Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)

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Common Name(s): Sycamore, American Plane

Scientific Name: Platanus occidentalis

Distribution: Eastern United States

Tree Size: 75-120 ft (23-37 m) tall, 3-8 ft (1-2.4 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 34 lbs/ft3 (545 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .46, .55

Janka Hardness: 770 lbf (3,430 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 10,000 lbf/in2 (69.0 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 1,420,000 lbf/in2 (9.79 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 5,380 lbf/in2 (37.1 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 5.0%, Tangential: 8.4%, Volumetric: 14.1%, T/R Ratio: 1.7

Color/Appearance: Similar to maple, the wood of Sycamore trees is predominantly comprised of the sapwood, with some darker heartwood streaks also found in most boards. (Though it is not uncommon to also see entire boards of heartwood too.) The sapwood is white to light tan, while the heartwood is a darker reddish brown. Sycamore also has very distinct ray flecks present on quartersawn surfaces—giving it a freckled appearance—and it is sometimes even called “Lacewood.”

Grain/Texture: Sycamore has a fine and even texture that is very similar to maple. The grain is interlocked.

Endgrain: Diffuse-porous; small to medium pores, numerous; solitary and in radial multiples and clusters; tyloses occasionally present, though not easily seen with lens; growth rings distinct due to lighter color of latewood and decreased pore frequency; medium to very wide rays easily visible without lens, noded, wide spacing; parenchyma rare or absent.

Rot Resistance: Sycamore is rated as non-durable to perishable regarding decay resistance, and is susceptible to insect attack.

Workability: Overall, Sycamore works easily with both hand and machine tools, though the interlocked grain can be troublesome in surfacing and machining operations at times. Sycamore turns, glues, and finishes well. Responds poorly to steam bending.

Odor: No characteristic odor.

Allergies/Toxicity: Besides the standard health risks associated with any type of wood dust, no further health reactions have been associated with Sycamore. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Usually moderately priced, though Sycamore is commonly sold as quartersawn boards, which can increase the cost.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Common Uses: Veneer, plywood,  interior trim, pallets/crates, flooring, furniture, particleboard, paper (pulpwood), tool handles, and other turned objects.

Comments: Not to be confused with European Sycamore—which is actually just a species of maple (Acer pseudoplatanus)—Sycamore is sometimes referred to as “American Plane” in Europe.

Related Species:

Scans/Pictures:

Sycamore (sanded)

Sycamore: quartersawn (sanded)

Sycamore (sealed)

Sycamore: quartersawn (sealed)

Sycamore: flatsawn (sanded)

Sycamore: flatsawn (sanded)

Sycamore: flatsawn (sealed)

Sycamore: flatsawn (sealed)

Sycamore (endgrain)

Sycamore (endgrain)

Sycamore (endgrain 10X)

Sycamore (endgrain 10X)

Sycamore (21" x 4.6")

Sycamore (21″ x 4.6″)

Sycamore and Padauk turned vase

Sycamore and Padauk turned vase

  • John

    Sycamore definitely has a characteristic odor while being machined, in my experience. The odor is reminiscent of a wet dog.

    • Sternberg

      Sounds like elm.

  • Brian

    started turning a small bowl in sycamore figured ripple and small holes and groove style holes appearwd inside the wood. Can anyone tell me what this is please

  • Rosewood Timber

    Can anyone respond concerning sycamore’s tendency to twist/cup/bow? I will be milling some sycamore for the first time for a customer who plans to install it as flooring, and I’d like to be able to tell him more about it. However, I’ve never milled sycamore.

  • squint9

    We’re investigating patio umbrellas and some proudly point out they use sycamore poles while others go with beech … which is going to be better given the bending forces a 13 foot diameter umbrella has to put up with?

    • ejmeier

      Are you in the US or UK? Sycamore means different things depending on where you’re at. In the UK, sycamore is a type of maple. Either way, my money would be on the Beech to outperform the “sycamore.”

  • J. Matthew Noonan

    I’ve been told that sycamore is one of the most dimensionally stable domestic hardwoods, i.e. that once it is milled up to its final dimensions for your project the amount it will twist, cup, or bow throughout the seasons is very low compared to other species. As such I’ve used sycamore scraps for jigs that need to stay square or as a sacrificial fence on the miter gauge since it will maintain its shape more readily than other species. From my experience it is indeed very dimensionally stable.

    How does this square with the Tallgrass Custom Wood Products’ comment? I understand that how a species fares during drying is different than how it fares as climatized lumber, but why such a huge discrepancy? Also, can anyone verify or disprove my claim that it is, at least, above average in dimensional stability?

    • Stan Calloway

      i have a few sycamore logs i’ve gathered up and like someone said previously, it dries very quickly, especially here on the edge of the Mojave desert. all of my logs split right down the middle during the drying process, even with the ends sealed. the way it split and twisted, i would really only trust this wood for something that didnt really matter. yes it’s very pretty when quartersawn, and should make a couple of nice benches for my front yard, ironically, right under my sycamore tree. if they twist or split too much after i put them in the yard, it’s really no huge loss. i wouldn’t go out of my way for this wood either.

  • tradertom2

    A rather old name for this tree is “buttonwood”.

  • AmberJeanetteGardner

    I have a very large one right beside my house growing under my foundation and it is also holding up my retaining wall :) Know it’s probably ruining my plumbing under my slab but afraid my whole house will slide over if I remove it :)

  • Larry Williams

    I think quarter-sawn Sycamore is one of the most beautiful domestic woods we have here in the US. , on par with the beauty of many exotics. I also have heard the arguments about the wood not being very stable during the drying process , or even in service ,but I have not experienced many problems with this wood, FYI , sycamore was once used extensively as a secondary wood for furniture making ( ie, drawer sides ect.).

  • Collette Lemons

    I do not know how Sycamore does. I have never messed with it. that said, the storms took out some larger branches at my job and when I was leaving today a man had it all cut in pieces and loaded on his truck. He helped me load a nice log into my prius.

    I have dragged it into my greenhouse to slowly dry out. turns out, that is a great place to dry wood when you need it to dry slow and even – Once it is dry we will see what we have. It should be ok even if we just do smaller segments with it. And – if it turns out not so well we also have a nice fire pit to burn it in so I can’t lose on this. :)