Thoughts about Sycamore?

Hey Folks, (And Happy Mother's Day to anyone who this applies to) I came across some really nice looking Sycamore slabs from a local lumber supplier and was thinking about building a desk using it as a top (8/4 , keeping the live edge, and planed down to a reasonable thickness) with some contrasting wood, maybe 8/4 cherry as the legs, built in the Nakashime inspired style. I wanted to make through mortises in the table top with substantial tenons from the legs showing through. Now I just read an old article in Fine Woodworking about Sycamore being very unstable. My house is not airconditioned so this may be a reason to avoid the sycamore and choose Maple instead. I want to know if anyone here has worked with Sycamore, preferable wide and thick dimensions, and what has been your expereince. The dealer also has a lot of quarter sawn Sycamore and I took a piece home to plane and was really impressed with the color and pattern. There are a lot of flecks in it. Thanks in advance for your comments, Marc
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Sycamore is beautiful wood. I'm not sure it's any more unstable than maple, but I haven't checked the tables. Doesn't seem too bad from my experience. JP
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Jay Pique wrote:

I don't have any experience with Sycamore, but according to this table it seems you may be correct in speculating that it isn't any more unstable than most other popular woods:
http://www.woodbin.com/ref/wood/shrink_table.htm
But I doubt you can rely entirely on a table to give the full answer. Pecan (Hickory) and Poplar apparently aren't much different than Sycamore, but I can tell you from experience that Pecan is an unstable *bitch*; however, Poplar is generally pretty tame. I think a lot depends on the nature of the wood itself, grain direction, the number of defects, and how it was milled (quarter, flat, or rift), etc. Your experience probably means more than the table.
If I break out my trusty book "The Encyclopedia of Wood" by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it has this to say about the properties of American Sycamore:
"The wood has a fine texture and interlocked grain. It has high shrinkage in drying; is moderately heavy, moderately hard, moderately, stiff, and moderately strong; and has good resistance to shock.
Sycamore is used principally for lumber, veneer, railroad crossties, slack cooperage, fence posts, and fuel. The lumber is used for furniture, boxes (particularly small food containers), pallets, flooring, handles, and butcher blocks. Veneer is used for fruit and vegetable baskets and some decorative panels and door skins."
Hope that helps.
--
Free bad advice available here.
To reply, eat the taco.
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Steve Turner wrote:

What the heck Steve, you're always coming up with these great references.
Thanks
--

-MIKE-

"Playing is not something I do at night, it's my function in life"
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On 5/10/2009 5:21 PM marc rosen spake thus:

I don't know for sure, but I would definitely trust /Fine Woodworking/ on questions like this. Their wood/forestry guy (Bruce Hoadley) is very knowledgable and does his homework.
--
Save the Planet
Kill Yourself
  Click to see the full signature.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Actually, he's the guy that _assigns_ the homework. ;)
R
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

There are two different woods known in different places as "sycamore":
In the U.S. and Canada, "sycamore" means the American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis. In the U.K., "sycamore" means Acer pseudoplatanus, known variously as the London planetree, planetree maple, or sycamore maple.
My comments apply to the former. If you're talking about the latter, ignore the rest of this post.

I wouldn't do that, for several reasons:
Sycamore is *very* soft. It won't take much abuse without acquiring dents and dings. If you use it for a writing desk, you *must* use a pad on top of the desk: if you lay a sheet of paper directly on the wood, and write with a pencil or ballpoint pen, you will leave impressions behind.
I'm assuming -- maybe incorrectly -- that the slabs you're looking at are flatsawn. Flatsawn sycamore, to me, is one of the most unexciting-looking woods around. I wouldn't build anything out of FS sycamore, just on the looks alone.
Then there's this other problem with FS sycamore:

Flatsawn sycamore *is* unstable. Quartersawn sycamore, OTOH, presents no problems at all. I've made several end tables, and a whole lot of drawer boxes, from QS sycamore without ever seeing *any* stability issues. My house is air conditioned, but we like fresh air, and prefer to simply open the windows as long as the ambient air, with a breeze, is tolerable -- so we're definitely not in a 24x7x365 climate controlled environment.

