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Ziricote is one of the most popular, visually striking exotic woods in the world. Renown for its “landscape” or “spiderweb” grain patterns, its colors range from medium to dark shades of brown (occasionally with either a green or purplish tint), and are accentuated by intermingled bands of unpredictable, irregular black growth rings. Sapwood is easily distinguishable by its dull off-white to pale yellow hue.
Although it is a fairly dense wood, its typical straight (though sometimes slightly interlocked) grains and fine to medium-fine texture give it cooperative working properties — as it cuts, turns, glues and finishes smoothly.
Sustainability: Not currently listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. That said, given the recent poaching epidemic taking place in Mexico over the last several years, this status — as well as other Mexican woods, such as Bocote, Camatillo and Katalox — could be changing in the very near future.
Common Uses: Furniture, veneer, cabinetry, flooring / parquee flooring, gunstocks, musical instruments (in particular, guitars), entrance doors, turnings, decorative beams, trim and small specialty items.
Comments: Ziricote is a close relative (and neighbor) of Bocote, with both being Central American woods of the Cordia genus. Its radical, often-dramatic grain patterns have given the wood somewhat of an ‘elite’ status among international exotic woods enthusiasts. It truly is an oddly unique — ‘exotic’ in the truest sense — wood with an allure and mystique all its own.
While it has never been an inexpensive wood, recent revelations of epidemic poaching across Mexico has resulted in a greatly reduced supply and sharp price increases on wholesale and retails levels. Unless action is taken to stem the tide (of poaching), Ziricote and other Central American woods could very well be the subject of actions from CITES in the very near future.
Interestingly, the bark of the Cordia Dodecandra tree and the wood have medicinal properties: the tea which is derived from their infusion is used in traditional medicine in Mexico, to treat coughs, diarrhea and dysentery.
Zebrawood is a tough, durable, visually striking West African wood whose heartwood base color — which can range from tan to a dull pale yellow, to a muted off-white / almost gray hue, depending on specific region and consitions of growth — is decorated by dark brown striping of varying degrees (ranging to almost black), hince its name. The striping is typically long and fairly uniform when the wood is quartersawn, but wavy and irradic when flatsawn. Sapwood is easily distinguishable (by its lack of striping, naturally) and is usually a light, pale white color.
Its coarse, open-poured texture combined with its wavy and/or interlocked grain patterns can make planing a challenge. (… as well as finishing, if filling all surface pores is requisite.) For any sort of resawing or surfacing, blades and cutting tools should be at their sharpest to minimize tearout. The wood glues well and usually possesses a pleasant, moderate to high luster, which can make for impressive finishing.
While its demand is based almost exclusively on its aesthetic appeal, Zebrawood is a strong, stiff lumber, once dry.
Sustainability: This species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, but is classified as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: High-end furniture, veneer, musical instruments (in particular, guitars), skis, handles, and turned objects.
Comments: While flatsawing the lumber can yield some quite dramatic aesthetic results, quartersawn lumber provides maximum (and sometimes much needed) stability. The species is known to be difficult to dry, with pieces sometimes warping during the kiln drying process. Tiny pockets of small void areas, also, are not uncommon along the darker striped areas — especially among flatsawn boards.
Zebrawood’s trademark aesthetics have made it very popular with veneer mills around the world. However, great care is required when handling, to avoid it cracking.
The wood’s popularity keeps it in steady demand, which makes it moderately expensive in spite of a generally steady supply in the US.
Yellowwood is an even-grained, lightweight South African wood that has been used historically for hundreds of years, and a variety of purposes. It was extensively used in railway sleepers, as well as in multiple phases of construction. Its tough, durable nature saw it used as an exterior wood in the region. (It is still very popular throughout Southern Africa for indoor carpentry and floors, as it is also dimensionally stable.) The heartwood is pale yellowish brown, and not easy to distinguish from the sapwood; reddish streaks are sometimes present (in the heart). Grains are typically straight, though occasionally wavy; its texture is fine and consistent, with a nice natural luster.
Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices, and is classified as a species of “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: The Podocarpus Latifolius tree is a slow-growing evergreen tree. It thrives in a moist forest environment, where it will reach maturity at approx. 100 feet. Conversely, trees grown in isolated, drier areas, tend to have their growth severely stunted.
