SYCAMORE

Sycamore is a deciduous broadleaf tree and is native to southern, eastern and central Europe. It is now a naturalised species and was likely introduced to the UK, firstly in England, by the Romans in the Middle Ages.The earliest reports of the species naturalising in the UK date from the mid 1800’s. Its botanical name, acer pseudoplatanus, means ‘like a plane tree’. Sycamore wood is hard and strong and is often used to make furniture and kitchenware as the wood does not taint or stain the food.

Further Information

Mythology and Symbolism

As Sycamore is an introduced species, there is very little folklore associated with the tree. However, in Wales, sycamore trees were used in the traditional craft of making 'love spoons'. In some parts of the UK the winged seeds are known as 'helicopters', and used in flying competitions and model-making by children. One old sycamore tree provided protection for the large troops of General Washington during the battle on the Brandywine Battlefield Park in Pennsylvania in the 18th century. As a result, the sycamore tree is a symbol of hope and protection in the USA.

The Tree

Sycamore trees can grow to a height 35m tall, it is an extremely fast growing tree for the first 20 years of its life and can reach heights of above 20m. Sycamore has a strongly branched crown and a tree can live up to 400 years old. Its bark is greyish-brown and smooth when young becoming a lovely greyish-pink and scalier in texture in maturity. Sycamore trees are often found planted in parks and gardens for ornamental purposes. Mature trees are extremely wind tolerant so are often planted as a wind break in coastal and exposed areas, providing shelter for more vulnerable species. Sycamore trees are commonly found in towns and cities as they are more tolerant of urban pollution than any other tree. Sycamore grows very well in Scotland and could be used in higher quantities here than at present. 

Sycamore leaves are eaten by a number of caterpillars and moths, its flowers provide a good source of pollen and nectar to bees and other insects and its seeds are eaten by small birds and mammals. Sycamore seed are often known as ‘helicopters’ because their wings rotate similar in a similar way to a helicopter's propeller.The wings facilitate dispersal of seeds by wind and one tree produces up to 10.000 seeds per season.

Wood Properties

Drying 

Sycamore air dries well, but is inclined to stain, and rapid surface drying is necessary to prevent this. The use of thick stickers helps, but kiln drying at low temperatures is probably the best treatment. Rapid air drying preserves the white appearance of the wood, sometimes achieved by end-racking the boards. Slow drying gives the wood a light-brown colour, referred to as weathered sycamore, but the aim must always be the avoidance of stick marks which penetrate well into the wood, and this can only be successful if the surfaces are dried rapidly.

Strength

Sycamore has high strength properties similar to those of oak.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. Both the sapwood and heartwood are classified as perishable; therefore the timber is unsuitable for use outdoors.

Working Quality

Sycamore is generally good to work and machine; it can be cut easily in any direction and planes to a smooth finish, although ripple sycamore will require shallow planing angles due to the irregularity of the grain. It also has excellent bending properties and can be easily stained which makes sycamore an excellent choice for furniture and internal joinery. It turns excellently, can be glued, stained and polished.

The Timber

The timber is a lovely creamy colour with a natural lustre and no difference in colour between the heart and sapwood. 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. 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.The spectacular wavy grained or ‘rippled’ sycamore is generally used for making musical instruments and very fine furniture. Its clean white appearance and smooth finish means that sycamore is ideal for use in food preparation areas like kitchen table tops and work tops. Traditionally in Scotland, fine boxes for trinkets and snuff were made from sycamore wood, sometimes in conjunction with dark laburnum. Sycamore has an average density of 610kg per cubic metre, seasoned.

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THE BOARDROOM AT LOGIE STEADING

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