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Our latest featured veneer is AMERICAN RED GUM
Quartered Red Gum
Also known as :  Satin Walnut, Sweet Gum, Sweetgum, Bilsted, Sap Gum (sapwood only)
Botanical name :  Liquidambar styraciflua
Origin :  Central and southern USA

Not to be confused with River Red Gum from Australia which is a species of Eucalyptus.

These trees, usually known as American Sweetgum, are native to large areas of central and southern USA as well as Mexico and Guatemala. They appreciate moist conditions and will grow in damp, even swampy areas that are liable to flood. They are particularly abundant in the lower Mississippi valley region.

The unusual way in which the bark grows on the young branches can give them an almost reptile-like appearance and explains why they are sometimes locally known as Alligator Trees or Alligator Wood. The names Red Gum and Sweet Gum refer to the resin, known as storax, that is exuded naturally from the bark. This is scented and has been used in medicine and the manufacture of perfume. It is reputed to be the first plant from which benzine was extracted.

Sweetgum is now cultivated in many parts of the world and was introduced into this country in the 17th. century. It is a fine choice for estate gardens and parks and is often chosen for its spectacular autumn colour. The five pointed Maple like leaves change from a fresh green to many shades of red, orange and purple although the colours can be more vivid in some years than others. Eventually it will develop into a large tree, reaching a height of around 25 to 30 metres and may live to be over 150 years of age.

Sap Gum
Interestingly, a Sweetgum is reported to be the first specimen tree selected to be planted in the World Trade Centre memorial grove at Ground Zero.

As a timber it has been said to possess just about every bad quality to be found in any wood. Its interlocked grain gives it a lovely appearance but it dries unevenly, twisting and warping even after seasoning is completed. 

The veneer, however, which is usually quarter-cut, obviously has none of the solid's shortcomings and can be very decorative with a lovely silky sheen. Selected logs are occasionally flat-cut or sliced on a stay-log machine to give crown veneer (see VENEER PRODUCTION page). Low grade logs are converted into veneer for local plywood manufacture.

The distinct wide sapwood is whitish to creamy coloured and separately marketed as Sap Gum (some years ago it was also called Hazel Pine). This may be used on interiors of furniture or as a detail - it is very close-grained and has even been chosen on occasion as a substitute for Holly.

A certain amount of this sapwood is usually left on when Red Gum is sliced, it being common to incorporate both the sap and the darker heartwood together in use. The heartwood itself is a lustrous reddish brown with contrasting lighter or darker markings and an irregular appearance which gives it an eye-catching quality.

Individual logs can be quite different in appearance, some displaying ornate feathering, others with swirly movement and yet others that are plainer. When book matched, especially incorporating the sapwood, the results can be very special.

American Sweetgum,
RHS Garden, Wisley
Recently there have been several architectural interior design projects completed using 100% heartwood only. Although the resulting look can be pleasing, it is an unfortunate waste of precious veneer with so much sap being removed and thrown away. 

From time to time some logs are available with FSC certification.

Prices for Red Gum veneer vary considerably with the differences in quality, the cleaner and more decorative logs obviously commanding the highest prices. Generally, however, it is around the mid price range.

Uses are many, with special interiors, furniture, kitchens and shopfitting all benefiting from the occasional choice of this attractive and interesting veneer.