With its vibrantly colored flowers and gracefully twisting trunks and branches, the crepe myrtle tree is prized for its beauty. But beyond its aesthetic appeal, crepe myrtle wood is also valued for its utility. From its use in smoking meats to crafting furniture, crepe myrtle is a versatile material with many applications. This guide will explore the properties and uses of crepe myrtle wood, providing key information on how it can be used while paying heed to important safety considerations.
Overview of Crepe Myrtle Wood
The crepe myrtle is a popular ornamental tree, known for its colorful and showy summertime blooms. Its scientific name is Lagerstroemia, and it encompasses around 50 species native to parts of Asia. While not originally from North America, crepe myrtle has become a beloved tree in warmer regions of the southern United States.
Crepe myrtle thrives in hot climates. It’s found extensively across the Southeast, from Virginia to Florida and west to Texas. Further north along the Pacific Coast, crepe myrtle grows in Oregon. The flowers come in shades of pink, lavender, red, and white. The trees are prized for their long summer flowering season, with blossoms lasting from midsummer into fall.
In addition to its aesthetic value, crepe myrtle wood has many uses. The trees can grow quite large, up to 30 feet tall, with trunk diameters over 1 foot wide. This yields a good amount of high-quality lumber. The wood is attractive, often with gray, red, or purple streaks running through its pale yellow hue. Let’s look closer at why crepe myrtle wood is so versatile.
Crepe Myrtle Wood Properties
To understand the many uses of crepe myrtle lumber, diving into its physical and mechanical properties is helpful. Here are some of the key characteristics of this wood:
Crepe myrtle wood has a moderate density, typically around 40 to 50 pounds per cubic foot. This puts it on the lower end of hardwoods. For reference, oak has a density of about 45 to 65 pounds per cubic foot. The moderate density makes crepe myrtle suitable for many applications without being overly heavy.
On the Janka hardness scale, crepe myrtle ranks around 1,200 to 1,500. This means it takes that amount of force to embed a steel ball half way into the wood. So crepe myrtle is relatively hard compared to pine (around 500 Janka rating) but softer than very dense woods like hickory (over 1,800 Janka). This hardness makes it durable enough for furniture but easier to work than extremely hard woods.
Crepe myrtle lumber has a straight, even grain structure without much figure. This attribute lends itself well to being milled and finished smoothly. The grain patterns tend to be subdued without dramatic swirls or burls.
The wood, leaves, and bark contain lagerstroemin, which can cause skin irritation in some people. The wood dust may also cause respiratory irritation during machining. So handling and working with crepe myrtle requires caution.
Crepe myrtle wood has very good rot resistance, even when exposed to moisture and insects. This natural durability makes it a good choice for outdoor furniture or other exterior uses.
With its blend of moderate density, smooth grain, hardness, and natural rot resistance, crepe myrtle is suitable for a wide range of woodworking applications. Next, let’s look at some of its common uses.
Crepe Myrtle Wood Uses
From smoking to woodworking, crepe myrtle is valued for many purposes:
- Smoking – When burned, the wood produces a mild, sweet, fruity smoke flavor. This makes smoking meats like pork, poultry, and fish popular. Cooks appreciate its light touch that doesn’t overpower the natural flavors.
- Turning – The fine, consistent grain of crepe myrtle wood makes it an excellent choice for turned items like bowls, vases, and decor. It’s easy to shape and finish to a smooth surface.
- Carving – For hand carving small detailed objects, crepe myrtle carves smoothly and holds fine details well. It’s used to make decorative spoons, boxes, and art objects.
- Furniture – Outdoor patio furniture, like chairs, tables, and benches, are often built from crepe myrtle. The wood’s natural resistance to moisture and insects makes it ideal for these applications.
- Decks – As a decking material, crepe myrtle is a good choice for its durability and attractive appearance. It holds up better than pine outside.
- Crafts – For small decorative objects, crepe myrtle’s lightweight nature and pretty grain make it desirable for homemade crafts and accents.
- Cabinetry – While not as hard as oak or maple, crepe myrtle can be used for cabinets, doors, and trim in some applications where lighter wood is desired.
- Veneer – Thin sheets of crepe myrtle veneer bring an eye-catching pattern and coloration to furniture, cabinetry, and paneling as an accent layer.
With proper woodworking tools and techniques, crepe myrtle can be transformed into both functional and decorative items. Next, we’ll focus on one very specific use – its value as firewood.
Crepe Myrtle Wood for Burning
While crepe myrtle’s ornamental qualities are prized, how does it perform when burned for firewood? Here are some key factors to consider:
- Burn Rate – Crepe myrtle wood burns relatively quickly with less dense hardwoods like cottonwood or willow. So it provides fast heating but doesn’t have the longest burn time.
- Heat Output – Regarding BTUs (British Thermal Units), crepe myrtle produces around 15 to 18 million BTUs per cord of seasoned wood. This puts it on the lower end for heat energy in hardwood firewood. For comparison, oak provides 20 to 25 million BTUs per cord.
- Smoke and Smell – When burned in a fireplace or wood stove, crepe myrtle gives off a light, fruity aroma. The smoke is milder than many dense hardwoods. Some find it pleasant, while others may find the smell overpowering indoors.
- Sparks – This wood tends to pop and throw sparks, more so than dense woods like oak with higher mineral content. Care is required to contain sparks and avoid potential fires.
- Toxicity Concerns – Burning crepe myrtle wood can release toxic compounds from the smoke. Proper ventilation is key. Open outdoor fire pits are safer than indoor fireplaces.
For these reasons, crepe myrtle may not be the best choice as a primary firewood for heating. Use caution and mix it with other dense, hot-burning hardwoods for best results. Next up, let’s explore its popularity for smoking.
Crepe Myrtle Wood for Smoking
While burning crepe myrtle for heat has some drawbacks, its light fruity smoke makes it excel for smoking meat, fish, and poultry. Here’s a look at using crepe myrtle wood chips, chunks, and pellets:
- Wood Chips – Soaking small crepe myrtle wood chips in water can help generate a moist, smoldering smoke, perfect for shorter smoking sessions. Chips work well in regular charcoal grills.
- Wood Chunks – Dry crepe myrtle chunks are ideal for longer, low-and-slow barbecue smoking. Chunks provide consistent smoke over several hours on offset smokers and kamado grills.
- Pellets – Made from compressed sawdust, crepe myrtle pellets burn efficiently in pellet grills and smokers. The pellets provide light, mild smoke flavor. Blends with stronger woods like hickory are popular.
- Flavors – Smoking with crepe myrtle imparts a sweet, fruity smokiness to meat and poultry. It comes across as more subtle than mesquite or hickory smoke. The light touch works well for delicate foods.
- Toxicity Concerns – As with burning, smoking carries some risk from toxic compounds in the wood smoke. Proper ventilation and avoiding direct smoke exposure reduces this risk.
Crepe myrtle is gaining popularity among barbecue enthusiasts looking for a pleasant, milder smoking wood. Now let’s turn to this versatile wood for arts, crafts, and woodworking.
Crepe Myrtle Wood for Crafting
The fine grain and lightweight density of crepe myrtle make it a delight to work for hand crafting smaller decorative and functional items like:
- Bowls and platters – The wood turns smoothly on a lathe into finely finished bowls and platters.
- Kitchen utensils – Crepe myrtle is perfect for hand carved spoons, spatulas,
- Cutting boards – Its hardness makes crepe myrtle suitable for end-grain cutting boards, which stand up better than soft woods.
- Boxes – Jewelry and trinket boxes are commonly crafted from crepe myrtle and make great gifts.
- Decorative objects – Small crepe myrtle art pieces have an attractive grain from eggs to candle holders.
- Instruments – The resonant tone and lightweight nature of crepe myrtle work for crafting instruments like flutes and small acoustic guitars.
- Wood burning – Pyrography art looks fabulous etched into the smooth canvas of crepe myrtle boards and slabs.
For carving crepe myrtle, basic woodworking tools will suffice:
- Carving knives – A set of sharpened carving knives allows shaping crepe myrtle by hand into small sculptures.
