, the leaves, berries, flowers, or even lumber of magnolia will not result in poisoning.
14. Can you burn Magnolia wood?
Unlike hickory and oak, magnolia is not your regular firewood species. This is due to its relatively lower heating value. Nevertheless, you can still burn magnolia wood as firewood.
There isn’t much of a difference between burning magnolia and burning white birch – or even magnolia’s close cousin: poplar.
Magnolia wood burns fast, as it doesn’t have high density. Therefore, it wouldn’t take too long before it transforms to fine white ash, also taking note that magnolia wood doesn’t boast impressive coaling properties.
With all these in mind, I prefer to burn magnolia wood when starting a fire – particularly a morning fire. But given that magnolia alone can’t sustain the fire for long, I would mix magnolia with more robust hardwoods.
I would recommend you burn magnolia during spring (or fall) when outside temperatures are milder. Of course, I need not remind you that it is essential your magnolia is seasoned and adequately processed before burning.
15. How do you season Magnolia Firewood?
If you are going to burn just any wood for firewood, you must season it to reduce the moisture content by evaporating the water inside. This way, your magnolia can burn more efficiently and even safely.
Magnolia takes a while to season. It needs more time to dry, considering it is not the typical firewood species that burns sustainably.
The standard seasoning practice for magnolia wood is to split the wood, after which you allow it to dry for at least a year. For best results, you can allow it to dry up to 18 months.
16. Is Magnolia good for carving?
Magnolia wood is more adapted for carving (and furniture production) than burning as firewood. It is easily workable, remember.
You wouldn’t have much of a problem carving magnolia wood, quartering it, or spitting it in equal pairs.
17. Can you use Magnolia for the cutting board?
If you can get other options like maple and beech, I would advise you not to use magnolia for a cutting board.
This is because dense hardwood lumbers are better suited to cutting boards (thanks to their closed-grain texture) than open-grain woods like magnolia.
Nonetheless, if magnolia is all you have got, you can still use it. Magnolia is soft hardwood, but it can still reasonably get the job done in this regard.