Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) is North America’s tallest hardwood. It is a close-textured wood with interlocking grain that makes it notoriously difficult to split. Because of its toughness and resistance to splitting, sycamore is often used for butcher blocks, flooring and even buttons (thus the nickname “buttonwood”).
Perhaps because of its many utilitarian uses, sycamore has not been widely used for furniture. That is, until craftspeople began to discover quartersawn sycamore. Quartersawing releases the hidden beauty of the wood. The large, dense clusters of brown rays contrast beautifully with the surrounding whitish wood tissue. The rays seem to bend and distort at the surface, creating a highly decorative figure that’s sure to get any woodworker excited. All this at a price that’s less than what you’d expect to pay for highly figured wood. The typical price for 4/4 sycamore is about $5 per bd. ft. No wonder quartersawn sycamore is becoming so popular.
Flatsawn sycamore is hard to dry without defect, but quartersawing greatly reduces this problem. Quartersawn sycamore is a moderately hard wood, similar to cherry. It machines and finishes well, although sharp cutters are recommended to prevent chip-out. The interlocking grain can make hand planing a bit tricky, but a sharp blade and a light cut yields good results.
We bought our quartersawn sycamore from West Penn Hardwoods. They specialize in quartersawn hardwoods and carry 4/4 and 8/4 quartersawn sycamore in widths from 4 to 10 in. Prices range from $5 to $6 per bd. ft.