Yellowwood is a wood of cultural significance across Southern Africa; it is the national tree of South Africa. It was used extensively for the floors and ceilings in numerous older houses throughout South Africa. Its huge popularity and wide range of uses / applications has led it to become overharvested over portions of its natural habitat (on the verge of extinction in some areas); all species of the Podocarpus genus are protected from harvesting in South Africa.
Wenge is unique among the world’s exotic woods. This tough tropical wood’s distinctive deep chocolate color — which can sometimes augmented by muted gold, orange, red or even burgundy tint — is actually known as “Wenge” in the color spectrum nomenclature of various parts of the world (with paint manufacturers, etc.). Its grains are generally straight (though sometimes wavy or irregular) and are accenuated by overlapping black lines which typically decorate the board’s surface.
While being considered a strong, durable wood, Wenge’s course, rugged texture makes it very splintery — making some craftsmen hesitant to use it. It can be difficult to work, although is glues well and is considered a very dimensionally stable species.
Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices, but is listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: Flooring / parque flooring, paneling, veneer, musical instruments (in particular, guitar), furniture, cabinets, archery bows, walking canes, handles, ornaments, laminates and segmented woodturnings.
Comments: Exercise caution when working with this wood. Its splinters can be like little razors and when one pentetrates the skin, it is quite painful and the area can quickly and easily get infected, if quick action isn’t taken to remove it (the splinter) and sterilize the area.
Although most sources consider Wenge to be a dull wood with poor natural luster, our experience has revealed that a deep, glossy luster can sometimes emerge through fine-grit sanding of flatsawn boards. Its combination of relatively light weight, rot & insect resistance and impressive tensil strength has yielded the wood to a variety of indoor and outdoor uses, being particularly well suited for flooring in heavy traffic areas.
Black Walnut has long been considered one of the US’s most durable hardwoods, and one of its most popular. Prized for its typically deep chocolate color (often highlighted by red or purple streaks and/or tint), straight grains (though sometimes irregular), fine texture and warm luster, the wood has an excellent strength-to-weight ratio and is considered to have solid dimensional stability after drying. Its cooperative grain structure and moderate density give Black Walnut excellent working properties, which have made it coveted by fine furniture craftsmen for centuries.
While there remains a robust domestic supply, the demand for this wood also remains constant. It is considered a premium domestic hardwood.
Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: Furniture, cabinetry, gunstocks, interior paneling, interior trim, musical instruments, veneer, turnings, and small specialty items.
Comments: Black Walnut’s immense popularity among American woodworkers cannot be overstated. Aside from its rugged, handsome looks — which lend it well to furniture and cabinet building — it is durable, stable and has excellent shock resistance, making it an ideal choice for such applications.
Walnut trees are known to grow in regions within close proximity to rivers and other bodies of water — primarily in the eastern part of the US, but stretching into the central part of the country, as well as into southern Canada (Ontario). Trees have proven of historical economic significance, as much for the walnuts they produce as for their coveted lumber — a wood which, unfortunately, has provided an attractive target to domestic poachers.
African Walnut is derived from the Lovoa Trichilioides tree — a monoecious, evergreen that is indigenous to Central and Southern Africa’s tropical regions. Its heartwood color can vary anywhere from a golden brown to a reddish brown, often with darker streaks and/or portions. Over time, its color will darken to deeper brown tones. The sapwood is narrow, grey to beige in color, and clearly demarcated from the heartwood. Despite it not being a true walnut (of the Juglans genus), it shares many of the basic characteristics.
African Walnut’s grains are typically straight or slightly interlocked — yielding good working properties — with a fine to medium, consistent texture and a fine natural luster. Finding figured pieces is not uncommon. It turns, glues and finishes well. The wood is considered moderately durable.
Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices, but is listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: Furniture, cabinetry, joinery, veneer, decorative trim, plywood, paneling, ship building, fixtures, flooring, pianos, gunstocks, turnings, carvings, fuelwood and utility applications.
Comments: Despite its nickname, African Walnut is more closely related to mahoganies (being a member of the Meliaceae family) than true walnuts. When quartersawn, the wood can display a long, horizontal stripe figuring and chatoyance that is similar to Sapele.
