Is Crepe Myrtle Wood Good For Carving (Or Any Other Uses)?

You’ve no doubt heard about Crepe Myrtle wood. This heat-resistant tree can hold off wildfires and survive droughts. Which is why it can be found lining the periphery of homes that are at-risk of seasonal bushfires.

And yet, Crepe Myrtle lumber can also be used in a myriad of different ways. In fact, it has been used to make furniture, railroad ties, and even bridges.

Still, is Crepe Myrtle wood really right for your next woodworking project?

Well, in this post, you’ll learn whether or not Crepe Myrtle wood is easy to work with. You’ll also discover why this tree’s natural heat-resistant qualities, can also cause wood cracking issues.

And keep reading to find out the best way to finish Crepe Myrtle wood…

crepe myrtle wood uses

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Is Crepe Myrtle A Good Wood?

It slightly tougher than Genuine Mahogany, but not as tough as Oak or Maple wood. So, this particular lumber tends to be used for things such as small furniture items.

But, when it comes down to using it for individual wood crafts, Crepe Myrtle is great for making bows, side tables and the like.

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Is It Easy To Work? Is Myrtle Wood Hard Or Soft?

Well, the Janka rating of Crepe Myrtle is 1090 lbf. Meaning it will take some 1090 pounds of force to crack this lumber.

Now, what the Janka rating measures is how hard and tough a piece of wood is. The higher the lbf (pounds of force) Janka rating, then the tougher the wood species.

Genuine Mahogany has a Janka rating of 900 lbf. While White Oak has a Janka rating of 1360 lbf, which is a touch under Maple woods Janka rating of 1450 lbf.

So, Crepe Myrtle is a fairly sturdy piece of lumber, certainly much too tough for whittling with hand tools. Nevertheless, it’s not so tough that it can’t be machined with ease.

Is It Poisonous? Is Crepe Myrtle Toxic?

Far from it. Crepe Myrtle is probably one of the most benign types of timber you can have around your home. It’s not toxic to us, and what’s more, it’s not toxic to our pets either.

According to the ASPCA (American Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals), Crepe Myrtle is not harmful to dogs, cats, or horses either.

Great! So What’s Stopping Me From Using Crepe Myrtle For My Next Woodworking Project?

There is one little problem with working with this lumber…it has a propensity to check.

Checks — or more specifically Wood Checks — form when wood dries out, losing much of its moisture content.

EXAMPLE OF WOOD CHECK

You see, when wood is freshly logged, it has a moisture content of 100%. But, after it’s been seasoned, (which can take months), that moisture content falls to below 20%.

Related Post: How To Season Wood (7 Tips)

Now, when we work with seasoned wood, it can continue to dry out even further.

Still, with stable wood types, (such as Douglas Fir), this isn’t a problem. As they dry out, they barely shift and crack.

Yet, this is not the case with Crepe Myrtle. The problem is Crepe Myrtle is more than a little prone to shifting and cracking. If you work with fairly green Crepe Myrtle wood, it’ll shape and cut cleanly.

But, as it dries out and shrinks, it’ll form fairly large checks all along its length. And that’s the last thing you need marring your wooden bowl.

Why Does Crepe Myrtle Check So Much?

Well, Crepe Myrtle trees are a very heat-resistant tree species. And they famously can survive severely dry drought conditions.

This means that Crepe Myrtle tree bark is really (really!) good at keeping moisture in. And that’s because this tree will need all the help it can to retain water during droughts.

Now, let’s say you’re seasoning a Crepe Myrtle log that still has bark on it. That tree bark will continue to do a great job at keeping much of the moisture content in.

However, those cut and exposed end grains will dry out at a much faster pace than the rest of the log. And this uneven drying, (along the length of the log), ends up causing Crepe Myrtle to crack.

But Can You Still Turn Crepe Myrtle? Is It Good For Wood Carving?

If you turn fresh Crepe Myrtle wood, it can cut fairly clean. Yet, afterward, that turned wood is going to check and crack too easily.

In particular, the checking will be most pronounced around the center of the log, (also referred to as the pith).

So What Can You Do To Prevent Crepe Myrtle From Checking?

The best thing you can do is to apply a penetrating oil finish before cracks have a chance to appear.

An oil finish will form a water-resistant film coat around Crepe Myrtle wood. This will prevent the drying imbalance that’s generally responsible for all of that cracking.

And the best oil finish for Crepe Myrtle is Boiled Linseed Oil (aka BLO). This fast-drying version of Linseed oil will coat Crepe Myrtle in a satin finish.

BLO only needs a few coats to give wood a durable finish. It dries in a fraction of the time of regular Linseed oil. And it is easy to repair and fix too.

To learn more about Boiled Linseed Oil (and how it differs from traditional Linseed oil) check out our post here: How To Make Linseed Oil Dry Faster (What You Need To Know)

To Wrap Up, Here Are The 3 Key Takeaways From This Post…

  • 1). Crepe Myrtle wood can be used to make small furniture items and other wood crafts.
  • 2). Crepe Myrtle is also easy to machine and work with. However, it is very prone to cracking and checking.
  • 3). To prevent wood checking, coat Crepe Myrtle with a fast-drying penetrating oil finish such as Boiled Linseed Oil.

References:

Crepe Myrtle | American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals