Exotic Woods

Trees are wonderful things.  Their shade is a comfort to the young and old, their age venerable, their structure striking, their physiology amazing…and we can make cool stuff out of them.  And there’re a lot of different kinds of them.

With the massive numbers of imported furniture, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to answer the question, “What kind of wood is that?”  Here’s a little pedantic litany of some of the more unusual hardwoods that are used to make furniture.

Australia:

Australian Blackwood is one of several hundred species in the Acacia genus.  Most of it comes from southern Australia, and Tasmania is an important source.  It’s golden to chocolate brown with darker markings, saws easily and because it bends well, is often steamed and shaped.

Silky-oak (Cardwelia sublimis) has the beauty of oak grain, particularly when quartersawn, and so is often used as a substitute for oak, although it isn’t quite as durable.

Black Bean (Castanospermum australe) from Queensland, is a small tree but the wood is highly decorative with dense, clear grain.

Japan:

Sen, or Acanthopanax ricinfolius, is also grown in China and Korea and is easily mistaken for ash.  It grows logs up to 3’ across and is frequently used for veneers and plywood.

Africa:

Afzelia, sometimes called apa, grows in much of the southern continent.  It looks a lot like mahogany with a coarse texture.  It is 10-15% denser than oak.

Aningeria was introduced in the 1960’s as Tanzanian walnut and it has a fine and even texture.

Gaboon (Aucoumea klaineana) from Gabon is pale-pink, about the weight of spruce and is used mostly as veneers and in the plywood industry.

Rhodesian Teak (Baikiaea plurijuga), like other teaks, is dense, durable, resistant to molds and mildew and frequently used to make furniture for outdoors.

South America:

Brazilwood (Caesalpinia echinata) from the costal forests of Brazil, reddens like cherry when exposed to the air and is commonly used in violin bows because of its weight, flexibility and strength.

Pacific tropics:

Cordia grows in many countries, looks a lot like teak and is only slightly less dense.  The texture is coarse but and its light in weight.

Kapur is strong and stable and although plain in appearance also looks much like teak.

Jelutong (Dyera costulata) is almost as straw colored as yellow pine and is sometimes used as a replacement for pine in toys and models.

West Indian Satinwood (Fagara flava) is another very blonde wood with a wavy grain traditionally used in 18th century Adam, Sheraton and Hepplewhite furniture.

Ramin, because of its plain and straight grain, is used as a substitute for beech.

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