Sassafras is an indigenous tree dominantly found in North and Eastern America. It grows naturally in untilled fields, ditches, dry hillsides, and fence lines. You can also spot medium Sassafras trees on rich woodland soils.

Sassafras is attractive lightweight but durable wood with a wide range of uses. You can use the woods for furniture, furniture parts, interior & exterior joinery, fencing, post, boxes, crates, containers, millwork, cooperage, and boat building among other uses. 

So, if you’re considering using Sassafras, but don’t know much about it, here are more interesting facts. 

Is Sassafras Hardwood or Softwood?

Sassafras is an American hardwood consisting of straight grains and a wonderful texture. It is durable and has high shock resistance, hence ideal for much woodwork.

You can find this wood throughout the US but it is most common in the north and eastern part of the US. It is dominant west of the Mississippi River into Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and eastern Texas and Oklahoma. 

The trees are moderate growers gaining height and size up to 30-60 feet tall and 30 feet in width. The trees can grow in hardiness zones 4 to 9 and are considered resistant to drought.

Can You Burn Sassafras Wood?

In most parts of the world, not many people consider Sassafras ideal firewood. Its grains split easily and dry quickly, but it is not a standard heating element in fireplaces.

Sassafras burn quickly but don’t produce much heat and contain oils that cause the wood to pop as it burns. It produces BTUs that would be similar to basswood or aspen – which is low. 

The best use of Sassafras in the fireplace is kindling other firewoods. The tree seems to produce a large number of dead branches that you can use for this purpose. You can also split dead into many fine splints that you can use for a purpose since it is easy to split. 

Is Sassafras Wood Toxic?

Reports of severe reactions to Sassafras’ use are scarce. However, the tree is a known sensitizer, and its roots and oils may be mildly carcinogenic if consumed. Typically, you will experience common reactions such as nausea and respiratory syndromes.

Sassafras is more dangerous as a consumable product than wood in toxicity. As a result, the FDA prohibited its oil and other food additives in America.

Just like any other wood out there, long-term exposure to Sassafras wood dust can cause allergic reactions such as sneezing and skin rashes. So, take precautions when working with Sassafras wood just like you would with any other type of wood. 

What Is the Color and Grain Pattern of Sassafras Wood?

Sassafras has a light yellow to mid-brown appearance with an occasional orange complexion. As it grows, frequent exposure to the sun’s rays may change the leaves from light to dark complexion.

In addition, it features straight grains with ring-shaped and porous rows. You can easily spot some small spores and narrow growth rings during its formative years. But with a magnifying lens, the rings will appear distinct.

What Is the Cost of Sassafras Wood?

Sassafras is a popular wood in some areas known for several uses. Besides, some species are going extinct, making their prices shoot.

However, the woods are still affordable, particularly in areas where it is predominantly found. You can get Sassafras for every board foot for a modest price of $2.00-$2.50. This is cheaper than what you will spend on most hardwoods out there. 

What Is the Shrinkage Level of Sassafras Wood?

Shrinkage is a common nightmare for most woodworkers because it can distort the shape of the wood. Luckily, Sassafras has one of the lowest shrinkage levels among other wood types since it dries quickly.

It shrinks at a rate of 10.3 % from the green, fresh state to an oven-dry condition. Although it tolerates slightly higher moisture levels, be sure to maintain your wood to a level between 6-7%. Once you maintain the right moisture level, it will not warp much.

How Workable Is Sassafras Wood?

Sassafras integrates well with handwork, planes, and drilling tools. First, when dry, it conforms and retains the required use dimensions. As a result, you won’t have to do much shaping and fine-tuning.

It also has favorable adhesive traits that blend well with glues. If you want to join wood parts, you could easily use glue for a smooth finish.

Finally, it has excellent machining characteristics, making it popular in the home and commercial woodworking. When using machines on the wood, take caution not to apply too much pressure, as it is not very strong.

Small woodworking projects such as cabinetry, furniture, and joinery can benefit from Sassafras. Artisans also use wood from the Sassafras tree to make split rails, fencing posts, and paneling.

Does It Have Medicinal Value?

Sassafras has a long-time use as a herbal supplement, dating back to colonial periods. Though some of its medicinal contributions have been proven fiction, it still remains a tree of medicinal folklore in some parts of the US. 

For instance in Ozark and Appalachian mountains areas, the notion that Sassafras constructed beds promote sound sleep and therefore longer life. 

In addition, Sassafras tea is still believed to have the ability to purify the blood. However, it no longer forms the bulk component in baked, and cooked foods like it used to in the recent past. FDA banned it as a medicinal supplement and therefore its use is fading.

How Dense Is Sassafras Wood?

Sassafras weighs about 30 pounds for every cubic foot at a moisture content not exceeding 12%. It is therefore about 60-70% denser than oak wood. Essentially, a kiln-dried and planed wood will weigh much lighter than a fresh log.

But in general, it doesn’t have a lot of weight, meaning, your Sassafras-made furniture should not bear a lot of loads in the house. 

How Strong Is Sassafras Wood?

Sassafras is not particularly tough but stronger than several hardwood species out there. Its natural bending endurance rarely exceeds 9,000 psi, while its supportive endurance ranges close to 630 pounds.

When you nail Sassafras near the end, it frequently splits. You can reduce the risk of splitting, consider pre-drilling nail or screw holes on the wood surface.

How Stable Is Sassafras Wood?

Given its reasonably strong grains, you wouldn’t expect significant changes to the wood due to fluctuating conditions.

The hardwood may experience minor size changes when the moisture level changes. For grains parallel to the rings, a 6% change in moisture content can cause a 1 percent change in size. Similarly, for grains running across the rings, a 1% change in size may occur for a 7% change in moisture.

Conclusion

In case you have a Sassafras tree in your home, don’t render it useless. We have outlined several ways it can be useful and the value it holds. The tree can fetch a lot of money in the US because it has a wide range of uses. 

Resources

Missouri Department of Conservation – Sassafras

Hardwood Lumber & Veneer Series – Sassafras