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Wood Anecdote



The hardwood giant of the virgin forest.

Although few woodworkers become acquainted with the wood of the American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), that wasn't always so. Back when the United States was still a new nation, and its western frontier was just beyond the Allegheny Mountains, sycamore was the giant of the forest. It wasn't uncommon for pioneers in the Ohio River Valley to come upon huge sycamores. In 1802, one growing on an island in the Ohio River measured 13' in diameter 4' above the ground. Such old, large trees were usually hollow, and thriving despite the malady.

For some purposes, the hollowness made the tree all the more desirable. A frontier farmer would fell the hollow sycamore, then crosscut it to appropriate lengths. By nailing on bottoms of tightly joined board, the industrious plowman had grain-storage containers. Left standing, hollow sycamores also were handy for stabling goats, pigs, and other livestock until a shelter could be built for them. And how many wandering woodsmen might have found refuge in a hollow sycamore?

Although hard, tough, and resistant to splitting, sycamore posed some difficulty in drying. That's why it was used only on a limited basis for shipping trunks, piano and organ cases, washing machine bodies, and pails. It also was the choice for countertops and chopping blocks in butcher shops because it withstands the relentless punishment of cutting edges.

While still the largest hardwood tree of American forests, yesteryear's giants have long fallen. If you do spy an elderly sycamore, bang on it. The trunk may resonate with historic hollowness.


Comments (6)
greg_stock wrote:

I know I'm late to the game, but I've been using qsawn sycamore for awhile and it's soft (tough to sand to a nice smooth finish like maple), but the grain looks very similar to snake skin. Very pretty stuff. Beware - it shrinks much more than other lumbers. 4/4 green planed out to < 3/4 dry (5/8 for me).

6/24/2013 12:16:22 PM Report Abuse
paulanddori wrote:

Quartersawn sycamore is my favorite wood for scroll sawing. It is not only beautiful but it cuts great in any direction. It is also easy on the lungs for those with dust sensitivity. I wish more saw mills would offer it for sale.

5/4/2013 07:09:45 AM Report Abuse
ariesbergsma wrote:

I have some Sycamore as well the two trees we had cut many years ago grew in a flood plain and they were 13' and 15' in diameter at the base, the wood was shared by the three of us, I can remember taking it to the saw mill my friend had a 56" rotary cutting blade and we need the chainsaw to finish cutting thr initial board as the log was to big forvthe totary saw. I still have some and currently I used some for the facing of 20 of 40 drawers in the construction of a Wooten desk

5/3/2013 06:55:45 AM Report Abuse
videocpt1 wrote:

I ripped Sycamore logs on the bandsaw, using a double infeed jig, with a greenwood 1/2 blade, came out awesome. The miter slot guides the jig straight. I got perfect sizes every time. The wood has been drying for a year now looking to make jewelry boxes out of the wood, when they are dry enough.

5/2/2013 11:09:49 AM Report Abuse
videocpt1 wrote:

Sycamore has a unique property even if it diseased, they just don't go down in a hurricane, they almost never split at a branch from trunk, and the root system is so deep that they don't get uprooted by the storm, that quality makes them very good for wood working, strong and tuff.

5/2/2013 11:00:56 AM Report Abuse
tesellers wrote:

I removed a triple trunked sycamore several years ago and had it sawed into lumber. The grain of quarter sawn is very pretty and I intend to use it on projects eventually.. (It's been air drying almost 10 years now) The most notable thing I noticed, is it smells exactly like a hog pen when it is sawed....

5/2/2013 09:47:33 AM Report Abuse

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