Is Sweetgum a Hardwood or Softwood? (Ultimate Guide!)

Ever wondered about the character of sweetgum wood? Dive in to unravel the mystery behind this popular hardwood option!

Is Sweet Gum A Hardwood

Sweetgum wood is a popular wood type that can be used for cabinet making, furniture making, boxes, and many more.

When I was first working with Sweetgum for desk making, I was curious about its hardness since I already knew the desk I was going make about to bear a lot of weight.

So, I did some deep research about the hardness of Sweetgum wood with the help of experts.

Here’s what I’ve found about, Is Sweetgum a hardwood?

Yes, sweetgum is a hardwood. Derived from the Sweet Gum tree, this medium-hard wood is known for its durability and versatility, making it a popular choice for various woodworking projects. It has a Janka hardness rating of 850.

But there’s a lot more to know about the hardness of Sweetgum.

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    In this article, I’ll deeply explore is Sweetgum a hardwood, how hard Sweetgum is, the characteristics of Sweetgum with its pros and cons, and much more.

    Furthermore, I’ll answer some frequently asked questions as well.

    Let’s jump in!

    Sweetgum furniture and woodwork
    Sweetgum furniture and woodwork

    First of all, let’s take a quick look at what is sweetgum wood.

    What is Sweetgum Wood?

    The Sweetgum tree, scientifically known as Liquidambar styraciflua, is native to the warm and temperate regions of eastern North America.

    Picture it gracing the banks of rivers and swamps with its tall and straight trunk.

    It’s not just a feast for the eyes though; this tree holds within it wood that is both versatile and resilient, a favorite among woodworkers and artisans alike.

    Did you know fact about sweetgum
    Did you know fact about sweetgum

    Sweetgum for Woodworking

    Venturing beyond its external beauty, the Sweetgum tree harbors wood that is indeed something special.

    Generally characterized by its fine, even texture, and interlocked grain, Sweetgum wood is moderately hard, making it a flexible choice for a wide variety of woodworking projects.

    Now, let’s talk about how it feels to work with this type of wood, shall we?

    Imagine being in a workshop, the scent of freshly cut wood filling the air.

    As you work with Sweetgum, you’ll notice how it lends itself gracefully to be shaped, carved, and crafted into pieces of art or functional creations.

    Its subtle but sometimes wavy grain can create beautiful patterns that add character to the finished products.

    Now you have a good understanding of what is sweetgum wood. So, let’s head back to our key area which is about its hardness.

    Characteristic features of sweetgum
    Characteristic features of sweetgum

    How Hard Is Sweetgum?

    Sweetgum is considered a hardwood. It is harder, denser, and stronger than most softwoods and some hardwoods as well.

    For example, Sweetgum is harder than Poplar, Cedar, Pine, and Hemlock, but softer than Ash, Beech, and Oak.

    Janka hardness test is the standard method of testing the hardness of a particular wood against wear and shear.

    If a particular wood has high wear and tear resistance, that means its Janka hardness test value is high.

    According to the Janka hardness rating, Sweetgum has a hardness rating of 850 lbf (3,780 N) which is significantly harder and denser than most woods.

    Sweetgum has an interlocked grain with a diffuse porous structure which is unusual for hardwoods. The vessel arrangement in Sweetgum wood fibers is irregular.

    Generally, expensive hardwoods have ring porous structure while woods that have low market value and less in strength has a diffuse porous structure.

    Because of this diffuse porous structure, Sweetgum is not hard or strong as versatile hardwoods like Oak, Hickory, and Ash . It is cheap and used for products with lesser value.

    Because of being a hardwood, tyloses are present among the wood fibers of Sweetgum.

    Tyloses help to minimize moisture absorption from the outside and prevent the wood from rotting. Therefore, Sweetgum is hard enough to use for outdoor applications as well.

    It has good weather resistance. Sweetgum is hard, durable, and tough. Therefore, it has a significantly high resistance to cracking and splitting when drying.  

    Because sweetgum wood is hard to split, it is not a good option for firewood. Plus, your woodworking tools need to be well-sharpened to split the wood. 

