Cottonwood Facts

An assortment of trivia about an under-appreciated wood species. October 2, 2005

I have two questions. First I am interested in the repeated occurrence of cottonwood in this forum. To my knowledge there are very few uses for cottonwood. It is hard to work or finish, dries into a pretzel, is structurally weak, has a short service life and is visually bland. That said, what am I missing? I have been fascinated by the utility of clear poplar for finish carpentry. Is it the same material? Does it hold up over time? Is it a substitute for other lumber?

Secondly, how do I tell if the blade on a bandsaw mill is dulling? Of course I want a razor sharp blade for every cut, but I want to do something besides change blades every ten minutes. Where do others draw the line?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor D:
I have found several markets for cottonwood. One is for pallet rack decking. Its light coloring helps with lighting. It is strong enough to hold up. The other is for horse stalls and arenas. It makes good light weight planks for loading lawn mowers. Cottonwood is pretty versatile wood. As far as blade sharpness, I listen for motor load and look for blade deflection. If you see waves in your wood you should have changed blades one cut before.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Probably half of the wooden caskets in this country are made from cottonwood. If you check the price of FAS cottonwood, you will see that it is fairly high and is not a trash wood at all.

From contributor G
There's an experienced saw miller in Canada, who often reads these threads. He told me something fascinating about cottonwood, which, here in Washington state, is known as garbage wood: too long to dry for fire wood, and all the other negative characteristics you mentioned. I was told that cottonwood is often used for horse and cow stall floors because the wood is more tolerant of urine than other species. I don't know if that's true, but this person has never led me wrong.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Indeed, the odor of urine is well controlled by poplar species, so I suspect that would include the Western cottonwood as well as Eastern and also aspen.