Sycamore has superb toughness and hardness compared to other lumber, but can it be used as kindling despite its durability? Does it produce a lot of heat or just a short-lived fire?
All things considered, I will explain here if sycamore is a hardwood ideal for making high-end furniture and suitable for starting fires.
Trees of Sycamore: Where Do They Grow?
Sycamore trees are fast-growing trees that require moist and rich soils to grow.
They can be found along streams and lakes in old lowland fields in the United States, particularly in parts of Southern Ontario, Canada, Florida, and the western part of Texas, Michigan, and Nebraska.
Since it can tolerate diverse settings, it’s possible that you have seen some thriving in your community.
Sycamore trees that grow in the US range from 75 to 120 feet in height with a 3 to 8 feet trunk diameter. Its size varies from its species, which is why you cannot see the same measurement for the species that thrive in European countries.
Meanwhile, you can find the 300-year-old sycamore tree in Pennsylvania, known as the Lafayette specie. It stands at the Brandywine Battlefield Park, and according to history, this tree protected the soldiers of General George Washington during the Brandywine battle in 1777.
Sycamore Tree As A Hardwood
The sycamore tree is a hardwood with a Janka hardness of 770 lbs (3,425 N). It should be noted that hardwood refers to the dimensional stability, durability, and toughness of the wood.
Also, hardness refers to the type of tree the wood comes from. Therefore, like oak and walnut, sycamores belong to angiosperm trees, considered hardwood trees.
To better understand how hard sycamore wood is, here is the list of wood species with their respective Janka hardness value.
|Wood Species||Hardness value|
|American Beech||1,300 lbf (5,800 N)|
|Ash (White)||1,320 lbf (5,900 N)|
|Aspen||350 lbf (1,557 N)|
|Basswood||410 lbf (1,823 N)|
|Black Cherry, Imbuia||950 lbf (4,200 N)|
|Black Walnut, North American Walnut||1,010 lbf (4,500 N)|
|Black Spruce||520 lbf (2,313 N)|
|Brazilian Cherry, Jatoba||2,350 lbf (10,500 N)|
|Brazilian Walnut||3,684 lbf (16,390 N)|
|Cherry||995 lbf (4,430 N)|
|Cypress||510 lbf (2,269 N)|
|Douglas Fir||710 lbf (3,158 N)|
|Engelmann Spruce||390 lbf (1,735 N)|
|Golden Teak||2,330 lbf (10,400 N)|
|Hard Maple, Sugar Maple||1,450 lbf (6,400 N)|
|Hemlock||540 lbf (2,402 N)|
|Hickory, Pecan, Satinwood||1,820 lbf (8,100 N)|
|Red Mahogany, Turpentine||2,697 lbf (12,000 N)|
|Red Maple||950 lbf (4,200 N)|
|Red Oak (Northern)||1,290 lbf (5,700 N)|
|Redwood||420 lbf (1,868 N)|
|Silver Maple||700 lbf (3,100 N)|
|Sugar Pine||380 lbf (1,690 N)|
|Sycamore||770 lbf (3,425 N)|
|Teak||1,155 lbf (5,140 N)|
|White Cedar||320 lbf (1,423 N)|
|White Oak||1,360 lbf (6,000 N)|
|White Pine||380 lbf (1,690 N)|
|Yellow Birch / Baltic birch||1,260 lbf (5,600 N)|
How Hard Is Sycamore?
Sycamore wood is known for its ease of handling when using both machine and hand tools, making it a popular choice for woodworking projects.
However, I should tell you that splitting sycamore can be quite challenging, especially if it is freshly cut and still in its green state before undergoing the drying process.
Furthermore, working with dry sycamore has its own set of challenges. Its interlocking grain can be a hurdle to overcome. If properly dried and the surface is flat, splitting and curving it will be easy, and you can have a smooth finish.
Though the wood offers many benefits, I would steer clear of steam bending with sycamore. Given the fiber structure, which is more like woven threads, steam bending isn’t the best technique to use on this wood.
The Strength of Sycamore Wood
With 770 lbf Janka hardness, sycamore is one of the tough lumber that exceeds most hardwood. In addition, below is the strength value, both compressive and bending, proving that sycamore is better than other lumber.