    Sweetgum wood floor
    Sweetgum wood floor

    Hardness of Sweetgum Compared to Other Woods

    According to the Janka hardness test, Sweetgum has a hardness of 850 lbf (3,780 N).

    So, let’s find out how hard Sweetgum is compared to other popular wood types using the following table.

    Wood SpeciesHardness value
    Brazilian Walnut3,684 lbf (16,390 N)
    Red Mahogany, Turpentine2,697 lbf (12,000 N)
    Brazilian Cherry, Jatoba2,350 lbf (10,500 N)
    Golden Teak2,330 lbf (10,400 N)
    Hickory, Pecan, Satinwood1,820 lbf (8,100 N)
    Hard Maple, Sugar Maple1,450 lbf (6,400 N)
    White Oak1,360 lbf (6,000 N)
    Ash (White)1,320 lbf (5,900 N)
    American Beech1,300 lbf (5,800 N)
    Red Oak (Northern)1,290 lbf (5,700 N)
    Yellow Birch / Baltic birch1,260 lbf (5,600 N)
    Teak1,155 lbf (5,140 N)
    Black Walnut, North American Walnut1,010 lbf (4,500 N)
    Cherry995 lbf (4,430 N)
    Black Cherry, Imbuia950 lbf (4,200 N)
    Red Maple950 lbf (4,200 N)
    Sweetgum850 lbf (3,780 N)
    Douglas Fir710 lbf (3,158 N)
    Silver Maple700 lbf (3,100 N)
    Hemlock540 lbf (2,402 N)
    Black Spruce520 lbf (2,313 N)
    Cypress510 lbf (2,269 N)
    Cottonwood430 lbf (1,913 N)
    Redwood420 lbf (1,868 N)
    Basswood410 lbf (1,823 N)
    Engelmann Spruce390 lbf (1,735 N)
    Sugar Pine380 lbf (1,690 N)
    White Pine380 lbf (1,690 N)
    Aspen350 lbf (1,557 N)
    White Cedar320 lbf (1,423 N)

    As you can see Sweetgum has average hardness and density compared to other woods.

    This is good because being too hard is bad for workability and being too soft is bad for durability. Sweetgum is in a sweet spot, which makes it popular among woodworkers.

    Sweetgum wood fence
    Sweetgum wood fence

    So, let’s discuss some characteristics of Sweetgum as a hardwood species.

    Sweetgum Wood Characteristics

    Sweetgum has whitish to tan or light pink color sapwood and reddish-brown heartwood which add a unique appearance to your interior and exterior projects.

    Sweetgum is great for both indoor and outdoor woodworking projects since it is so durable, hard, and able to use for so long.

    Sweetgum has moderate resistance against rotting compared to many other softwoods because of its being hard and durable.

    Sweetgum has good resistance as a hardwood, but I highly recommend you apply a proper sealer or finisher to protect the wood from extreme weather conditions and environmental elements such as moisture, UV light, and insect attacks.

    Working with Sweetgum is moderately easy and it has some excellent finishing properties. But due to the hardness and interlocked grain structure, wood tear outs can happen.

    Therefore, your woodworking hand tools, and power tools edges need to be well-sharpened before working with a hardwood like Sweetgum.

    Uses of sweetgum wood
    Uses of sweetgum wood

    You can apply lacquer, varnish, or any other oil-based wood finisher like Tung oil, Danish oil, or Linseed oil to protect Sweetgum.

    It has good flexibility and is able to bend well after seaming.

    Being flexible and hard at the same time makes Sweetgum more versatile over many softwoods.

    But on the downside, Sweetgum is prone to warping and cracking when drying due to irregular wood movements.

     You need to seal the wood properly before drying to keep Sweetgum wood from cracking.

    In summary, here are some most significant qualities of Sweetgum.

