Sawing Dawn Redwood

A discussion of the characteristics of lumber sawn from Dawn Redwood. March 28, 2010

I came across seven large dawn redwoods and was wondering if these trees are worth sawing. Does anyone have any advice about this wood?

Forum Responses
(Sawing and Drying Forum)
From contributor M:
I have three large ones in my front yard that I planted. I would turn bowls out of any that I obtained.

From the original questioner:
Thanks, but there are too many trees down for bowls. Are the logs good for 2x4ís or boards?

From contributor M:
Not sure what down far many means - how large are the logs, in diameter? I have a suspicion, but no specific knowledge, that the wood from these trees tends to be more brittle than coast redwoods. I could be wrong about that. One might consider treating the logs as an exotic and consider selling them on the market as such.

From contributor T:
I cut up about 2,000 board feet of dawn redwood about three years ago. This wood cuts like it's barely there. It is extremely soft and very brittle. I cut the wood to satisfy a friend who seems to think that it is beautiful because of its rarity. Personally I think this wood is a waste of time to deal with, unless you plan on only using it for very low traffic items on furniture like back boards of cupboards, or where the wood is not of a structural purpose.

This wood does not appear to be very porous, but it shrinks a lot during drying, and when you finish it plan on easily tripling any penetrating coats. I tried putting a poured epoxy finish on a 4" thick x 5' diameter end grain slab from the bottom of this tree after it dried for two years, and it absorbed three gallons of the stuff before building a surface coat! It then took another gallon to finish the piece with some surface build. I would never consider using this wood for something structural.

This tree is not rare, but unusual because it is an ornamental in the united states. I know the locations of dozens and dozens, some in the wild, and one old nursery where thereís a hundred or so. It's native to China, where it was discovered in the 30's or 40's, after someone recognized it. Before this the tree was believed to be extinct and from the time of the dinosaurs. As far as landscaping I believe the branches fall off very easily and the popularity of this tree has diminished like the Bradford pear.

From contributor M:
I have seen bowls turned from DR - it sounds like it is well suited to making bowls. So far my 50' tall dawn redwoods have not shed a branch - they do drop their leaves every year, but the branches are all still attached.

From contributor T:
Very interesting information. I would still not bother turning anything from it, but if anybody wants try it out while you have the chance. I tried turning this wood when I had all this come through years ago and it is a very tricky wood. I believe you can turn any wood out there that is solid enough, but this stuff when dry is really not far from the characteristics of balsa wood. I use a David Ellsworth style fingernail ground 1/2" bowl gouge, and even while shear scraping extremely fine cuts in this wood it will heavily tear out. When you try to sand it, it's like sanding plywood. The dense winter growth will sand slower than the summer growth resulting in a wavy surface. Might as well sand blast the surface to exaggerate what it wants.

From contributor M:
I would turn it if I got my hands on some. A number of woods are difficult to work with, but the results can make it worthwhile. The DR bowls I have seen looked good.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
If you have dawn redwood grown in the USA, it was planted (probably in the 1950ís or later). It grows like crazy when it has enough water. It is not endangered here as it is an exotic species and not a native species. The density is extremely low - lower than California redwood.