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

17 Comments

  1. Big Dick Magee August 19, 2018 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    American Sycamore is a deadly, dangerous tree. My neighbor had one about 125′ tall & 6-8′ in diameter. It dropped a limb about 2′ in diameter & 40′ long one day without warning. The limb crushed his shed he had just walked out of. No strong winds, heavy rains, or any other weather related causes whatsoever. It just snapped & dropped. They estimated the limb to weigh 2 tons (4000 pounds).

    I wouldn’t have an American Sycamore anywhere near any structure I valued, especially my house.
    It is beautiful wood & makes really nice bowls though.

    • Catherine Caudle August 24, 2018 at 9:29 am - Reply

      We have a neighbor who planted two of these trees right on the property line on a little 9200 sq foot city lot. They do not have the room to grow and are half growing on our property. Currently the limbs over reach our roof and we do get winds. Would it be OK if I had your neighbors number so I could get a statement from him or her about what happened without warning? I would really like to build the case as hazard trees and have them removed. They are about half grown and we removed the roots because of invasion of our foundation (we are only 5 feet from the property line where these trees are growing.

      He made us pay for the branch removals on our side! We need help getting him to understand the risks Even though we showed him the root invasion he still wants the trees.

  2. Jerry Sieg March 10, 2018 at 8:57 am - Reply

    Has anyone ever carved sycamore wood or used it for spoons? The electric company just came and took down a 70+ foot sycamore tree on my property (which made me sick). I don’t want to just cut it up for firewood but I don’t do any woodwork except novice carving.

    • Eric March 12, 2018 at 3:22 pm - Reply

      Never carved it, but I’d anticipate that it’d behave pretty similar to soft maple, though it does have interlocked grain, and it tends to warp and deform a fair amount as it dries, so you’d need to take that into account. I think if you oriented the grain with the ray fleck on the face of the spoon (quartersawn) it would make a pretty nice piece. Just my .02

    • Vince April 15, 2018 at 11:11 am - Reply

      Yes Turn it into bowls etc.

  3. Collette Lemons August 14, 2017 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    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. :)

  4. Larry Williams August 3, 2017 at 9:15 pm - Reply

    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.).

  5. AmberJeanetteGardner July 21, 2017 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    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 :)

  6. tradertom2 September 26, 2016 at 10:22 am - Reply

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

  7. J. Matthew Noonan August 24, 2016 at 9:06 am - Reply

    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 August 9, 2017 at 4:33 pm - Reply

      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.

  8. squint9 March 27, 2015 at 4:26 pm - Reply

    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 March 27, 2015 at 9:03 pm - Reply

      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.”

  9. Rosewood Timber November 16, 2014 at 10:48 am - Reply

    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.

  10. Brian May 26, 2013 at 7:03 am - Reply

    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

  11. John December 25, 2010 at 9:54 am - Reply

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

    • Sternberg October 8, 2014 at 7:11 pm - Reply

      Sounds like elm.

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