- Chisels – With sharp bevel-edge bench chisels, intricate patterns can be chiseled into boxes, signs, and plaques.
- Gouges – For detailed spoon and bowl making, specialty spoon carving gouges clean out the interior.
- Sandpaper – Finish up carvings by sanding with progressively finer grits like 220 and 400.
The fine grain structure gives crepe myrtle a smooth canvas for burned, chiseled, and carved designs. Next up, we’ll examine its use for larger woodworking projects.
Crepe Myrtle Wood for Furniture
Beyond small decorative objects, crepe myrtle’s durability and attractive appearance make it suitable for furniture like:
- Outdoor furniture – For patio chairs, tables, benches, and loungers, crepe myrtle is a great choice to withstand weather exposure. Teak is another top outdoor wood.
- Indoor furniture – While it isn’t as hard as oak or maple, crepe myrtle can be used for cabinets, shelves, side tables and desks in dry indoor spaces.
- Turned legs – On tables and chairs, crepe myrtle turned legs add decorative detail and support lighter weight than dense exotic woods.
- Trim and millwork – As accent trim along floors, windows, and doors, crepe myrtle brings visual interest without the cost of pricier woods.
- Flooring – Crepe myrtle floors hold up decently to foot traffic in the right applications. Rugs help protect the floor in high-wear areas.
- Plywood – Rot-resistant crepe myrtle plywood resists delamination and makes durable furniture substrate when covered with veneer or laminate.
For the greatest longevity, crepe myrtle furniture is best suited for covered porches, patios, or indoor spaces. Direct sun and moisture exposure will lead to more rapid wear. Now let’s look at important health and safety considerations.
While crepe myrtle wood offers many virtues, handling it does come with some precautions:
- Wood dust when sawing or sanding crepe myrtle can cause respiratory irritation. Use protective gear and dust collection.
- The wood contains the toxin lagerstroemin. Wear gloves and long sleeves when machining lumber.
- Finished crepe myrtle surfaces are safer than raw wood. Apply a sealant when projects are complete.
- Burning or smoking the wood produces compounds potentially hazardous if inhaled. Avoid indoor smoke exposure.
- Children should not be allowed to chew on crepe myrtle wood objects, as the toxins can be harmful if ingested.
With reasonable safety measures, hobbyists and professionals can work safely with crepe myrtle wood. Appropriate protective equipment is key.
For those looking to acquire this versatile and beautiful wood, let’s wrap up with some advice on where to find it.
Buying Guide: Crepe Myrtle Wood for Sale
Looking for crepe myrtle lumber or wood products? Here are some of the best places to find it:
- Local woodworkers – Check with local woodworking shops to see if they stock crepe myrtle boards and blanks for turning and carving projects.
- Lumber yards – Specialty lumber suppliers, especially in the Southeast, may carry crepe myrtle lumber dried and ready for furniture building.
- Tree services – Contact local arborists and tree trimming services to ask about acquiring crepe myrtle logs and having them cut into slabs.
- Online retailers – Various websites sell everything from crepe myrtle lumber to pen blanks to woodworking supplies like pellets and chips.
- Craft fairs – Local craft fairs sometimes have vendors selling finished crepe myrtle items like bowls, spoons, and cutting boards.
- Exotic lumber suppliers – Companies specializing in unique, imported hardwoods may carry select crepe myrtle boards and slabs.
With its combination of ornamental beauty and practical utility, crepe myrtle wood is worth seeking. Searching can uncover this versatile material for your next woodworking or smoking project.
With its attractive grain patterns and colors, the crepe myrtle tree is justly beloved for its visual beauty. But beyond its ornamental qualities, crepe myrtle wood also offers many virtues as a utilization material. From smoking to woodworking and crafting, crepe myrtle brings a lightweight density, smooth grain, and natural weather resistance, making it suitable for indoor and outdoor uses. With care taken to handle its toxic compounds safely, crepe myrtle can be transformed into beautiful and functional items for the home and patio. If you’re looking for an affordable, versatile wood with character, crepe myrtle is a compelling choice.