Can Basswood have figure?

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Forum topic by CaptainKlutz posted 12-29-2017 08:23 AM 1297 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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3585 posts in 2341 days

12-29-2017 08:23 AM

Topic tags/keywords: basswood plane maple question

New project made with Basswood,where Basswood is showing curly figure?

[Close up: Yellow tinted wood is Basswood, Pink tinted is Maple. Both look “white” to naked eye.]

Is figure normal? Does it happen often?

All my previous encounters with Basswood as drawer sides or light weight trays in chests have always used boring straight grain basswood, and never seen figure like this.

Making a new pizza peel as our last one got lost in a recent move, plus gives me chance to play with Veritas low angle smoother received as x-mas gift,

[ Here you can see the “white” woods against beech workbench ]

Found maple scrap long enough for deck and handle, and decided it was time to use some 5/8” thick Basswood given to me by a sawyer as bonus for buying a large pile of hardwood. Nice part about basswood is very light weight, while the center/handle is using hard maple for strength. The rough cut basswood board was stained, ugly, and super dry as it had been stored in AZ for 20+ years. After gluing/scraping/planing the boards, notice that the maple has some figure, But was shocked to see basswood with figure too?
[smoothing plane has left a really nice surface as shown in close up!]

Would like to know if others have seen figured basswood?
Or could the wood have been miss labeled?

Thanks for reading….

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

7 replies so far

View WDHLT15's profile


1819 posts in 3323 days

#1 posted 12-29-2017 12:43 PM

Curly figure in basswood would be uncommon for sure.

I think the the wood was mis-labeled and that all pieces are maple. The grain looks pretty strong to be basswood. Curly figure in maple is less uncommon. However it could be basswood.

-- Danny Located in Perry, GA. Forester. Wood-Mizer LT40HD35 Sawmill. Nyle L53 Dehumidification Kiln.

View Tennessee's profile


2901 posts in 3361 days

#2 posted 12-29-2017 12:57 PM

What we call soft maple around here, the stuff you buy in the big box stores, that can occasionally have some flame in it. It is a fast growth maple, and not dense and hard like hard maple. I think what you believe is basswood might be soft maple.

I also found a piece of aspen in a Lowes once that was just loaded with a quilted pattern. Bought it, although all I have used a bit of it for were drawer fronts on a bandsaw jewelry box. It was also light, soft and had flame and quilt. Looked nice, and as long as I didn’t stain it, took a finish OK.

So I would guess soft maple or aspen.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View Dark_Lightning's profile


4188 posts in 3956 days

#3 posted 12-30-2017 03:28 AM

I suspect that that wood is not basswood. It’s known for lack of figure, which is why it is used for carving. That is not to say that a board can’t have some figure. I have, however seen (and have) some pine that has a figure you wouldn’t believe. All kinds of strange out there in the woods.

-- Steven.......Random Orbital Nailer

View Alex Lane's profile

Alex Lane

575 posts in 4737 days

#4 posted 12-30-2017 04:25 AM

I’ve seen trees that had compression curl only at the base of the trunk because to my knowledge the enormous weight of the tree caused the first couple feet from the ground to have a wavy grain. I’d guess this can happen in any species of wood. But it’s purely a guess. :)

-- Alex...builder of wooden wings for vintage sport biplanes...I'm your wingman :)

View CaptainKlutz's profile


3585 posts in 2341 days

#5 posted 12-30-2017 07:13 AM

Thanks for comments! Confirm my suspicions that figure in basswood is rare.

@Tennessee: Maple, interesting. This wood is less dense and softer than any soft Maple I have ever used?

Time for some data and research:

Harvested from Minnesota/Wisconsin area. Few samples I have are ~11” wide, and it was ~55% of trunk width. Sap wood has yellow streaking, while heartwood is creamy off white color by comparison.

Measured density for 6 ft long board is 450kg/m3 (~28 lb/ft3), with moisture < 10%. So might be more like 480-500 kg/m3 for comparison to density tables listed as 12% or 20% moisture content.
[tables suggest: basswood, elm, cottonwood, soft maples, too dense for other light weight wood – aspen/poplar]

Can easily dent wood with finger nail, like most basswood I have seen. Similar to alder regarding dent-ability. Harder to dent than BORG 1” yellow pine trim boards, and redwood samples I have.

Unable to take picture of end grain, best comparison I can make is based on pictures from wood database:
Colors are reverse of Basswood, looks more like cottonwood, except has fine grain/pores like silver maple, but growth rings are much tighter – like elm, striped maple, or big toothed Aspen.

Does have faint odor from edge when freshly machined? Have to stick your nose directly at the cut edge to smell it. Hard to explain: has a musty/dirty almost locker room smell? Wife says it is horrible cross between ammonia and musty sweat sock?

Since maple does not usually have an odor (unless this is some weird swamp grown maple), this leans my thoughts towards stinky American elm or cottonwood as candidates. The end grain is not like any of the elm varieties in database; So this points towards cottonwood as most likely answer, (with soft swamp maple as distant alternative)?

This would be first time I worked with cottonwood, Does cottonwood have this odor when dry, and commonly show figure?

-- If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all, - Albert King - Born Under a Bad Sign released 1967

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

5835 posts in 1429 days

#6 posted 12-30-2017 10:46 AM

Cottonwood has a little odor. “Cat piss” was what my dad called it, which matches the ammonia your wife called out. I never noticed it, but I had allergies when we were cutting down the one cottonwood I’ve ever dealt with.

Have you checked the poplar, cottonwood, aspen, what's what? page at the wood database? That might offer more help in distinguishing what you’ve got.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View WDHLT15's profile


1819 posts in 3323 days

#7 posted 12-30-2017 12:58 PM

You should be able to tell quickly if it is cottonwood versus maple. Maple has medullary rays that are very easy to see, especially under a hand lens or magnifying glass. Not so with cottonwood. The rays are are readily visible. If you are not sure what a medullary ray is, look here:\

-- Danny Located in Perry, GA. Forester. Wood-Mizer LT40HD35 Sawmill. Nyle L53 Dehumidification Kiln.

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