If you have access to Sassafras wood, for example, it would be wrong to immediately use it for your current project without researching its qualities and characteristics. It will help if you sit back a bit, learn much about it, then decide if it is appropriate for your project. Sassafras wood, of course, might be unfamiliar to you. Yet, if you intend to use it, a little study of its properties will go a long way.
What is Sassafras Wood?
Sassafras wood came from a deciduous tree, meaning it is a hardwood that belongs to the genus Lauraceae, with three existing species and a non-extant one. This tree is native to Eastern Asia and North America. This group of tree species has distinct aromatic properties that make it a sought-after tree species.
The maximum height of the Sassafras tree is eighty feet, with a maximum trunk diameter of three feet. Its bark exhibits deep furrows and sports a mahogany brown hue. Besides, it has bright green leaves. This tree belongs to the ornamental trees because of its aromatic scent and distinct leaves. Its wood is also quite durable and used for furniture making and shipbuilding.
Sassafras has four species. These species include Sassafras Albidum, found in the Eastern United States; Sassafras Hesperia, which is extinct; Sassafras Tzumu, native to Southwestern and central China; and Sassafras Randaiense, native to Taiwan.
Inherent Qualities and Characteristics of Sassafras Wood
The Sassafras Albidum is the most commonly used species of Sassafras. It is distributed in the Eastern United States and can grow up to 65 feet or 20 meters high. It has a specific gravity of 0.42, 0.5, with an average dried weight of 31 lbs/ft³. Besides, its Janka Hardness rating is 630 lbf. Below are some succinct characteristics of Sassafras wood:
Sapwood and Heartwood Colors and Texture
Sassafras wood has a dark brown to yellowish-grey color. It also has straight grains and an even texture. Because of its color variation, it gets often used for customized items. Sassafras’ sapwood is narrow and carries a light-yellow hue. However, its heartwood has a dark brown-to-orange color, with swirls of orange.
This wood is ring porous with distinct ring growth. You can see the earlywood pores with ease without using a lens. Besides, when this wood is cut, it exudes a peculiar odor. However, upon exposure to UV light, it darkens a bit.
Sassafras wood is light-to-intermediate heaviness if it only has 12% moisture content. Besides, it weighs around 32.2 pounds per cubic foot, given the abovementioned moisture content. Its mechanical properties are pretty low.
The average range of its specific gravity is from 0.42 to 0.5. Its average dried weight is about 31 pounds per cubic foot. It is a hardwood, but its Janka Hardness rating is not that high at 630 lbf.
As a woodworker, you should be particularly interested in the shrinkage percentage of wood because it can affect the results of your projects. The good thing is that Sassafras wood has a low shrinkage level of 4% radially and 6.2% tangentially. This wood also dries quickly.
After felling this wood and oven-drying, it shrinks by at least 10.3% volumetrically. It will be best to maintain the proper moisture level of this wood to prevent it from warping too much.
Resistance to Decay
Sassafras wood exhibits a remarkable resistance to decay. Yet, you will also encounter standing trees with pockets of decay and rot. Besides, this wood also gets rated as durable to remarkably durable. Moreover, there was a time when this wood was the same price as Red Oak.
This wood is hardwood, but it doesn’t mean it is difficult to work with. You will find this wood easy to work with using your machine or hand tools. It also exhibits excellent dimensional stability once dried. Besides, it glues well and stains and finishes nicely.
Sassafras is known for its peculiar spicy odor, like root beer. You can smell this scent while you work with this wood.
Applications and Uses of Sassafras Wood
Sassafras gets widely used for many applications. These applications include furniture making, exterior and interior joinery, doors, windows, kitchen, door frames, fencing, posts, boxes, containers, crates, cabinetry, boat building, millwork, and slack cooperage.
You can also use it for brush ware, cabinet drawer sides, turnery, small tool handles, and even plywood. This wood is firm, yet you can work with it well. Besides, it glues and finishes nicely.