In spite of its fairly cooperative working properties, sharp cutting tools and blades are recommended to avoid the tearout which can occur with pieces featuring a more interlocking grain pattern.
The wood is sometimes available in the US as precut flooring, although lumber is not too commonly found — due, in part, to being overly exploited in a significant portion of its natural range.
Tulipwood is one of the most coveted and seldom-seen of all (Dalbergia genus) rosewood species. The trees are very small in stature, thus, obtaining long, wide boards is quite rare — and, when found undefective, sell at a premium. It is much more commonly found in smaller, craft-sized pieces. Finding any available boards in widths of 5″ or more is uncommon.
Its heartwood is cream to salmon colored, highlighted by striping which can be any combination of red, violet, purple, pink and rose hues. The sapwood is pale yellow to a very pale yellowish white. Heartwood color gradually fades with continued UV ray exposure.
Tulipwood is typically straight-grained, although grains can also be wavy or (infrequently) irregular. The wood has a high natural oil content and is quite dense, which makes working it an often-difficult prospect. Despite being rather grainy and pourous, it sands very smooth, revealing a pleasing natural luster.
Sustainability: This species is listed in CITES Appendix II, but not yet on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: Veneer, inlay work, marquetry, turnery, bandings, jewelry boxes, archery bows, pool cues, various musical instrument applications and small specialty items. Rarely (but occasionally) seen in furniture, also.
Comments: There is some confusion surrounding this wood, as many have confused it with Tulip Poplar (which is indigenous to North America). It has also been misidentified as also originating from the Dalbergia Frutescens tree by many sources / authorities, after originally being miscategorized as a non-Dalbergia (“Physocalymma Scaberrima”).
Finding any sizable boards is pretty rare in the US, especially ones without some sort of significant defect. Its supply is inconsistent, at best, due not only to the very small tree size, but also to a very limited natural range (exclusive to Northeastern Brazil).
While not a true (Tectona genus) teak, Zambezi Teak shares a similar stability, durability and rot resistance. The heartwood is a reddish-brown color, with prominent, irregular black lines and flecks. The sapwood is a pale muted pink and is clearly demarcated. In contrast to its “Genuine” counterpart, Zambezi Teak is an extremely dense hardwood. Despite its generally straight or slightly interlocked, finely-textured grains, this density makes the wood very difficult to work.
The wood has a high silica content, as well — so resawing the wood can quickly dull and gum up blades.
Sustainability: This species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, but is listed as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: Flooring, veneer, millwork, stringed instrument fingerboards, carvings, turned objects and small specialty items.
Comments: Because of its tannin content, moist wood will stain when in contact with iron.
The wood has seen recent fluxuations in supply, as part of it natural range (in Southern Africa) has been decimated. That said, the wood is reputed to flourish under difficult growing conditions, so supplies are still accessible.
Rhodesian Teak has a low shrinkage rate and is considered to be a solid, dimensionally stable wood, when dry.
Genuine Teak is one of the world’s most well-known and coveted woods. Its heartwood is light-medium to medium brown, with a tint that can range from muted gold to a pale red. (Its color darkens as it ages.) Sapwood colors are a pale white, off-white or a pale yellowish brown. But it is the wood’s great toughness, rot resistance and durability — versus some rather bland aesthetics — which make it so popular.
Its grains are typically straight (although sometimes wavy, or even interlocked) with a high natual oil content. This generally makes for favorable working characteristics, although the wood does possess a high silica content.
Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: Ship decking, boat building, veneer, flooring, furniture, exterior construction, docks, bridges, carvings, turnings, and other small wood objects.
Comments: Despite an abundant supply — originating from both a wide natural range and a plethora of plantations scattered around the world — Teak remains in constant demand and, thus, has a rather stout price. (… in spite of being an unfigured wood noted for its generally forgettable aesthetic qualities.)
Teak has always done well in aquatic environments — used in boats and ships, as well as docks, bridges and marinas — as it is resistant to shipworm: a wood-boring sea mollusk. Teak’s sawdust contains naturally occurring organic compounds (called “quinones”) that inhibit the growth of the fungi which cause wood rot.
