Sycamore - Acer pseudoplatanus
Uses Sycamore is excellent for furniture and internal joinery, particularly in kitchens where it's ideal for kitchen tables and worktops. It's also used to make musical instruments, e.g., harps and violins, and for making domestic utensils, like rolling pins, pie moulds, and chopping boards. Rippled sycamore is used for veneers and craftwork.
Scottish Sycamore Sycamore grows really well in Scotland and could be used in larger quantities here than a present. A considerable proportion of Scottish timber is exported, and stocks of homegrown timber in Scotland are variable. It takes care and patience to dry sycamore successfully—boards must be stacked vertically during air drying to prevent sap staining. For this reason, sycamore should only be felled when the sap is down - in late autumn and early winter. Typically boards will be 2-3 metres long and 300-500mm wide.
Strength & Structure
Grain Sycamore is usually straight grained, but it becomes more valuable when the grain is wavy, as this produces a beautiful 'fiddleback' figure, so called because it was frequently used for the backs of violins.
Strength The timber has very low stiffness, making it ideal for steam bending; it has medium bending and crushing strength. Sycamore could be used structurally, but only indoors.
Density Sycamore has an average density of 610kg per cubic metre, seasoned.
Structure The timber has a diffuse porous structure, with distinct growth rings demarcated in sycamore by visible, pale bands of terminal parenchyma. The vessels are small and the rays are of medium size.
Durability and Drying Both the sapwood and heartwood are classified as perishable, therefore the timber is unsuitable for use outdoors. Air dries well but inclined to stain as mentioned above. Kiln dries well and rapidly at low temperatures recommended to avoid darkening.
Colour and Figure The timber is a lovely creamy colour with a natural lustre. It darkens somewhat on exposure to light, becoming golden in appearance. Sycamore has a subtle figure, with visible growth rings but few other distinguishing features. Rippled sycamore has a beautiful wavy figure, caused by varying grain direction.
Working Properties Generally, sycamore is good to work—easy to cut in any direction, it usually planes to smooth finish (although ripple sycamore will require shallow planing angles due to the irregularity of the grain). It has only a moderate blunting effect, nails, glues, stains and polishes well,
Looks & Leaves Sycamore is a lofty tree with a dense broad and round crown. It grows to a height of 30 metres, with a corresponding diameter of 1.5 metres. It will form a straight, cylindrical bole under forest conditions. The leaves have a longish stalk (10-20cm) and are typically 7-16cm wide, green with a bluish tinge, hairless with 5 pointed irregularly toothed lobes. Seed leaves are long and narrow. In autumn, sycamore leaves are often marked with dark spots. This spotting is caused by the fungus 'rhytisma acerinum' but doesn't appear to harm the tree. Sycamore flowers hang in a dense catkin-like panicle, opening between April and June. The resulting seeds are borne on wings; when they fall, they spiral slowly to the ground and are carried by the wind some distance from the parent tree. Sycamore seeds germinate readily and can be almost weed-like in their abundance.
Habitat Sycamore has its good points and its bad. It will grow in soils of different types, but doesn't like water logging, therefore won't grow in damp areas. It creates a dense canopy, preventing any significant growth under the tree, but it is sturdy and wind resistant, growing straight on a windy hillside. It's therefore a good tree to grow for shelter.
Ecological Value There is remarkably little direct evidence of wildlife that can be supported by sycamore trees even if appears to carry a large biomass of insects, even if of fewer species than other trees. Produces abundant seed and regenerates easily. Good for planting as shelter. Heavily infested with green fly in spring and autumn, but unattractive to birds.
Fruit and Bark