American sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) grow naturally all over the US. It usually grows large to a great height with a sturdy trunk like most hardwoods. However, you will rarely see manufacturers using Sycamore in production in the lumber industry.
This is why many people, particularly those who have these trees in their homes, ask whether it can be good for anything.
Because of the great diameter and height usually attained by Sycamore trees, they always produce one of the best logs out there. Since the logs are of great sizes, they are ideal for many woodworking applications. Traditionally, they are used in the production of furniture, furniture parts, molding, and joinery paneling.
To further answer the above question, we are going to address every single question surrounding Sycamore wood in detail.
Is Sycamore Softwood or Hardwood?
American Sycamore is known by several names depending on where you come from. If you know American planes, Water Beech, Buttonwood, Virginia Maple, or Ghost Tree, this is the same thing we are talking about here.
Though it is found throughout the US, Sycamore is mostly common to the eastern portion of the US, especially the Mississippi River Valley.
The trees grow in hardiness zone 4 through 10 where they thrive in full sunlight and well-drained soil. This is according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
American Sycamore grows to a great height, over 100 feet with an average diameter of 3 to 8 feet. The tree is characterized by a close texture and interlocking grain, moderately hard and moderately heavy.
That said, the American Sycamore tree is one of the most confusing trees out there.
From our experience, we can classify America as moderate hardness hardwood. According to the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), America Sycamore generally grows huge and it is one of the largest hardwood species in North America.
What grain and color is Sycamore wood?
Sycamore comprises sapwood which is light to creamy white tan, with some darker reddish-brown (almost orange-brown) heartwood streak. Sycamore also has a freckle appearance resulting from distinct ray flecks present on quarter sawn.
It has an interlocking grain giving it a fine and an even texture similar to that of Maple. The end grain is characterized by numerous small to medium pores as well as solitary in radial multiple and clusters. Tyloses are occasionally present.
How Workable is Sycamore Wood?
You can easily work on sycamore wood with your hand and machine tool. But as you may expect from interlocking grain, surfacing and machine operation can sometimes be troublesome.
In general, Sycamore easily splits and finishes well. It also turns and glues with a lot of ease especially if it is freshly prepared and the surface is flat. The wood doesn’t respond poorly to steam bending.
That said, workability is its biggest strength. If you have worked on Norway maple wood or Field Maple, Sycamore comes close to them in terms of workability.
How Much Does Sycamore Wood Cost?
Sycamore is usually overlooked by manufacturers in the lumber industry and therefore, it is not on demand.
For that reason, it is still very much affordable as of now, coming at a moderate price. Though we expect things to change soon given that most people are now enlightened on its importance.
In the eastern region, particularly Mississippi, sycamore wood is even cheaper because it is available in abundance. To get the best value out of it, Sycamore wood is usually sold in quarter sawn boards which increases the cost.
Is Sycamore Wood Good for Carving?
Sycamore is often underrated and overlooked, but there is something exceptional about this wood. Sycamore produces a strong timber with subtle sheen and smoothness that makes it attractive and a great choice for wood carving.
When polished, Sycamore is one of the most beautiful woods with a lustrous and silky look.
When carving with beautifully looking wood, there can be more incentive in making a well-made, finished item. However, how pretty the wood is doesn’t matter a lot when it comes to wood carving.
Is Sycamore Good for Firewood?
To be honest, Sycamore is relatively poor-quality firewood. Its heat output per cord of seasoned wood is relatively low, 24.1 million BTUs. This is much lower if you compare it to other hardwoods such as Oak and Hickory. Sycamore produces moderate smoke and it is difficult to split.
However, it doesn’t hurt in any way to burn Sycamore and if you have one, you can just use it as firewood. What we mean is that it is not better firewood compared to most hardwoods, and that doesn’t mean it is completely bad for firewood.
How Do You Season Sycamore Firewood?
To reduce the moisture content of any firewood before you burn them, you should season them. Seasoning facilitates evaporation of water inside the wood making it burn more efficiently and safely.
Sycamore is not the typical firewood out there, and for that reason, it takes to season and to dry. To season Sycamore wood, split it and leave it to dry for a year or more.
Does Sycamore Produce Coal?
When any wood is burned, it produces coal. The quality of the coal it produces has a big impact on how long the wood will burn.
Sycamores tend to have a pretty good coaling property. However, the coals are not as great as those produced by other woods such as Cherry and Elm.
Sycamore wood burns a bit fast compared to most hardwoods and therefore, their coaling property is not as impressive as those of most hardwoods.
With that said, you would rather mix it with more robust woods like Cherry if you want a better coal outcome.
Is Sycamore Wood Toxic?
Every wood is associated with standard health risk reactions such as allergies. Apart from this standard health risk, no further health reaction has been associated with sycamore wood.
The wood is not poisonous and you should not be worried about handling it or ingesting it.
The fact that Sycamore is rarely considered by manufacturers in the lumber industry doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.
It is an excellent tree species choice when used for the right purpose. If you have sycamore in your home, we are glad you now know its value.