Is Sweet Gum A Hardwood? (How hard is Sweetgum?)

is sweet gum a hardwood

Sweet Gum 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 Sweet Gum for desk making, I was curious about its hardness since I knew the desk I’m going make should bare a lot of weight.

I did some deep research about Sweet Gum wood and found answers to my question, Is Sweet Gum a hardwood

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

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

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

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

Let’s jump in!

How hard Is Sweet Gum?

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

For example, Sweet Gum 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, Sweet Gum has a hardness rating of 850 lbf (3,780 N) which is significantly harder and denser than most woods.

Sweet Gum has an interlocked grain with a diffuse porous structure which is unusual for hardwoods. The vessel arrangement in Sweet Gum 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, Sweet Gum 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 Sweet Gum.

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

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

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

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

So, let’s find out how hard Sweet Gum 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)
Sweet Gum850 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 Sweet Gum 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. Sweet Gum is in a sweet spot, which makes it popular among woodworkers.

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

Sweet Gum Characteristics

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

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

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

Sweet Gum 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 Sweet Gum 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 Sweet Gum.

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

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

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

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

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

In a summary, here’re some most significant qualities of Sweet Gum.

  • 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

Here’re the main characteristic features of Sweet Gum,

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 Sweet Gum as a hardwood,

Pros And Cons Of Sweet Gum

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, Sweet Gum is underrated, and it has lots of benefits that can use literally for any woodworking project.

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

Let’s see some applications of Sweet Gum.

What Is Sweet Gum Used For?

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

Here’re some popular uses of Sweet Gum,

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

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

How Strong Is Sweet Gum?

Sweet Gum has higher strength and stiffness than many other kinds of wood because of being a hardwood with high density, hardness, and toughness.

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

Sweet Gum 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, Sweet Gum 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 Sweet Gum even though it has a good strength factor compared to its lightweight.

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

The compressive strength and bending strength of Sweet Gum are as follows,

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

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

So, let’s answer some frequently asked questions.

Is Sweet Gum Wood Hard To Split?

Yes, Sweet Gum 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, Sweet Gum is hard to split. Therefore, it is not a good choice for firewood.

But due to the high shrinkage factor, Sweet Gum 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.

Is Sweet Gum Harder Than Maple?

Maple is harder than Sweet Gum. Even though Maple is a hardwood same to Sweet Gum, it is harder than Sweet Gum due to the tough fiber structure.

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

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

Wood TypeHardness
Sweet Gum850 lbf
Hard Maple1,450 lbf
Soft Maple950 lbf

Is Sweet Gum Harder Than Pine?

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

Pinewood belongs to the softwood family and Sweet Gum 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 Sweet Gum. 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 Sweet Gum is as follows,

Wood TypeHardness
Sweet Gum850 lbf
White Pine380 lbf
Sugar Pine380 lbf
Yellow Pine870 lbf

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

In this article we have deeply discussed, is Sweet Gum hardwood, how hard Sweet Gum is, characteristic features of Sweet Gum with pros and cons.

Sweet Gum is a hardwood since it comes from a deciduous tree with wide leaves that falls annually. The Janka hardness of Sweet Gum is 850 lbf (3,780 N) which is harder than many other kinds of wood. Sweet Gum is tough, durable, and stiff. It has good workability and is easy to finish.

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

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

Try to use Sweet Gum 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 and Facebook.

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