Sweet gum, a tree genus of the Latin name Liquidambar, is found around the world. The American Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), native to North and Central America, is one of the most common hardwoods in the Southeastern United States, where it preferably grows in humid and temperate climates. Its beautiful foliage, which is particularly colorful in the fall months, also makes it a great choice as an ornamental tree.
But does it make good firewood? Let’s find out.
Sweet Gum Firewood Details
Firewood name: Sweet Gum
Weight: 3,850 to 4,550 wet and 2,250 to 2,950 dry
Seasoning Time: 1 year
Resin / Sap Content: high
Splitting Difficulty: hard
Smoke: low to medium levels of smoke
Smell: no noticeable smell
Sweet Gum Varieties
There are three other species under the Liquidambar genus.
The Chinese Sweet Gum
Scientifically known as Liquidambar formosana, this is a popular Sweet Gum variety regularly called Chinese Sweet Gum. The Chinese Sweet Gum is typically found in Central and Southern China, Indochina, and Taiwan. It grows mostly in the woodland of the warm temperate region.
Turkish Sweet Gum
A native tree to the eastern Mediterranean area occurring as pure stands majorly on the Greek island of Rhodes and floodplains of southwest Turkey is the Turkish Sweet Gum.
Also is known as Chang’s gum, is a tree native to East Asia, specifically in Southeast China, the Liquidambar Acalycina. Chang’s gum can also be found in the United States of America and Southern China, though not in as great numbers as in Asia.
Properly drying out Sweet Gum is a difficult task, compared to drying out other types of firewood. This can even be more difficult if you are planning to use it for furniture. It might take up to a year to season a sweet gumwood.
After splitting your wood, properly store it under a roof or cover because Sweet Gum is more likely to rot quickly and produce mold when you expose them to moisture.
Due to its interlocking grain, it is more likely to warp severely when it dries. This wouldn’t only increase the hardness but also change the overlook of the furniture.
To overcome this, you might have to use a 12-inch sticker spacing to increase the time of drying. Or, you could stack the wood in a tall stack using the right sort of firewood rack to get superior air-flow and thus better seasoning times.
The moisture content of 20 percent or less is okay for burning, but the optimal moisture content for Sweet Gumwood firewood is around 12 percent. Burning it with less than 20 percent moisture content gives off better BTUs, burns longer, and makes better coals.
Although Sweet Gumwood does take much work and energy in splitting into usable sizes it does burn hot. It produces around 20.6 million BTU per cord, which is pretty decent. It also burns for a long time, although when compared with other woods, such as Oak, it has a shorter burning time.
However, how long it will burn depends on the moisture content. If you are using sweet Gumwood solely, then you should buy more woods than you would if you were using an Oak tree or you can increase the burning time by mixing it with other woods such as Hickory and Oak.
Another great thing about this firewood is that it is very easy to start a fire with it. This is due in part to high the higher than average resin content found in it.
Resin / Sap Content
The Sweet Gum has high resin content and is easy to work with. Apart from the distortion due to warping, which decreases after initial drying, the wood still goes through a considerable amount of movement in service.
Planning, shaping, boring, and turning is quite easy. Although when you consider the planning alone, the workability is quite low, most likely because of the interlocked grain. It also responds quickly to turns, stains, glues, and finishes well.
As easy as Gumwood is to work with, any slight change in the moisture content will alter the surface flatness, leading to a change in bond strength. If you want to glue it, the best thing to do is to glue immediately, to avoid any moisture change and subsequent warp. For sanding, you might need fresh sandpaper to smoothen out the fibers in the interlocked areas.
Overall, in terms of workability, the Sweet Gumwood is average in comparison to other types of firewood.
One of the things that disappoint many people about Sweet Gum is the difficulty of splitting it. Splitting sweet gumwood is without a doubt one of the worst aspects of using it for firewood.
As mentioned earlier in this article, when sweet gumwood dries, it becomes more likely to warp. The warping causes the already interwoven fibers to become even harder. This ends up making it even more difficult to cut through. That said, the best time to carry out the splitting of Gumwood is when it is greener, just right before it dries.
Remember, the more it dries, the more it tends to warp. So your best bet is to make sure you do the job earlier to make things easier for yourself.
Furthermore, a Hydraulic wood splitter may be needed for this job because splitting Sweet Gumwood is more like shredding, ripping, tearing apart. This is just a description of the process.
However, you can still split your Gumwood with a sharp Ax. Start with the outside edges and then work your way around the outside of the wood till you get to the core. Do not split the wood down the center, just focus on the edges.
The kind of smoke that Sweet Gum produces depends on its moisture content. It also depends on how long you have left it to dry and warm up after seasoning. When dry, Sweet Gumwood smokes lightly. Sweet Gum that is not properly seasoned puts off medium to high levels of smoke.
Additionally, the creosote output is not high when seasoned properly. But, if you use it often you may want to have your chimney inspected for build-up because it is not unusual to experience some “popping” when burning Sweet Gum. This popping can ignite the combustible material and causes an explosion.
Sweet Gum doesn’t put off a characteristic smell. That said, it can sometimes give an unpleasant odor, especially when it is not properly seasoned before burning. Many people who burn Sweet Gum firewood describe the smell as yeast or beer-like.
If you enjoy the smell of firewood, types of wood such as Cedar, Poplar, and Oak may be preferable to you.
Sweet Gum FAQ
Is Sweet Gumwood useful for anything?
Yes, it is very useful aside from being burned as firewood. Sweet Gumwood is one of the main species of trees to produce commercial hardwood in the United States. It is used for numerous purposes, which include the making of upholstered furniture, electronic cabinetry, veneer flooring and siding, plywood, crates, pallets, and much more.
Is Sweet Gumwood a softwood or a hardwood?
Sweet Gum is a hardwood. Even more, it is one of the most important hardwoods in the Southeastern US for manufacturing. In terms of hardness, it is a little higher in stiffness and strength than many species of hardwood.
Does Sweet Gumwood burn good?
Sweet Gum burns good when dry, like most other types of hardwood. It produces up to 20.6 million BTU per cord, which is better than the average for burning. Although the wood burns quickly, mixing it with other hardwoods will give you better results.