    • Hardwood
    • High durability
    • Moderate rot resistance
    • Poor decay resistance
    • Moderate workability
    • Excellent finishing properties
    • Versatile wood
    • Interlocked grain structure
    • No characteristic odor
    • Steam bending is possible
    • High shrinkage
    Sweetgum wood dining table
    Sweetgum wood dining table

    Properties of Sweetgum Wood

    Here’re the main characteristic features of Sweetgum,

    ColorWhitish and Light Pink
    Density0.52 Kg/m3
    Stiffness1.64 Mpsi
    Hardness850 lbf
    Wood TypeHardwood
    ApplicationsCabinets, Furniture making, Boxes

    So, let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of Sweetgum as a hardwood,

    Pros And Cons Of Sweetgum

    HardwoodProne to warping
    High durabilityHigh shrinkage when drying
    High workabilityDistort easily
    Easy to finishTear out easily
    Moderate rot resistance 
    No characteristic odor 
    Cheap in price 
    Attractive texture 
    Easy to bend 

    As you can see, Sweetgum is underrated, and it has lots of benefits that can use literally for any woodworking project.

    Even the drawbacks of Sweetgum can be easily fixed by applying a quality finisher properly.

    Sweetgum wood kitchen cabinet
    Sweetgum wood kitchen cabinet

    Let’s see some applications of Sweetgum.

    What Is Sweetgum Used For?

    Because of being a high-quality, versatile hardwood, you can use Sweetgum for both interior and exterior woodworking applications.

    Here’re some popular uses of Sweetgum,

    • Cabinet making
    • Furniture making
    • Boxes and crates
    • Plywood
    • Veneer
    • Interior film making
    • Musical instruments
    • Paneling
    • Millwork
    • Doors and windows

    As you can see Sweetgum can be used for anything. But I highly recommend you finish the wood properly before using it for the long run.

    How Strong Is Sweetgum?

    Sweetgum has higher strength and stiffness than many other kinds of wood since it is a hardwood with high density, hardness, and toughness.

    Plus, it has good flexibility as well which is important for its flexural strength.

    Sweetgum is stronger than Mahogany and close to Cherry. But it is a little bit weaker than Walnut which is considered one of the strongest wood types on the planet.

    Because of being so strong, Sweetgum can be used for applications that carry weight and stress. But it is not strong as Oak, Ash, and other premium luxurious hardwood species.

    Therefore, I highly recommend you not to apply too much weight on Sweetgum even though it has a good strength factor compared to its lightweight.

    Because of being light and having good strength, Sweetgum wood has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio which is important in woodworking.

    The compressive strength and bending strength of Sweetgum are as follows,

    • The compressive strength of Sweetgum is 6,320 psi
    • The bending strength of Sweetgum is 12,500 psi

    Great compressive strength and flexural strengths make Sweetgum capable of any woodworking project.

    Now I’m going to share with you some tips that I’ve learned over the past decade by working with Sweetgum for various woodworking projects.

    The below tips will make your sweetgum woodworking project a lot easier.

    Sweetgum wood patio furniture
    Sweetgum wood patio furniture

    Tips For Working With SweetGum Hardwood

    You know, getting to work with Sweetgum is a bit like befriending someone with a vibrant personality – a truly enriching experience.

    So grab a cup of coffee and settle in, as we share some personal tales and expert advice on making the most of this delightful material.

    Tip 1: Selecting the Perfect Piece

    Just like choosing the perfect wine or cheese, selecting the right piece of Sweetgum wood is an art.

    Make sure to pick pieces that have a uniform color and a straight grain, which indicates a healthier wood.

    And oh, the thrill of finding that perfect piece, it’s like treasure hunting in your backyard!

    Sweetgum wood cupboard
    Sweetgum wood cupboard

    Tip 2: Tooling and Techniques

    Now, let’s chat about the tools and techniques that work wonders with this hardwood.

    Sweetgum tends to be friendly with both hand and power tools. However, it’s always good to keep your tools sharp as it makes carving and cutting a breezy affair.

    A personal tip from my own experience – try using a well-sharpened chisel to create intricate designs, the results can be quite stunning!

    Tip 3: Finishing Sweetgum Wood

    After all the cutting, carving, and crafting, comes the moment of adding the finishing touches.

    A wonderful aspect of Sweetgum wood is its receptiveness to stains and finishes.

    Imagine watching your creation come alive as you apply a coat of finish, highlighting the magnificent grain patterns and bringing a warm, rich tone to the wood. It feels almost like witnessing a sunrise, doesn’t it?