The Sassafras Officinale and Albidum get more often used commercially. These two species are akin to each other regarding properties and looks. Moreover, it is similar to Ashwood in many aspects, like their similarities in color, texture, and grain, despite the Ash being stronger.
Sassafras wood has an attractive appearance, and it is workable and durable. Thus, it usually gets used in the paneling and millwork industry. Moreover, it was once used for posts and split rails.
Furthermore, the different parts of the Sassafras tree get used for many other applications. Its roots, twig, leaves, stems, flowers, bark, and fruits have been utilized for medicinal, aromatic, and culinary applications. Besides, its wood had been used for furniture and shipbuilding in China, the United States, and Europe. Moreover, its twigs were once used to brush teeth and start a fire.
How To Work with Sassafras Wood
Like many other kinds of wood, Sassafras wood is not immune to shrinkage due to the changes in its moisture level. Yet, for its grains running parallel to its rings, a six percent alteration in its moisture content will only shrink it by one percent. Grains across the rings, however, will exhibit a one percent change for every 7 percent change in moisture content.
Sassafras wood is not difficult to work with. You can use with ease your manual and machine tools when working with this wood. You can reshape it using your machine tools if it is already dried. Besides, it glues well and receives finishes nicely.
As a beginner, you will not find this wood challenging to work with. Thus, it is a popular wood choice even for beginners in woodworking.
Most Common Questions on Sassafras Wood
Aside from knowing the properties and characteristics of Sassafras wood, it will also help if you are familiar with the FAQs about this wood, for they might also be the questions playing on in your mind:
Is Sassafras Classified as Hardwood?
Sassafras is a hardwood, meaning it comes from a deciduous tree that sheds its leaves during autumn. It also has straight grains with remarkable texture. As a hardwood, it is pretty durable and resistant to decay and shock. For this reason, it is a perfect choice for many woodworking applications.
This wood is easy to find in the United States because it is an American hardwood. It proliferates in the Eastern and Northern parts of the United States and is hardy to zones 4 and 9.
Is Sassafras Wood Expensive?
Several factors dictate the price of wood. These factors include its rarity, hardness, grains, and other characteristics. Sassafras wood has good qualities that make it a favorite of many woodworkers. As mentioned above, one species of Sassafras has already gone extinct. Thus, the price of this wood increases as it becomes rare.
Nevertheless, the other species of Sassafras, especially those available commercially, are still within the affordable price. A board foot of Sassafras can perch at $2 to $2.5. This price range is less expensive than other hardwoods.
Does Sassafras Wood Burn Easily?
People don’t consider Sassafras wood more often as firewood. The reason is that it is not the ideal wood as firewood though it splits quickly and dries fast. Besides, it burns fast, but it doesn’t produce enough heat. It also contains natural oils that cause it to pop when it burns. Furthermore, its BTUs are somewhat low and similar to those of Aspen and Basswood.
Nevertheless, you can use it for kindling other firewood types because it burns quickly. You can use the dead branches of this tree for this application. Plus, you can split dead branches for this purpose.
Is Sassafras Wood Toxic?
There were no reports of severe allergic reactions to using Sassafras wood. Nevertheless, its oils and roots might contain some carcinogenic compounds if you consume them. The typical response to ingestion of these tree parts is respiratory syndromes and nausea.
The danger lies more in its consumption than the use of its wood. Yet, you should wear your safety and protective gear when working with this wood, for its dust may cause skin rashes and sneezing.
Sassafras wood might not be that popular among woodworkers, especially with those woodworkers who live in regions where Sassafras is not native. Yet, as a woodworker, it will help if you become familiar with this wood. This wood is a lightweight wood that is attractive and durable. Besides, you can work with this wood with ease. Thus, you can use it for projects that require very detailed features.
Sassafras wood, of course, is an excellent alternative to many popular kinds of wood, considering it is less expensive. Besides, its properties and characteristics, like its low shrinkage levels when dried and high workability, should enjoin you to use this wood. It may often split when you nail it near its end grain; thus, it is necessary to pre-drill the holes when nailing or screwing 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.