Sycamore’s higher flexibility and excellent bending strength provide stability and durability for wood furniture, boat building, floorings, and cupboards.
Characteristics of Sycamore
Because of its favorable characteristics, you can rely on this wood for your woodworking. Once dried, it weighs 34 lbs./ft making it a lightweight hardwood with a Tangential shrinkage of 8.4% and 14.1% volumetric shrinkage.
I’ve noticed that my fellow woodworkers often gravitate towards quartersawn sycamore rather than flat-sawn stock. And it’s easy to see why: quartersawn sycamore has ray flecks on the surface, appearing to have a freckled-like pattern.
Its sapwood is white to light tan, and the heartwood has darker reddish-brown shades.
Apart from the color of the sycamore, sycamore has an interlocked wood grain with an even and fine texture. The interlocked grain prevents the wood from warping or twisting. Also, the end grain is small to medium diffuse-porous with a lighter color.
However, one downside I’ve encountered is its relatively weak resistance to decay, moisture, and insect attacks.
Still, there are many gains in using sycamore rather than limitations in woodworking. Here are the vital qualities of sycamore, making it ideal for your wood project.
Moreover, here are the major characteristics of sycamore wood that you must consider before woodworking.
Pros and Cons of Sycamore Wood
Although there are arguments about the benefits and limitations of sycamore, here is a list of the disadvantages and advantages of working with this wood.
Where to Use Sycamore?
Aside from their common uses, sycamore trees can be windbreaks and provide air pollutants filters. It is also used for firewood, but it only produces a lot of heat at the beginning. Thus, making it a good choice for fire-starting wood.
Sycamore has a heat content of 19.1 million BTUs per cord. It is lower than ash and oak, but you can mix them with sycamore to quickly start the fire and make the woods hot longer.
To increase the amount of smoke and sparks of sycamore, ensure you seasoned the wood to increase to prevent any issues while using it as firewood .
Hardness Rating of Sycamore vs Pine
Sycamore is denser and harder than Pinewood, such as White and Sugar varieties, but softer than Yellow Pine.
Here is the comparison of the Janka hardness value between sycamore and pine.
|Wood Type||Hardness Value|
|Pine – White, Sugar||380 lbf|
|Yellow Pine||870 lbf|
Sycamore vs Walnut: Which is Harder?
Walnut offers more durability and strength than sycamore. Although both are hardwood, sycamore is softer because this wood has more water content than walnut.
Here is the comparison between sycamore and walnut Janka hardness values.
|Wood Type||Hardness Value|
Sycamore vs Oak’s Hardness
Sycamore is softer, less dense, and less durable than oak. Oak, red and white varieties almost doubled the Janka hardness value of sycamore, which the comparison table shows as follows.
|White Oak||1,360 lbf|
|Red Oak||1,290 lbf|
What Do You Mean By Quartersawn?
Quartersawn wood is the common cut of sycamore wood that creates wedges with a right angle. If you cut it lengthwise into quarters, it ends at the center of the original log. The point of each piece is tipped up and sawed in boards along the axis.
Opting for quartersawn sycamore brings some key advantages to my projects. First off, it curbs issues like wood shrinkage, splitting, and swelling. It also gives good stability to furniture.
There’s a catch, though: the cost. Quartersawn sycamore comes at a premium compared to its flat-sawn counterpart. However, I find the added stability and aesthetic qualities often justify the higher price.
Pricing of Sycamore Wood
You can buy sycamore wood in your local hardware stores from $20 to $30 per board foot. The cost of sycamore depends on your location, but it is still affordable and easy to work with using the proper tools.
Moreover, if you compare sycamore wood with other woods, such as maple and red oak, sycamore is less expensive.
Sycamore is a hardwood used for indoor and outdoor furniture because of its relatively high Janka hardness.
Although it is less tough than oak and walnut, it is more durable and denser than pinewood. Therefore, you can use sycamore as kindling, but the fire is only short-lived. Nonetheless, it can burn with other wood to sustain the fire and enjoy the warmth.