If you’re a woodworking enthusiast, you know that there are different types of wood – hardwoods and softwoods.

But what about sycamore? Is sycamore a hardwood or a softwood?

Let’s find out.

Is Sycamore a Hardwood?

Sycamore is a hardwood that is well known for its durability. You might not think of sycamore as hardwood, but it’s actually one of the largest hardwood species in North America. While it’s considered a hardwood, it’s softer than woods like Cherry, Maple, and Oak.

Attributes of American Sycamore Wood  

Sycamore is one type of hardwood, but it’s not as hard as other species, like oak, maple or cherry wood. So what does that mean for your woodworking projects?

Let’s take a closer look at sycamore and see what makes it unique.

An overview of American Sycamore trees

American sycamore wood is a popular wood due to its light greenish-gray bark. These giants produce excellent-sized logs.

Growing up to heights that top 200 feet, American sycamore trees (also known as ghost trees) are some of the largest hardwood trees in eastern North America. The bark of this tree is distinctive, with its mottled light and dark patches that give it a patchwork look.

Below is a brief profile of the sycamore tree.

Botanical Name: Flatanus occidentalie

Other Names: American planetree, buttonwood, planetree, water beech.

Sources: Eastern and central U.S.A.

Characteristics: Straight grain; fine, even texture; pale reddish-brown.

The cousin of Flatanus occidentalie, the European sycamore, is a hybrid between the American and Oriental sycamore tree. I won’t cover this species because they are mainly used for landscaping. 

Sycamore wood grain

The wood is light to light tan in color and can have a swirling grain pattern. When quartersawn, the timber has an attractive scaley pattern known as rippled sycamore.

It can also be highly polished to give a shiny surface finish. Combining quartersawn wood with a high-polish finish can create a stunning effect.

Rotary cut (regular cut) boards have a straight, clean-looking grain pattern that looks beautiful when you polish them.

How Hard Is Sycamore?

Sycamore is typically classified as a hardwood, although its strength and density can vary depending on the wood species. Trees are roughly divided into two categories: hardwood and softwood, but the hardness of each wood species within that category can vary.

For example, a softwood like a longleaf pine is harder than basswood, which is a hardwood. 

Is pine a soft or hardwood?” Read this article to learn more about pine wood.

How is wood hardness measured? 

The Janka Hardness Test measures the force required to embed a .444-inch steel ball into the wood. Sycamore is considered moderately hard, with a Janka Hardness rating of 770, American Sycamore is in between Alder (590) and Elm (830).

Compared to other hardwoods such as white oak (1360) and hard maple (1450), sycamore is considerably softer.

Recommended read: Comparison of soft and hard maple

Shopping for Sycamore and saving money

Whether you buy your wood project by project or you like to stockpile it (like I do), there are several places you can source lumber. Check the local timber yards, sawmills, lumber companies, and home improvement stores.

Check out online wood suppliers and sawmills for a wider variety of lumber for wood carving and turning woodturning blanks. 

What to look for

When purchasing sycamore lumber, look for boards with a straight grain and minimal knots to ensure a quality finished product. Ask for a specific grade of sycamore and pay attention to the wood’s moisture content.

The main difference between higher and lower grades of sycamore is the number of allowable knots and other blemishes, not strength. If you aren’t worried about appearances, save some money and get a lower grade.

Also, sycamore is typically sold in quartersawn form, meaning each board has been cut at a 90-degree angle from the center of the tree. This type of sycamore has a lovely, straight grain pattern and is less prone to cracking or warping than regular sawn sycamore.


If you aren’t familiar, surfacing is when you use a planer to smooth out the surface of the boards. You will want to look at the surface of your boards before buying them to ensure they are smooth.

Another way to save money is to order rougher boards and plane them yourself; you can use a planer or sandpaper to skim the sycamore.  When choosing sycamore for carving or other furniture projects, it is best to select sycamore boards with a straight grain.

