Is Sumac Wood Good for Anything? (9 Facts With Pictures)

Sumac Wood Good for Anything

Sumac trees have a beautiful bright-red color that reminds me of the fall season. The largest sumac trees grow up to 30 feet. However, most people plant sumacs as shrubs (10 feet tall). Sumac trees are grown for ornamental purposes because of their red, cream, or greenish flowers.

Unbelievable, there are 250 sumac species in existence. These trees and shrubs are botanically known as Rhus. On top of the beautiful flowers produced by the sumac trees, most produce red fruits, which are a big spectacle for birds.

These beautiful sumac trees are common in East Asia, Africa, and North America. Since we know a lot about the sumac tree, how about sumac wood?

Is sumac wood good for anything?

Traditionally, people used sumac trees for medicinal purposes and as wax ingredients. Today, woodworkers use sumac wood to make turned objects, carvings, small specialty items, and inlay. Sumac wood is trendy thanks to its distinctive straight to interlocked grain.

The thrill of working with sumac wood comes about because of its straight grain. Some sumac tree species have interlocked grain, but they are still great to work with. The fine to medium texture and high workability are some of the wood’s fantastic features.

Here are some fascinating sumac wood facts that I have put together for you.

Is Sumac Wood Softwood or Hardwood?

Sumac wood is hardwood. The majority of sumac tree species thrive in zone 3 to 10 in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

Sumac tree species include both evergreen and deciduous types. Some retain their leaves during winter, while the rest shed theirs.

Sumac wood is lighter than oak wood. It has a density of about 530 kilograms per cubic meter. This places sumac wood under medium-density hardwoods.

What Grain and Color are Sumac Wood?

Sumac wood is among a few kinds of wood with a yellowish to olive green coloration. This color is very consistent, so we’d expect the heartwood to be the same color.

The sapwood is a grayish-white, though. I cannot forget to mention the fine to medium texture and moderate natural luster.

Sumac wood stands out for its straight grain properties. That is why woodworkers love it for woodworking. Some species exhibit an interlocked grain.

The end grain is a ring or semi-ring porous. Earlywood pores are medium to large, while latewood pores are tiny to medium-sized.

Generally, sumac wood is smooth in texture.

How Do You Dry Sumac Wood?

Correct drying is essential for the entire woodworking process. Sumac wood, in particular, tends to split and check as you dry it. Luckily, there are ways to stop that.

After felling a sumac tree, I leave the trunk wood as long pieces. This length will help manage and seal the ends. Proceed to rough turn as soon as possible to seal the end grain within and without.

What follows is the drying process that lasts for a month. Re-turn to round, then seal the outside only this time. Again, let the wood dry out for another month.

The wood should be ready to finish, stain, glue, and use after that. 

Can You Burn Sumac Wood?

Sumac wood is a lightweight wood. Unfortunately, some people know it for popping, spitting, and throwing out embers. The popping throws a lot more sparks than I would prefer.

Use sumac trees and not shrubs for firewood. Also, before using the wood, ensure you season it for at least one year.

Sumac doesn’t produce a lot of heat, though. So, don’t get too excited. Since sumac wood is not very dense, it contains less BTU content per stick.

If you need a hot fire, use sumac wood with other hardwoods like oak to generate more heat. If you are burning the wood indoors, remember to place a grate at the front to stop embers from escaping. Embers can damage your beautiful floors and other surfaces near the fireplace.

Is Sumac Wood Good for Smoking?

Honestly, there are better woods to smoke meats or vegetables, like crabapple wood. Sumac wood is okay to use, but it adds nothing to the flavor profile.

When you burn the wood, it doesn’t smell tannic or harsh. It doesn’t smell sweet either. The smoke is mild, although you would have to use a lot of wood because sumac burns fast and doesn’t produce much heat.

I suppose using sumac wood and other hardwoods such as oak, crabapple, or cherry would work well, flavor-wise.

How Workable is Sumac Wood?

Sumac wood is excellent for turning. You can use both hand and machine tools to work on sumac wood. Although the wood tends to split and check during drying, proper sealing of the end grain, seasoning and drying will improve its workability.

The limb wood is not too useable. It has lots of reaction wood. The top is under tension, while the bottom is under compression.  

Woodworkers use sumac wood for various purposes like making carvings. The downside is the tree’s small size. This feature makes sumac wood commercially unavailable.

If you want some sumac wood pieces to work with, look for hobbyists who handle specialty wood projects. The wood should be moderately priced.

Is Sumac Wood Toxic or Allergenic?

Most hardwoods are not toxic. Unfortunately, sumac wood isn’t on the safe list. Some woodworkers report cases of skin irritation.

It is also important to note that there is a poisonous sumac tree species (poison sumac). Avoid planting it in your garden. The poison sumac produces gray or white berries, unlike the other safe trees with red berries.

We can equate poison sumac to poison ivy or poison oak. You will get the same amount of itchiness and rashes.  

Every time you work on sumac wood (or any other for that matter), wear protective gear. Your workstation must always have a pair of gloves, goggles, and a mask. 

How Sustainable is Sumac Wood?

Sumac trees are not on the CITES Appendices or the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This means that the tree is not an endangered species.

However, I would advise that you consult your local Department of Conservation before burning sumac on your land. Also, positively identify the sumac species on your land to avoid burning or planting poison sumac.

Does Sumac Wood Have a Smell?

Unfortunately, sumac wood has no characteristic odor, unlike others woods like applewood. You won’t get a whiff of anything other than the typical wood smell.

The good thing is that it doesn’t smell bad. You should still wear a mask when working on sumac wood, though. Wear it for the wood dust, not the possible bad odor.


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