SWEET GUM

NOTE: there is considerable confusion among "gum" names. In Australia, what is formally named "River Red Gum" is more commonly called "Red Gum" whereas in America, "Red Gum" is a common name for what is more formally named "Sweet Gum". Then to make matters MORE confusing, the heartwood and sapwood of American Sweet Gum are so different that they are marketed as different woods, with the heartwood being called Red Gum and the sapwood being called Sweet Gum, except when it is called Sap Gum, which is frequent. American Sweet Gum is also commonly called Gum Wood. Then to top it ALL off, there is at least one other species, Tupelo, which is sometimes marketed under the name "Gum", and the sapwood of tupelo is reported difficult to distinguish from sweet gum even though the two are not related. THEN to drive the final nail in the coffin of clarity, the American sweet gum / red gum TREE is called the sweet gum tree, so sometimes the "red gum" heartwood is referred to incorrectly as sweet gum. Confused? Me too.

BOTANICAL NAME: Liquidambar styraciflua of the Family Hammamelidaceae.

relatives: Oriental sweet gum (Liquidambar orientalis), which is native to Asia Minor, and Chinese sweet gum (Liquidambar formosana). Australian River Red Gum is NOT a relative (it is part of the Eucalyptus family, whereas sweet gum is part of the witch hazel family). Tupelo / black gum are also NOT relatives, as they are members of the dogwood family.

COMMON NAMES: alligator wood, alligator-tree (probably a reference to the warty knobs on the tree’s bark), gumtree, hazel pine (for sweet gum in england), incense tree, liquidambar, redgum or red gum, sap gum, satin walnut (for red gum in england), star-leaved gum

Named sweet gum because the tree exudes a fragrant yellow resinous gum which has been used as a poor man's substitute for chewing gum

TYPE: hardwood

COLOR: Sapwood is creamy-white, sometimes with pink tinges and sometimes discolored with a blue sap stain. The heartwood ranges from pink-brown to reddish-brown with darker streaks and is sometimes gray or with a grayish hue.

numberous sources comment on the fact that with a little care in staining, sweet gum can be made to look almost exactly like a large number of other woods, including walnut, cherry, birch, and maple, and apparently it is used as a counterfit wood in less visible portions of items made from those woods because it is less expensive.

GRAIN: Usually irregular, with a fine, uniform texture.

TEXTURE:

PROPERTIES / WORKABILITY: very good turning and boring properties, good resistance to splitting when nailed, holds nails well, glues well. Lumber produced from the Sweetgum tree is strong and stiff. The wood is rated as moderately heavy (36lbs./cu.ft.), and hard, moderately strong, moderately stiff, and moderately high in shock resistance.

DURABILITY: very poor resistance to decay

FINISH: The wood takes a finish beautifully; easily finished to a high polish

STABILITY: highly unstable --- moves and twists a lot during and after drying --- I've seen numerous comments on the highly undesirable tendancy of this wood to twist and warp.

BENDING: bending properties are either good or poor depending on which report you read.

ODOR: no report

SOURCES: native range extends from Missouri to Connecticut and from the Ohio River Valley south to the Gulf of Mexico, but it grows best on river flood plains deep in Dixie from Louisiana through Alabama. It also grows in scattered locations in northwestern and central Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Salvador, Hondurus, and Nicaragua

USES: baskets, boxes and crates, cabinets, crates, fuel, furniture, interior trim, interior woodwork, lumber, millwork, pallets, plywood, railroad ties, veener

TREE: large, commonly 80 ft. to over 100 ft. in height, and 2 to 4 ft. in diameter (with a 5-foot diameter not unheard of) with a long cylindrical bole and oblong, conical crown. Often planted as a shade tree because of its rapid early growth on a variety of sites. It occurs on moist to wet, acidic soils and is commonly found in swamps and near ponds and streams.

WEIGHT: Average weight is 37 pounds per cubic foot

DRYING: dries rapidly with tendency to warp and twist and can have high shrinkage.

AVAILABILITY:

COST:

web quotes:
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The fact that sweetgum has a significant propensity to distort presents a challenge, but it should not be viewed as a catastrophic shortcoming. In the hands of a skilled cabinetmaker, it is simply an attribute of the wood that must be managed in the same way it is managed when working with maple or sycamore. Care must be taken to allow wide panels to float, and the project should be designed with an eye for counterbalance. In other words, various subassemblies and structural elements should interact in ways that allow them to be mutually restraining. Redgum's many other positive attributes in terms of appearance, working characteristics and affordable price make it well worth the effort.

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Quartersawn stock almost invariably yields a ribbonlike grain appearance. When this feature is especially pronounced, it is exceptionally showy because of the wood's satiny natural luster. Although less common, even flatsawn redgum occasionally yields a wavy, fiddleback figure, or it may also be highlighted with dark, chocolate brown streaks.

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If you want to see some really pretty panels then make them out of sweetgum. The contrast of dark heart wood and creamy sapwood is really pretty and lends itself to book matching. The secret to using it is to get it dry and to take time with drying so that it doesn't cup too bad. I have been told that it is harder to dry thick wood but have found that when I cut my "hard to dry" hardwoods 5/4, they are easier to manage and I get better results than if I cut them 4/4. Bowl turners like sweetgum, too. It not only makes a pretty bowl, but doesn't split (locked grain) like oak or some other straighter grained woods.

Beetles like it, though, so keep an eye on your drying stack.

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Sweetgum is second in production only to oaks among hardwoods. The wood is used as flooring, furniture, veneers, home interiors, and other lumber applications. The wood is also used as paper pulp and to make baskets. Pioneers once peeled the bark and scraped the resin-like solid to produce chewing gum.

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Sweet Gum was first introduced into the American continent from Europe about 1680.