January 3, 2023
Speaking of Sycamore, it has a Janka hardness rating of 779 lbf. It is harder than all softwoods. It is basically a hardwood because it comes from a deciduous tree, which is a primary criterion for a wood to be considered a hardwood. Deciduous trees shed their leaves during autumn. Thus, as a deciduous tree, Sycamore also sheds its leaves during autumn.
Properties and Characteristics of Sycamore
As mentioned above, if you want to raise your woodworking activities a notch, you should be meticulous in selecting the wood you use. For example, if you want to fiddle with Sycamore wood, it will be best to learn more about its properties and characteristics. Below is a short description of Sycamore’s properties and characteristics:
Texture and Color
Sycamore features a light yellow to whitish hue, which sometimes tends to be pinkish. Its heartwood ranges from reddish brown to dark brown, though its heartwood is not clearly delineated. Moreover, you will find Sycamore wood discolored by fungal stains and oxidation, especially those logs which were not properly handled during their green lumber stage.
Sycamore’s pores are uniformly distributed and indistinct. Besides, its growth rings are well-marked with a narrow lighter tissue band. It also features interlocking grains which can be problematic during processing.
Sycamore has wood rays that make it unique. Its rays are numerous and broad. Moreover, they are very conspicuous. Nevertheless, compared to the rays of oakwood, its rays are narrower, yet they are more numerous than the rays of Beech.
Looking at its quartered surface, you will notice that the rays exhibit quite interesting patterns due to the longitudinal cells’ changing directions and ray tissue. Its longitudinal cells have interlocking grains.
You can capitalize on this feature of Sycamore, though many woodworkers don’t take advantage of this characteristic when they use Sycamore wood. Lastly, Sycamore features a fine texture that is relatively even, comparable to that of Maple. Moreover, its grain is also interlocking.
The end grain of Sycamore features a diffuse-porous characteristic, ranging from medium to tiny pores. The pores can also be in clusters, radial multiples, solitary, and numerous. You will also find occasional tyloses.
Besides, its growth rings are distinct because of their lighter color, especially of latewood. Furthermore, you will notice wide to medium rays sans lens. These rays are noded with wide spacing. Moreover, rarely does it have parenchyma.
Sycamore wood is quite dense compared to softwoods. It has a Janka Harness rating of 770 lbf, meaning it is a medium-density wood. Of course, it belongs to the softer hardwood compared to other denser hardwoods with higher Janka ratings.
Sycamore will weigh around thirty-four pounds per cubic foot when it has 12% MC. Thus, it is relatively lightweight. Compared to other hardwoods, it has a relatively lower strength. Its Modulus of rupture is 69.0 MPa, while other hardwoods like the Teak, for example, have 97.1 or more.
Its Elastic Modulus, however, is 9.79 GPa while teak is 12.28 GPa. Sycamore, of course, is one of the hardest home-grown wood species in the United States. It is only second to Hickory. Besides, it shows exceptional dimensional stability, durability, and toughness.
One of the primary concerns you should not take for granted is the rot resistance of the wood you will use. Sycamore has a non-durable to perishable rating and is indeed vulnerable to insect attack. So, it is not ideal for use outdoors.
Different Applications and Uses of Sycamore
If you intend to use Sycamore wood for your projects, it will be best to be familiar with its different applications and usage. Sycamore has been used for centuries. Going back centuries ago, the pioneers used this wood for making shelter. Early U.S. settlers also utilized it to build houses, stables, and cabins.
Aside from using this wood to make shelters, they also use it for making furniture, boxes, pulpwood, particle boards, veneer, molding, crates, pallets, and butcher blocks. Hence, it is easy to see how vital and valuable Sycamore wood was for the woodworking industry in the United States early years. Even now, Sycamore is a significant timber for the woodworking industry.
Workability of Sycamore
Sycamore has a rating of good to intermediate quality. It is suitable for woodturning and boring. However, it is rated “poor” if you want to shape it because of its interlocking grain. When cutting it, it will be best to run cutters at a higher speed to lessen the chipping of grain.
Sycamore is easy to work with using power and hand tools. However, because of its interlocking grain, many woodworkers shy away from using this wood because it can easily split or chip when you attempt to shape it. It is also easy to glue and accepts finishes well. Overall, it is decent to work with.