When you purchase sycamore lumber, check that the boards are free of knots, splits, and warps. If the sycamore has any irregularities such as these, it can be challenging to work with and might cause your project to be uneven or not look professional. 

Drying and storing Sycamore

When wood is exposed to weather, it can swell and shrink due to changes in humidity and temperature. Fresh lumber will have a high moisture content and will have a high degree of shrinkage when it dries.

Unless you buy wood with the intention of drying it yourself, you should purchase kiln-dried lumber or air-dried lumber.  Proper storage is just as important as proper drying when it comes to sycamore lumber.

When wood is exposed to weather, it can swell and shrink due to changes in humidity and temperature. Fresh lumber will have a high moisture content and will have a high degree of shrinkage when it dries.

Unless you buy wood with the intention of drying it yourself, you should purchase kiln-dried lumber or air-dried lumber. Freshly cut lumber (also known as greenwood) has a high moisture content and should be stored in a cool, dry place.

If sycamore lumber is left outside, it has the potential to warp or twist due to rapid changes in temperature and humidity. If it is kept inside, an area with good air circulation should be chosen for storage.

If you are storing your wood in the basement, use a dehumidifier to keep moisture levels low. 

See also: Is redwood a hardwood?


Is Sycamore good for woodworking?

Sycamore logs are ideal for woodturning and woodworking projects that require intricate detail as well as wood carvings. Sycamore has a unique light tan color with darker brown streaks running through it—a great choice for any woodworker looking for a durable material that is easy to work with. Additionally, sycamore is one of the most affordable hardwood lumber options available in the hardwood lumber industry.  

Is sycamore good for wood carving?

Sycamore is not commonly thought of in the context of carving, but it is actually an incredibly versatile material for sculpting. It is hardwood with a light color and smooth grain, making it ideal for intricate details and delicate curves. Sycamore is also easy to sand and polish, which further enhances its carving potential. Its light color and smooth grain provide an ideal base for intricate detailing and nuanced curves. While it’s soft enough for a knife to easily cut through, yet also yields enough pressure to prevent undesired cracking or splitting. The dense nature of the wood also makes it very durable, allowing carvers to be creative and experimental in their designs.

Read more: Wood Carving for Beginners

Is sycamore any good for woodturning?

Sycamore logs are highly sought after by woodturners who appreciate their unique wood grain pattern. American sycamore is strong yet light and easy to work with, making it an ideal choice for blanks. Woodturners can create a wide range of items with sycamore, from bowls and platters to lamps and furniture. Its workability makes it ideal for intricate carvings and whittling.

What are the main uses for sycamore wood? 

Sycamore lumber is a hard, heavy wood that makes great building materials. It is often used for hardwood flooring, secondary wood, furniture, cabinets, and other structural components. It has a pale yellow color with an attractive grain pattern that can be stained to create interesting patterns in the items that it is used to make. Sycamore lumber is also rot-resistant and very durable, making it a great choice for outdoor projects. 

What does sycamore wood look like?

Sycamore lumber can often be identified by its light tan color and attractive grain pattern. It is also known for having unique flecking or rippling in the wood, which gives it a distinctive look. The wavy patterns on quartersawn sycamore lumber look much different than plain-sawn sycamore. When sycamore lumber is rotary-cut, it produces a board with a tight grain pattern and uniform color. The annual growth rings are barely visible, and the boards tend to be straight-grained with minimal figuring or flicking.  

Sycamore or cypress, which one is harder?

Between sycamore and cypress, cypress wood hardness is generally higher. While sycamore has decent hardness, cypress tends to be harder. This makes cypress more suitable for applications requiring durability and resistance to wear, especially in outdoor projects and carvings.

Interesting read: Is Wood an Insulator or Conductor?


Now that you are a Google expert on sycamore wood go out there and fell a tree! Or order some wood from your favorite supplier. My first sycamore project was a butcher’s block.

I highly recommend trying that out if you want to get your feet wet. Now I have to get going. I have an appointment with a piece of driftwood I found at the beach.

Let me know if you have any fun project ideas, I should try out.