Tamboti is a beautiful African hardwood which is derived from the Spirostachys Africana tree — a medium-sized, semi-deciduous to deciduous, fruit producing tree. The heartwood is brown to dark brown, with darker markings and streaks, clearly demarcated from the whitish to pale yellow sapwood. Its grains are usually straight to slightly wavy, with a fine, even texture. The wood has a beautiful banded figure and a satin-like lustre, with an oily surface. Known for its durability, dimensional stability and exceptional rot and insect resistance, Tamboti is a hard, heavy wood — and one which remains in steady demand throughout regions of its natural range, despite its somewhat challenging working properties.
Between the tree’s natural oils and latex production, resawing the wood tends to gum up saw blades. Difficulties aside, the wood turns and finishes well, and its density and pleasant aesthetics make it popular with wood carvers, as well.
Sustainability: This species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, but is reported by the IUCN as being “data deficient.” Due to a recent history of exploitation, exporting has been restricted and is closely monitored in India and Sri Lanka.
Common Uses: Decorative joinery, furniture, cabinetry, construction posts & beams, flooring, shipbuilding, musical instruments, carvings, turnings, small specialty items and fuelwood (although the fumes can be toxic).
Comments: The tree is known for its toxic milky latex, that exudes from all parts of it. Its bark, roots and the latex have been utilized for centuries in concoctions used to treat a variety of medical issues. Despite its great popularity throughout southern Africa, its sawdust can be quite harmful to the eyes (even being reputed to cause blindness, in extreme cases of repeated exposure).
Tamboti emits a fragrant, spicy smell when worked, and the smell can actually persist for years.
Like all other members of the true maple genus (Acer), European Sycamore is a hardwood whose sapwood is greatly preferred and sought after, versus its heartwood. It sap can vary from an almost pure white to a light cream color with tinting ranging from a golden yellow to a muted red; heartwood is generally medium to dark reddish-brown colored. Grains are generally straight, but can be wavy. Combined with its fine texture, it is easy to work (although, like all maples, it can burn easily) — turning, gluing and finishing well, with a good natural luster. Not unlike its Acer-genus counterparts, pieces can sometimes be dramatically figured.
Boards are typical found quartersawn, as European Sycamore is the lumber renowned for its preferential, and historical, use as a body wood for stringed orchestral instruments (violins, violas, etc.), possessing superb resonance qualities and full-spectrum frequency response at a very moderate weight.
Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Common Uses: Veneer, musical instruments (specifically orchestral stringed-instrument bodies), architectural millwork, furniture, cabinetry, joinery, wood flooring and parquetry, utility wood, turnings and small specialty items.
Comments: The Acer Pseudoplatanus tree has seen wide naturalization not only due to the wood’s highly desirable status as a tonewood, but, more generally, because of its wide natural canopy — making it ideally suited for use as a shade tree in public parks, bordering public streets and roads, on private residences and other such locations. Its seeds easily germinate and take root, so the tree has wound up becoming labeled an “invasive species,” “environmental weed” or “nuisance” in numerous areas scattered across both its indigenous and naturalized regions.
As the wood ages, it typically does so by gravitating toward a more golden brown appearance. European Sycamore is a non-durable wood, so it is not well-suited for outdoor applications; some sort of tough, durable finish for products crafted from this wood is recommended.
Lumber is also commonly utilized in Europe for architectural millwork, where the more white-colored boards are frequently used and highly coveted.
Black Stinkwood has long been popular for use in fine furniture building in South Africa (where it is indigenous), due to its fine, tight, typically straight grains and a resolute durability that is often compared to Teak. It’s heartwood color can vary from almost black to dark brown, to more medium brown tones with a reddish tint; the sap is easily distinguished by its contrasting pale yellow coloration. Despite its inherent density, Stinkwood possesses very cooperative working properties. It has beautiful finishing characteristics and a rich natural luster.
Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, although the species has been classified as a “Protected Tree” in South Africa.
Common Uses: Fine furniture, cabinetry, doors, decorative trim and gun stocks.
Comments: Despite its humorous name — given for the horrid smell the trees put off when first cut — Stinkwood has remained a tremendously popular wood with South African fine furniture craftsmen, cabinet makers and gunsmiths, alike.
The bark of the Ocotea Bullata tree has medicinal properties which, combined with the immense popularity of the tree’s timber in South Africa, has led to the species being effectively extinct in a number of scattered areas throughout its (original) natural range; the bark stripping has fatal consequences for the tree.