Sycamore necessitates a moderate schedule when you kiln-dry it. It will warp and twist with ease due to its interlocking grain. However, you can mitigate this issue by placing drying sticks on one-foot centers while heavily weighing the pile’s top when you kiln dry the wood.
The volumetric shrinkage of Sycamore is around 14.1%, placing it within the intermediate range of commercial hardwoods. The quartersawn stock of Sycamore will be resistant to cupping warping and shrinkage compared to flatsawn stock.
You can bring out its figure by finishing this wood cleanly. You can use a scraper, sharp plane, or even fine-sand the wood surface to prepare it for staining or finishing. Besides, you can use shellac, oil, or both finishes, allowing these finishes to penetrate the wood and highlight its end grain, where you can find those undulating grain that appears like flame or ripple figures.
You can finish with a varnish or lacquer for better protection. These finishes sit on the top more, masking the end-grain areas to obfuscate those flashy grains. Nevertheless, some lacquer and varnish types might cause the wood to appear whiter because of a lack of penetration onto the wood.
Different Types of Sycamore
Sycamore is somewhat similar to Maple and grows naturally in the United States. It has different species, and the following are the most popular species in the United States:
One variety of Sycamore inhabiting the eastern region of the United States is the American Sycamore. It features a huge tree that can grow up to a hundred feet. Its wood is relatively strong and comes with medium heaviness and stiffness. It is also a bit hard and offers various applications and usage.
Another variety of Sycamore is the California Sycamore which grows on the west coast of the United States. Thus, it is aptly named California Sycamore. This species can grow up to 110 feet high and gets used for ornamental purposes.
Mexican Sycamore is a bit smaller compared to other species. It can reach up to fifty feet. It can tolerate heat and grow mainly in the dry region of the western United States. It is a durable species of Sycamore. Nevertheless, it gets seldom used in woodworking but is more often used as an ornamental plant.
The Arizona Sycamore thrives in Arizona and New Mexico, though this species is quite rare. Thus, this wood species seldom gets used for woodworking projects. Nevertheless, it is often seen in extensive gardens and parks because they grow too extensive for yards and backyards.
Frequently Asked Questions
Having known the qualities, characteristics, applications, and varieties of Sycamore, it will also help if you are cognizant of the following FAQs about this wood, for they might also be the questions playing on in your mind:
Can You Use Sycamore for Flooring?
Sycamore is a beautiful wood that can look fantastic when used as flooring. Yet, it is less dense and durable than other hardwoods. As such, it will be best to limit its use to areas that do not see heavy traffic. Plain-sawn Sycamore, however, is not too appealing. So, you should go for quartersawn boards if you intend to use it for flooring. But quartersawn boards are more expensive than plain or rift-sawn wood.
The process of manufacturing quartersawn boards is also quite complex. As such, they are only sometimes available compared to plain-sawn boards. If you use Sycamore as flooring, you will notice that the flooring appears yellowish tan which is quite pleasing. Moreover, it is not sensitive to light and won’t fade as time passes.
Sycamore also provides stable flooring, though it is moderately durable. It can handle wear and tear, though it will be best to keep its use to areas with lower foot traffic.
Can You Use Sycamore for Carving?
Many woodworkers often overlook and underrate Sycamore. Yet, it has some exceptional characteristics. First, it can provide you with strong timber. Second, it carries a subtle and attractive smoothness and sheen, making it a wise choice for carving.
Once you polish the Sycamore wood, it can provide you with one of the most beautiful woods with a silky and lustrous look. Thus, you might get encouraged to use it for carving because of the great look it provides.
If you live in the United States, you will have a sufficient supply of Sycamore wood. Besides, you can even have it in your backyard for ready drying and usage afterward. Sycamore, as mentioned above, is underrated and seldom appreciated. But it is growing in popularity nowadays because it is an excellent alternative to other, more expensive woods.
Overall, Sycamore is a stunning and attractive wood. You can use it for many of your woodworking projects because it has good qualities. Besides, it is readily available. So, you will not have a hard time availing of this wood when you need it.
Liam is a 37-year-old woodworker and interior designer who loves to make every furniture project an art piece. He is very experienced in furniture design and woodworking project planning.