Sweet gum, a deciduous tree native to North America, is easily recognizable by its distinctive star-shaped leaves, unique corky bark, and the spiky “gumballs” it produces. Given its versatility, it has garnered quite a bit of interest for various uses and benefits.
However, a common question that arises is whether sweet gum qualifies as a hardwood and if it is fitting for particular projects.
If you’re curious to delve deeper and learn more about sweet gum, you’re in the right place. I’m ready to share my knowledge and give handy tips for working with this type of wood.
The Hardness of Sweet Gum
Sweet gum is a hardwood with a Janka hardness rating of 850 lbf (pounds-force), which places it in the mid-range of hardwoods. In addition to its medium hardness, sweet gum wood is known for its relatively low density, making it lighter than many other hardwoods.
The wood has an average specific gravity of around 0.5, lower than popular hardwoods like oak and maple. Despite its lower density, sweet gum wood still has good strength and durability, which makes it a popular choice for a variety of woodworking projects
One interesting aspect of sweet gum wood is that it can sometimes exhibit a unique property known as “figuring.” This refers to the appearance of unusual patterns and textures in the wood, which can add a distinctive and decorative element to furniture and other items.
Figuring is more common in sweet gum trees that have experienced stress or injury, such as from lightning strikes or insect damage. For comparison, I’ve prepared a table presenting other hardwoods and their Janka hardness ratings:
Janka Hardness Rating (lbf)
As you can see, sweet gum falls in the middle of the pack in terms of hardness. While it may not be the hardest hardwood, it still has a moderate level of hardness that makes it suitable for various uses.
Characteristics of Sweet Gum
Here are the significant qualities of Sweet Gum:
Ornamental value: Sweet gum is valued for its beautiful fall foliage, which adds a splash of vibrant color to landscapes.
Wood quality: Sweet gum wood is moderately heavy, hard, and strong, making it a valuable timber species for furniture, flooring, and paneling.
Medicinal properties: The fragrant resin produced by sweet gum trees has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat various ailments, including respiratory infections, sore throats, and digestive issues .
Adaptability: Sweet gum can grow in a wide range of habitats, from wetlands to upland forests, making it a highly adaptable species.
Ecosystem benefits: Sweet gum trees provide important ecological benefits, such as stabilizing soil, improving water quality, and providing habitat for wildlife.
Landscaping: Sweet gum is often planted as an ornamental tree due to its attractive foliage and fall color. Its deep root system also makes it a good choice for erosion control.
Economic value: The timber and resin sweet gum trees produce have economic value, making them important resources for the forestry industry and local economies.
Indeed, sweet gum stands out as a versatile and valuable tree species, boasting a wide array of notable attributes. This ranges from its aesthetic appeal and ecological importance to its potential medicinal properties and economic advantages.
Here are some of the main characteristics of sweet gum:
Pros and Cons Of Sweet Gum
What i like
What i don't Like
Sweet gum is a versatile and attractive wood species that can be a good choice for many applications. However, it is important to be aware of its limitations and to take steps to mitigate potential issues when working with this wood.
Best Uses for Sweet Gum
Sweet gum timber offers a flexible option for numerous woodworking endeavors. Its blend of medium hardness, lightweight nature, and distinct visual appeal makes it a top pick for a wide array of projects.
Some of the best uses for sweet gum include:
In short, sweet gum is a versatile and sustainable hardwood that offers a unique combination of aesthetic and practical benefits, making it a valuable material for many woodworking projects.
The Strength of Sweet Gum
The wood of this tree is classified as medium-density hardwood, with a Janka hardness rating of 850 to 1,290 pounds-force (lbf). This puts it in the same category as woods like cherry and maple in terms of hardness.
In terms of its strength, Sweet Gum wood is known for its stiffness and resistance to bending. It also has good shock resistance, which makes it a good choice for tool handles and other applications where impact resistance is important.
More about the hardness of other wood types here:
Is it Hard To Split?
Regarding its splitability, Sweet Gum wood may present challenges due to its density and interlocked grain. Nonetheless, with the appropriate tools and techniques, it is possible to successfully split this type of wood.
Some woodworkers may choose to use a hydraulic splitter or a maul and wedge to split Sweet Gum logs, while others may opt for a chainsaw and splitting axe combination.
In any case, it is important to exercise caution and use appropriate safety gear when working with Sweet Gum wood.
Sweet Gum vs Maple’s Hardness
Janka Hardness Rating (lbf)
While all three kinds of wood are strong and durable, Hard Maple is often considered the most desirable for furniture, flooring, and other high-end woodworking projects due to its hardness and attractive grain patterns.
However, Soft Maple and Sweet Gum are popular choices for woodworking projects due to their strength, durability, and availability.
Sweet Gum vs Pine’s Hardness
Janka Hardness Rating (lbf)
Eastern White Pine
As you can see from the table, Sweet Gum is significantly harder than Pine, with a Janka hardness rating of 850-1,290 lbf, depending on the specific type of Sweet Gum. Eastern Pine and Sugar Pine, on the other hand, have a Janka hardness rating of only 380 lbf.
While Pine is softer and less dense than Sweet Gum, its unique characteristics make it a popular choice for certain woodworking applications. Pine is relatively easy to work with, lightweight, and has a distinctive grain pattern that can add character to a project.
It is often used for construction framing, cabinetry, and other interior applications. On the other hand, Sweet Gum is often used for furniture, flooring, and other high-end woodworking projects where strength and durability are important.
Is sweet gum tree good for firewood?
Sweet Gum tree is not good for firewood because they can be difficult to split and may produce a lot of smoke when burned. However, it can be burned in a wood stove or fireplace if it is well-seasoned with other types of firewood, such as Oak or Hickory.
Can I use sweet gum for a cutting board?
Sweet Gum is a hardwood that can be used for cutting boards because of its hardness and durability. Though its interlocking grain can make it challenging to work with experts to select a defect-free piece, follow safety precautions, and use proper tools and techniques to work with it.
Sweet gum qualifies as a resilient hardwood, boasting a complex interlocking grain pattern. While it might demand some elbow grease to work with, the end result is undeniably stunning.
Opting for sweet gum is not just a choice in durability; it’s a sustainable decision that contributes positively to the environment. This makes it a prime material for crafting items such as cutting boards, flooring, and furniture.
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