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Cottonwood: Pros - Cons

Discussion in 'Newbie' started by Rusty Fleeman, Jun 24, 2015.

  1. Rusty Fleeman

    Rusty Fleeman

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    I have the opportunity to acquire some fairly large cottonwood. I know it can be a bit of an allergen for some. What else do I need to know about this particular wood, and is it worth the time?
     
  2. Owen Lowe

    Owen Lowe

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    Cottonwood is full of water when green, but:
    * when dried is a lightweight wood that is good for large items like fruit or bread bowls. Probably too light for salad mixing.
    * can be stringy to cut, so sharp tools are a must. It sands easily, so minor tooling lines and simple tearout is quick to fix.
    * can have very nice chatoyance (shimmery, deep, figured look).
    * has a moderately hard surface that does fine for utilitarian uses.
    * I don’t specifically recall any challenges with drying splits or undue warping.

    In my book, cottonwood is definitely worth the time. I made a 12” fruit/carmel popcorn bowl, dyed deep red, 6 or more years ago and it looks wonderful. I haul it to work on my snack-duty weeks; it has held up very well.

    http://www.hardwoodinfo.com/articles/view/pro/24/307

    Also see page 88: http://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fplgtr83.pdf
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2015
  3. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    I had a couple very large pieces of a cottonwood trunk, but I threw it away last month during a city clean-up day after a couple years of letting it sit on the driveway in the weather and split like crazy. It was my fault for leaving it out in the sun and rain, but it was way to stinky to bring into the garage.
     
  4. Gerald Lawrence

    Gerald Lawrence

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    Don't get Bill wrong here . The wood is not smelly, must be the rot. It does turn well. You will need to use faceplate (my preferred ) or a large tenon. I have had trouble with tenons breaking easily. Sands well and as said may have some chatoyance . Best to get a good turn finish with the bowl gouge to reduce the sanding needed.
     
  5. Rusty Fleeman

    Rusty Fleeman

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    Thank you all for the input! Sounds like I have some bowl blanks to go harvest next week.
     
  6. Hy Tran

    Hy Tran

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    I've turned a grand total of two cottonwood items. It is on the soft side (softer than silver maple). My mentor resharpened my tools prior to the last cut, so that I could start sanding higher than the 80-grit-gouge. There is a bit of a wet dog smell when turning, but nothing unbearable (in my opinion).

    It has a fine, even, and subdued grain. I used an oil finish, which took it to a nice light amber color.
     
  7. Owen Lowe

    Owen Lowe

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    Huh. After multiple comments about smell, I don’t recall anything of the sort. I’m sure it has a lot to do with the ambiance-percolating characteristics of where the tree grew. Mucky, cow or pig farm-yard = BAD, BAD, BAD!; Wildflower-filled, butterfly-flitting, sun-drenched meadow alongside a babbling brook = AAAAHHHHH!:D

    Now Elm is another matter altogether! :(
     
  8. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    I'll have to disagree with you. This was a from a living tree that was cut down in our neighborhood. The wood smelled so bad that I could hardly stand to load the two huge pieces onto my truck. When I got it home and dumped on the driveway, my wife told me that those stinky things need to go.

    The tree was next to a house that was being demolished. It was one of the original 79 houses in or town and those of us on the historical committee were there trying to determine if there was anything worth salvaging -- there wasn't. While debating whether to load up some of that foul smelling wood, we theorized that the smell might be the result of being planted on top of a septic system (from the 1930's). Whatever the reason, I'm sure if you look up "stink" in the dictionary, you will see a picture of the wood that I hauled off to the clean-up site.

    I'll grant you that this wood probably wasn't representative of all cottonwood.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2015
  9. robo hippy

    robo hippy

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    I haven't met a piece of cottonwood yet that didn't smell like some one barfed on it. I commented on this to some forestry students at Oregon State University, and they agreed saying that they hated taking core samples from the trees. In one magazine years ago, cottonwood was the featured article wood. The only real commercial use for it was around horse stalls. It tastes as bad as it smells, and the horses won't chew on it. Now, the tree itself, down in the river bottoms or swampy areas has a nice kind of spicy scent to it. I have seen some nice pieces turned from it, but personally, I just don't want to mess with it.

    robo hippy
     
  10. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    I'm convinced that some people's sense of smell is different than mine. When my dad was a kid in rural Texas in the 1920's and early 1930's, he trapped animals and sold the hides to help earn money to support the family. He said that skunk pelts brought a good price, but the other kids in the two room schoolhouse nicknamed him "skunky" because he often ran the traps early in the morning before school ... and there just wasn't any nice and neat way to deal with the skunks. I concluded that I inherited my mom's sense of smell which according to dad was more "delicate" than his.
     
  11. Dean Center

    Dean Center

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    I've messed with a moderate amount of wood from the populus genus (cottonwood, true poplar, aspen) and have not noticed any particularly objectionable odor. Since I'm well aware of elm and box elder aroma, I don't think it's my lack of olfactory prowess. All of the wood was grown east of the Continental Divide in alkaline soil, which would be different than Reed's situation. Perhaps the odor is related to the species or some aspect of where it's grown.
     
  12. Bill Boehme

    Bill Boehme Administrator Staff Member

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    It's interesting how we react to smells. I love the smell of freshly cut post oak and some people say that they can't stand it. I haven't turned any box elder that had a bad smell. Several years ago a demonstrator at our club turned a piece of wood that had a really strong barnyard smell. Half of the people left before the program was over and the others just toughed it out. After that we had a new rule -- no stinky wood. I like the smell of cedar wood, but cedar dust gives me a splitting headache. I am pretty certain that not all cottonwood stinks, but the ones that I had were horrible.
     
  13. Gerald Lawrence

    Gerald Lawrence

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    Bill, I have turned some stinky stuff and to me it is the ones that smell like weeds. Royal Paulina is a good ......er bad example. Of coarse it is not as bad when it dries.
     
  14. Steve Worcester

    Steve Worcester Admin Emeritus

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    Cottonwood is one of those big trees that eventually rots out the middle and falls over. Because it is so porous and so open grained, never turned it. See it all the time on the curbs locally but the only use I have ever seen for it was carvers who love the bark.
     

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