Uses for Cottonwood?

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Forum topic by FirehouseWoodworking posted 12-02-2010 10:00 PM 38593 views 2 times favorited 68 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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787 posts in 4349 days

12-02-2010 10:00 PM

Topic tags/keywords: wood cottonwood question

A few of us were talking at lunch about some old cottonwood trees. The conversation came around to what would you use the wood for.

It’ll burn in the fireplace but leaves a big mess of ash and sparks and pops while burning.

None of us had any experience with using cottonwood nor did we remember ever seeing cottonwood lumber for sale. We hadn’t heard about any commercial use or application.

Anyone out there ever use it and if so, what did you do with it and how did it the lumber work?

Thanks in advance.

-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

68 replies so far

View Roper's profile


1389 posts in 4789 days

#1 posted 12-02-2010 10:22 PM

I have use cotton wood to turn but never to build furniture with. It is very soft and stringy, all the pieces of turned cottonwood I have seen have been painted after because there isn’t much figure to cottonwood. In the woodworking world cottonwood is pretty much a junk wood as far as it’s strength and beauty.

-- Roper - Master of sawdust-

View Viking's profile


882 posts in 4271 days

#2 posted 12-02-2010 10:25 PM

Best use is for outdoor firepit.

-- Rick Gustafson - Lost Creek Ranch - Colorado County, Texas

View JJohnston's profile


1622 posts in 4367 days

#3 posted 12-02-2010 10:27 PM

They’re also just the ticket if you want to prevent your neighbors (and yourself) from having a lawn. ;o)

-- "A man may conduct himself well in both adversity and good fortune, but if you want to test his character, give him power." - Abraham Lincoln

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37 posts in 4152 days

#4 posted 12-02-2010 10:29 PM

I have seen cottonwood bark carvings that are quite nice, but I have never seen the wood used for anything other than rough-cut siding.

-- Why make it easy when you can make it difficult?

View DaddyZ's profile


2475 posts in 4116 days

#5 posted 12-02-2010 10:41 PM

I have Heard that the wood as lumber is used for Pipeline bracing & blocks for dozers & trucks

-- Pat - Worker of Wood, Collector of Tools, Father of one

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 4047 days

#6 posted 12-02-2010 11:05 PM

I have been told there is a very close cousin of cottonwood used for furniture in Japan. It’s a traditional thing where a family gives a tree to a newly married couple and all their furniture is cut from that tree. I would have thought bamboo.

Supposedly it’s very strong for its weight. It is also very light, especially when dry. I can see it being used for wheel chocks because if its weight. I have made a hiking pole out of a cottonwood sappling and it worked very well. Got a little crooked when it dried out, but still useable. Had to put a tip on it because its so pithy it would have busted up on the impact end.

I have several around my place and can confirm the ash and popping attribute in the firepace.

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3943 days

#7 posted 12-02-2010 11:11 PM

I had one grow up beside my house one time. I really let it go too long but to tell you truth the thing was so straight that I did think once or twice about using it as a flag pole and just leave it alone. :)

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Jeff's profile


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#8 posted 12-02-2010 11:37 PM

Sell it to a pulp mill. Used widely in the south and it makes good paper.

View Pawky's profile


278 posts in 3880 days

#9 posted 12-02-2010 11:54 PM

I’ve seen carvings from the bark as well which were pretty nice. The guy doing them liked working with it, I ended up buying one of the ornaments

View Gregn's profile


1642 posts in 4059 days

#10 posted 12-03-2010 12:43 AM

This is what I found in one of my wood properties files on uses for Cottonwood.
Cottonwood is used principally for lumber, veneer, pulpwood,
excelsior, and fuel. Lumber and veneer are used
primarily for boxes, crates, baskets, and pallets.

-- I don't make mistakes, I have great learning lessons, Greg

View Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2881 posts in 3998 days

#11 posted 12-03-2010 01:14 AM

A local interior shutter manufacturer uses millions of board feet of cottonwood every year. It is cut into strips about 2” wide and glued together before used in 8” wide painted pieces. I suppose this process is to make it more stable. I get cut offs from this plant and use it to make toys. It is a true poplar and machines the same as poplar does except it has an ordor when cut.

-- No PHD just a DD214 Lubbock Texas

View SwedishIron's profile


142 posts in 4717 days

#12 posted 12-03-2010 01:56 AM

There is a lot of confusion with Cottonwood since it seems to get lumped in with the Poplar family so aspen, poplar, cottonwood are technically all in the same genus.
I have access to some locally milled urban timber, and yes I’ve seen some pieces of furniture made out of true Cottonwood, but its not known to be very stable and is a bear to air dry straight. As with Murphy’s law, the crotch pieces or areas with amazing figure will go crazy during the drying process.

Roper mentioned it being a boring wood, but I’ve seen some amazing grained pieces for sale before @ TCWoods in Lafayette, CO. Here is a picture of a cottonwood table from their website:

And here is a picture of some Silver Poplar (very close to cottonwood) that I got from a local Longmont, CO sawyer:

This sample was sanded to 120 grit, finished with BLO and Shellac to pop the grain. It smells like the dirtiest wet dog you could imagine. and two years later and my Bosch 6” ROS still stinks like a wet dog whenever I use it. Perty stuff.. but stinky.

As for practical uses.. the two sawyer I know sell their cottonwood lumber to folks with trailers, very durable and useful to keep heavy equipment from touching the metal.

The stuff does seem to carve well though, here is an article about a local town which has hired a carver named Eddie Running Wolf to transform some old Cottonwood stumps into some amazing Indian figural carvings. Look at this youtube video interviewing the sculpture and showing the two sculptures he is currently working on.

-- Scott, Colorado

View helluvawreck's profile


32122 posts in 3943 days

#13 posted 12-03-2010 02:27 AM

I am good friends with Admiral Shallow Water Murphy. He was a great philosopher with a whole lot of common sense. He spent his whole life time studying life and came to the remarkable scientific conclusion that “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” :) To my great consternation and aggravation I have run into his law more times than I can shake a stick at. As I most often do, as a matter of fact, I seem to run into his law almost everyday. However, I’m not sure there was ever a proper statue erected to him to comemerate his great discovery. No doubt, most everyman has bumped into his law a few times along the way of life that had grave consequences to their own lives. Many a man ran into his law at the moment of their utter destruction as they uttered “Oh crap, I forgot to take care of that.” :-|

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View Roper's profile


1389 posts in 4789 days

#14 posted 12-03-2010 02:28 AM

Wow Scott i stand corrected that is some nicely figured wood, I guess it must just be the stuff I am finding that is boring. When you head back to your sawyers see if he has any burl caps or turning blanks if you don’t mind, I am always looking for more wood. Hope all is well and if you got some time stop on by the end of semester show at red rocks on dec 11th.


-- Roper - Master of sawdust-

View FirehouseWoodworking's profile


787 posts in 4349 days

#15 posted 12-03-2010 03:34 AM


I’m just going to sit back and let you guys educate the hell out of me. I had no idea. This is great. This is why I come to the site multiple times each day.

Thanks folks. And please continue . . .

-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

showing 1 through 15 of 68 replies

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