The rise of American sweetgum: furniture by Hartmann Beelen

Species: American gum

The sweetgum (or gum) tree of the United States (Liquidambar styraciflua) is one which has a long history and many applications.  For years, redgum has been highly sought after for high end furniture, cabinets and doors, and decorative veneers. It has been commonly used with walnut and mahogany, but is now being used on its own merit because of its unique natural characteristics. It is also used in manufacturing fancy decorative plywood. In contrast, sapgum is a hardwood workhorse and is used in all phases of plywood manufacturing, from the decorative face veneer to the interior cross bands. In the furniture and cabinet industry, it is also used in all parts of the product, such as side, back and end panels, drawer bottoms and mirror backs. Since gum has a consistent grain pattern throughout the log, it has many features that other woods don’t when it comes to panelling, doors, and interior trim. When a continuous pattern is desired for wall panelling, gum and its uniform grain pattern is a perfect choice.

As with redgum, sapgum is widely used in the production of furniture and is a very suitable alternative for cherry and walnut because of its excellent finishing qualities. Sapgum is also used for a wide variety of products, including veneer, mouldings, dowels, stamp handles, cabinets and doors, brush blocks, desks, store fixtures, toys, handles, kitchenware and industrial applications such as railroad ties, crating, and pallet products. Another unique feature of sapgum is that it is resonant and mellow, making it a good choice for home entertainment centres, radio and television cabinets, structural parts of organs and pianos and it can be finished to duplicate either higher priced cabinet woods or plastic surfaces.

Hartmann Beelen, one of Germany’s leading furniture manufacturers, uses American gum for its new Cando range – a stunning range of contemporary satin walnut and brown mocha lacquer finished wall units. Well known for high standards of solid wood craftsmanship using natural finishes, Hartmann Beelen’s requirements for colour and grain are very specific. Says Bernhard Hartmann: “We use lumber which has been sorted for colour and we specify a minimum 30-50% heartwood on one face.  Because we use natural finishes, colour and grain are very important so we must select our timber very carefully. American gum is strong and easy to work and it takes our finishes very well.  Design, quality and craftsmanship are at the heart of our approach. All of these come together in the new Cando range which is already attracting a lot of interest.” ‘Wonderful synthesis’, the tagline for the Cando range, expresses perfectly the combination of this strong and adaptable American hardwood species with Hartmann Beelen’s approach to excellent design and craftsmanship which has created an outstanding range of modern furniture.


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