Wood Facts

Species and Common Names: Sassafras albidum—Sassafras, cinnamon wood red sassafras

Growing Region: From southern Ontario south to Florida and west to Texas. Largest specimens in Missouri and Arkansas

Specific Gravity: OAS to 0.5 i

Wood Movement1: Tangential (flatsawn): small (less than in. per ft.) Radial (quartcrsawn): very small (less than in. per ft.)

Durability: Heartwood resistant to decay. Sapwood susceptible to decay and insect attack

Susiainability: Sustainable at current hanest levels

Availability: Hardwood lumber dealers

Size: Thicknesses: 4/4 through 16/4. Widths: 4 to 10 in. Lengths: 6 to 12 ft.

Cost: Lumtyer: $2.50 to $5 per bd. ft. Veneer not available

Inditate* wood movement across the grain from 6% to 12% moisture content.

by Paul L. McClure

Long before the first Scandinavian strode onto North American shores, the American Indians were using the "sasauaka-pamuch" tree to make medicinal cures for conditions ranging from fever to rheumatism. They also used it as a blood purifier and as a poultice for wounds» sores, and skin diseases.

American colonists renamed this curative tree "sassafras." It became a major colonial export, second only to tobacco, and was promoted in Europe as a blood thinner and purifier. It was also deemed a cure-all for everything from intestinal gas to malaria. An excellent-tasting tea made from the root bark became all the rage until it developed an unjustified reputation as a cure for syphilis, casting suspicion on its users.

For years, sassafras oil was used as a dental antiseptic and as flavoring for toothpastes, root beer, and chewing gum. But the U.S. l;ood and Drug Administration determined in the early 1960s that the oil is a potential carcinogen, so it's no longer sold commercially.


With its straight grain, large pores, and coarse texture, sassafras strongly resembles ash and chestnut, but it has more natural luster than either. The heart-wood is pale brown, deepening to an orangish brown upon exposure to sunlight and air. The yellowish-white sapwood isn't sharply demarcated from the heartwood.


Sassafras is light in weight, brittle, and fairly soft. And it gives off a pleasant, distinct fragrancc when worked. The wood cuts well with both hand and power tools, but cutting edges should be kept very sharp. It sands and glues easily and acccpts all types of fasteners. Prcborc for scrcws that arc close to edges to avoid splitting. Sassafras steam-bends, turns, and carves well and is very stable. It readily acccpts all types of stains and finishes. However, bccausc of its large, open

This flatsawn board shows sassafras' resemblance to ash and chestnut.

pores, you should use pore filler before applying built-up finishes such as lacquer or polyurcthanc.


Sassafras is often used and sold in combination with ash bccausc of its similar appcarancc. It is also used as a substitute for chestnut when restoring antique furniture made of that rare wood. Sassafras is used to make furniture, moldings, architectural trimwork, boxes, crates, and non-food containers. (It will impart taste to food). Because of its resistance to decay, it's also used for fcnccposts and split rails. A

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