It works easily -- not surprising, because it's so soft. Be very careful when sanding it; it's easy to take off more than you want to. A sharp card scraper is a better choice than sandpaper, except for the final smoothing.
An unexpected bonus to working sycamore is the pleasantly spicy smell when it's machined -- kinda reminds me of allspice and nutmeg.
It soaks up glue like a sponge. Make sure to use ample amounts of glue on all your joinery.
It soaks up varnish even worse than it soaks up glue. Regardless of what finish you select, plan on applying at least twice as many coats as you would on maple or cherry.

Quartersawn sycamore has to be one of the most beautiful woods there is. Flatsawn, though, the grain is dull, boring, lifeless -- nothing interesting at all about it.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Doug Miller wrote:

Do you have any issues with it "fuzzing" when scraped. I got a small amount several years ago, and IIRC, it did not plane or scrape cleanly, it always remained a bit fuzzy.
--
If you're going to be dumb, you better be tough

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Yes; I take that as a sign that the scraper isn't sharp enough. :-)
Having said that, though, I do think it's necessary to do the final surfacing with sandpaper.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Have you ever tried to split sycamore, like for firewood. It's nearly impossible to split because the grain is as if it's woven. The flecks you see in it is tiny endgrain-like ends of a "weave". It's not your scraper that's dull, it's the wood. You are scraping something similar to endgrain. Sand it, don't scrape it, for a smooth finish. It warps/cups in the opposite direction a "normal" board would warp. It's heavy as heck, too.
I'm not sure about the softness of the wood for a desk or table top. It is very hard on endgrain, though. I tried making several items with some I had milled and some I worked direct from the log. So for, all of it is just as solid as when I made the items. The guitar body and top face is still in perfect condition, so the thin cut pieces, here, hasn't warped or checked and the environment is half the time airconditioned and half the time not. The coffee table, made with sassafras also, is in perfect condition, as well. No blemishes on its surface, but I don't have children, either. **Just went out to the shop and ran my thumbnail on a 1/4" panel....slight indentation, so I would compare it to hard maple, but not the red maple. The red maple is noticeably softer than the sycamore. I have some pecan, also, and pecan seems to be harder.
I tried turning some, but I'm not a turner. I was learning at the time, but I'm not that poor at simple turning. Requires sharp tools, that's for sure, more so than some things I've turned.
It cuts with a router very good. Hardly ever any tear out. Rout with very shallow passes or the wood will burn. My bits are sharp, too!
Do you know long ago was the tree cut and has it been kiln dried? If the tree has been cut recently, stand the boards on end and see if water drains out. If it does, let it drain or you'll have some spalting, later... or you may want some spalting! However, if it stays wet too long, it will rot and rot fast.
I'll have to think more to remember other things about working with sycamore. I still have a 3' diam. log of it... been air drying (under an overhang) for about 20 yrs, now.
Sonny
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Green, yes, it's pretty heavy, because it grows best in wetlands, and the green lumber is more water than wood. Kiln-dried, it's very lightweight.

Nearly all woods are quite hard on endgrain. Sycamore is quite soft in the other two directions, though.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On May 12, 7:00am, snipped-for-privacy@milmac.com (Doug Miller) wrote:

Green sycamore is horrible for firewood. It comes near putting out anything that isn't a roaring blaze, then, after it dries, it burns faster than tulip poplar.
Sanding is the only way I ever managed to get a smooth finish on it, but it sands very nicely.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
Doug Miller wrote:

Thanks. That confirms my experience.
--
If you're going to be dumb, you better be tough

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload
On May 10, 11:04pm, snipped-for-privacy@milmac.com (Doug Miller) wrote:

I agree with everything above. One proviso: IMO, sycamore's softness makes it a poor wood for a desktop. Sign a check and leave a permanent impression in the wood, that sort of thing. It just scratches too easily for such a use.
I'd go with maple.
With any wood, for a desktop, I'd worry about warping over the years. Gluing up in 2" or 3" wide strips is better, even if it is a PITA and not as lovely as a solid top with a natural edge.
Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
<%-name%>
Add image file
Upload

Related Threads

HomeOwnersHub.com is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.