Characteristics of Gumwood

Characteristics of Gumwood

The major characteristics of gum wood for finishing and woodworking, red gumwood.

Craftsman Style

¶ Gumwood has been used a great many years for fine cabinet construction and furniture. For a long time it was not known in the finished wood by its rightful name American Gumwood but was called satin-walnut, hazelwood, etc., because in the hands of skillful finishers it was made to resemble other woods so closely that very few could distinguish it from those other woods. In Europe, especially, it has been used under other names and was recognized for its good qualities long before it became so popular in America, Today it is known as red gum, sap gum and sweet gum. It enjoys very extensive use for furniture, building trim, cabinet work and for many other purposes.

¶ Gumwood is a very close-grain, close-knit wood of fine texture. It is commonly called a soft wood, but is designated as a hard wood by its manufacturers. It is harder than white pine but not so hard as maple, oak and birch, so it may well be called a medium hard wood.

¶ This wood is plain or straight-sawed and also quarter-sawed, but to account for the wonderfully interesting grain figure is beyond the ability of most men today. That is one of Nature's riddles. The formation of figure in gumwood obeys no laws, apparently; it ramifies throughout the logs at random. Some trees have pronounced grain figure in the wood, some have much and some little. Soil conditions and location of individual trees affect in some mysterious way the structure of the wood. Each gumwood log produces boards of somewhat different grain figure; one will be rather subdued while another may be strong, while still another will be intricate and quite ornate.

¶ As to color, the sapwood of the gum tree makes a rather light colored wood with occasional dark brown streaks. The heartwood produces boards of a medium light brown with a reddish tinge. The lumber from the sapwood is called sap gum and the lumber from the heartwood is called red gum.

¶ Red gumwood is graded or selected to supply plain or figured wood. For fine panels and furniture the wood is veneered and when matched as to pattern produces wood which is very similar to Circassian walnut. The plain sawed gumwood finished natural or with a very light brown stain is much appreciated for interior wood trim because it produces walls of soft., subdued quality that is very rich for a background of a decorative scheme. The quarter-sawed plain gumwood, not selected for decorative figures, is also much used for the same purpose.

¶ The present day popularity of gumwood in America was somewhat delayed because no one took the trouble to learn how properly to season or dry it. When not properly dried the wood warped and generally was not stable. But now these structural difficulties have been overcome by correct seasoning.

¶ Gumwood is beautiful in its own right and there is no need to place its value according to what woods it will represent well when properly finished. It is, nevertheless, prized because in the hands of skillful finishers the grain figure can be selected and patterns matched so well as to make finishes which are fully as beautiful as Circassian walnut. Then properly finished gum resembles black and other walnut woods closely, so much so that when used in the same panels or piece of furniture with other woods it takes an expert to tell the difference between the two woods. Gumwood finishes very much like mahogany, too, when the wood is selected for grain figure of similar nature, Finished in its natural light brown color gumwood is much liked by some, while others like it better after a very light, thin brown stain has been used on it to slightly darken the color. For enamel jobs gumwood makes an excellent base. Its uniformity of cell structure, its uniform density does not permit the wood to absorb paint, stain or enamel coats unevenly, and there are no pockets or streaks of resin to come through the finish.

¶ For stained finishes water stains raise the grain of gum a bit more than it does on other woods? but it penetrates deeply and its very transparent nature produces a far more beautiful finish than other stains, and the sapwood really needs a water stain to make a uniform color and clear tone because of the very light streaks of wood. It is well to use a very thin stain coat on light wood streaks which appear along side of dark wood; coat these light streaks before staining the whole surface.

¶ Gumwood is most beautiful when finished in dull lustre. The hand rubbed, varnished surface, the flat varnish surface and the shellacked and waxed surface are all preferred to the high gloss, polished surface for interior trim, especially.

¶ When gumwood is used for the stiles and mouldings of wall panels with mahogany or walnut veneer for the panel centers the gumwood should be coated with a toner before staining. For a toner a weak solution of chloride of iron, or sulphate of iron (copperas), is suitable. Dissolve this chemical in water and brush it on to the gumwood and let it dry. That will subdue the sharp contrast between sap streaks and give a more uniform effect. Follow this toner with water stain or oil stain.

¶ Gumwood being very close-grain does not require a filler, at least not a paste filler or varnish liquid filler. It is good practice to brush on a thin coat of raw linseed oil, or a mixture of ¼ raw linseed oil and ¾ turpentine first. Let it set a few minutes and then wipe off. Let it dry at least twelve hours before staining with water or oil stain. The oil fills the very fine wood pores and makes a more uniform suction which helps to stain the wood a uniform color. Paraffin oil has been recommended for that purpose, but that is a very doubtful proceeding, because that oil is bound to leave a thin film of wax on the wood and wax is a mighty poor foundation for varnish, shellac, paint or enamel. Gumwood is often finished with a stain, two or more coats of white shellac and wax, or the shellac is rubbed dull and no wax is used. Then again the furniture finisher likes to apply one very thin coat of white shellac and when dry rub it close which removes all shellac except what is lodged in the fine wood cells and which acts as a filler. The shellac goes on after the stain.

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