Wood of the Month:
European Plane: Sycamore's
Fancy Cousin

By Jo-Ann Kaiser


FAMILY NAME
Platanus hybrida of the Family Platanaceae

COMMON NAMES
European plane, London plane, English plane, French plane. Quartered decorative flecked wood is called lacewood.

HEIGHT/WEIGHT
Average height is 100 feet with diameters of 3 feet. Average weight is 39 pounds per cubic foot.

PROPERTIES
Plane dries rapidly but has a tendency to distort, with small movement in service. It works well with hand and machine tools, but has a moderate blunting effect on cutters. It glues, stains and finishes very well with care. Plane is vulnerable to attack by the furniture beetle, although it accepts preservative treatment. The wood has medium strength and low stiffness. It is rated as a good wood for steam bending.

Please note the spelling of this European import because plane is anything but plain. In fact, the wood from Platanus hybrida is highly decorative. The sapwood and heartwood are close in looks, a light red to brown color featuring darker wide rays - especially when the lumber is quartered. The broad rays which produce a very dramatic flecked figure are commercially referred to as lacewood.

When plane and lacewood are treated chemically, the result is a form of harewood. This chemically-treated wood features a background color of silver grey with the flecked rays retaining the color of untreated wood. The treated wood is often used for marquetry and inlays.

Uses for European plane include furniture and high-class joinery in lumber and veneer form, paneling, cabinetry, carriage interiors, light construction and ornamental inlay for small items and furniture. European plane also makes an ideal turnery wood, producing stunning specialty items.

According to Bill MacArthur, commercial manager for Ontario-based Interforest Ltd., lacewood is one of those terms that is sometimes used generically. It is a brown to reddish brown wood with what he considers shelling, also known as crossfire or flaking, MacArthur said.

One of Interforest's clients is Kobi's Cabinets of Toronto. At Kobi's, owner Georg Unger said he has seen a demand for lacewood for the past six years.

"It is a highly-used wood in my business, which is architectural millwork and custom high-end furniture and built-ins for residential work," Unger said. "I have recently used lacewood for pieces in a library, family room, dressing room, lobby in a high-end condo and a hotel lobby in Ottawa. The wood works well with a variety of finishes. In fact, one recent application mixed lacewood with ebony, both done in a high-gloss finish," he said.

Unger has also teamed lacewood with ebony inlaid with diamonds and silver. "Lacewood is definitely being used in the very custom, very expensive applications," he added.

Rising Interest
Al Matulevich, architectural department manager, for the David R. Webb Co., said he has seen a rise in interest in European plane in the past few years. In his experience, he added, the highly figured, quartered European plane showing the medullary rays is more often called platano, the Italian name for European plane, or platan maille.

"The term lacewood has become so generic, in the sense that it also refers to Australian silky oak and Brazilian laurel faia. In my experience, customers use the term quartered European plane or plano to avoid confusion. Lacewood is one of those terms, like zebrawood, that is used for a variety of similar looking but botanically unrelated woods. Zebrawood could refer to zebrano but there are other woods with that zebra marking that also share the name," Matulevich said.

"Hermes, the exclusive boutique, has been using it to make fancy jewelry boxes. There are other ways to slice European plane. It can be rotary cut to yield a swirly look with pips in it, giving it an almost burl look," said Matulevich. He added that most of the applications for quartered European plane are in wall panels and high-end furniture, as well as specialty items.

Plane Facts
European plane is believed to be a cross or hybrid of two trees that grow naturally in the wild - the eastern plane, Platanus orientalis, and western plane, Platanus occidentalis. The eastern plane grows in Turkey and Greece. The western plane grows in North America where it is called sycamore and buttonwood.

Another botanical name for the European plane is Platanus hispanica, also known as the Spanish cross. Platanus occidentalis is American sycamore. European plane and related species are found in Europe and West Asia.

European plane looks very similar to its American relative sycamore from the outside. However, the wood from American sycamore is much less flashy. Its heartwood is reddish brown or flesh brown, with small pores. Principal uses of American sycamore include lumber, veneer, railroad ties, cooperage, fence posts and fuel.

                                                                                                                                                                                           

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