    Tip 5: Community and Collaboration

    Lastly, don’t hesitate to share your Sweetgum creations and experiences with the community.

    Collaborate with other artisans, learn new techniques, and continue to grow in your woodworking journey.

    Together, we create not just pieces of art, but also a rich tapestry of experiences and stories, each one adding value to the Sweetgum legacy.

    Tip for working with sweetgum
    Tip for working with sweetgum

    Is Sweetgum Wood Hard To Split?

    Yes, Sweetgum wood is hard to split because it is hard, tough, and has an interlocked grain structure that is prone to tear out when cutting.

    Because of being a hardwood with high strength and stiffness, Sweetgum is hard to split. Therefore, it is not a good choice for firewood.

    But due to the high shrinkage factor, Sweetgum split and cracks easily when drying.

    You can prevent the wood from splitting by applying a quality finisher or sealer before letting the wood dry.

    Congrats folks! Now you know is sweetgum a hardwood or a softwood with its characteristic qualities.

    So, let’s compared the hardness of sweetgum with woods that we mostly use for our projects.

    Is Sweetgum Harder Than Maple?

    Maple is harder than Sweetgum. Even though Maple is a hardwood similar to Sweetgum, it is harder than sweetgum due to its tough fiber structure.

    Strength wise also, Maple is stronger than Sweetgum. Therefore, Sweetgum can be easily replaced with Maple in terms of hardness and strength.

    According to the Janka hardness scale, the hardness of Maple and Sweetgum is as follows,

    Wood TypeHardness
    Sweetgum850 lbf
    Hard Maple1,450 lbf
    Soft Maple950 lbf

    Is Sweetgum Harder Than Pine?

    Sweetgum is harder than White Pine and Sugar Pine. But Sweetgum has a similar hardness to Yellow Pine.

    Pinewood belongs to the softwood family and Sweetgum is a hardwood. But yellow Pine has some exceptional hardwood qualities.

    Because of having wide range of hardness, Pine is a more versatile wood than Sweetgum. But you need to be wise when selecting the correct Pinewood type for your projects.

    According to the Janka hardness scale, the hardness of Pine and Sweetgum is as follows,

    Wood TypeHardness
    Sweetgum850 lbf
    White Pine380 lbf
    Sugar Pine380 lbf
    Yellow Pine870 lbf
    Tip for working with sweetgum wood
    Tip for working with sweetgum wood

    Let’s answer some frequently asked questions.


    What is the Janka hardness rating for Sweet Gum wood?

    Sweetgum wood has a Janka scale of 850, which showcases a delightful marriage of durability and workability, making it an alluring choice for craftsmen and wood enthusiasts alike!

    Is Sweet Gum wood a popular choice for woodworking?

    Yes, Sweet Gum offers a canvas that beautifully marries flexibility and strength, beckoning craftsmen to weave their stories through their creations, one intricate pattern at a time.

    Can Sweet Gum wood be used for outdoor projects?

    Yes, but with a little caution! While it’s not the first choice for outdoor ventures, when treated correctly, this versatile wood transforms, holding its ground and showcasing an awe-inspiring performance that might just leave you astounded!

    Did I cover all you wanted to know about: Is Sweetgum A Hardwood

    In this article I have deeply discussed, is Sweetgum hardwood, how hard Sweetgum is, characteristic features of Sweetgum with pros and cons.

    Sweetgum is a hardwood with a Janka hardness rating of 850 lbf (3,780 N). Sweetgum is harder and denser than hardwood species like Poplar and Cedar. Sweetgum has excellent durability and strength. It can use for many indoor and outdoor projects because of being hard, dense, and strong.

    Furthermore, I’ve answered some frequently asked questions as well.

    Hope you have gained good knowledge about is Sweetgum a hardwood and how its hardness helpful for woodworking activities.

    Try to use Sweetgum for your next woodworking projects and see how hard it really is. Happy woodworking!

    Walter Parker is a woodworking enthusiast. He is passionate about woodworking projects & plays with woodworking tools having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Woodworking Planet. He wants to make people love woodworking! Read More About Him! Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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