Making Dust

Copsewood Gallery's Blog!

This month, “Making Dust” features a re-print of our February 2021 blog on exotic hardwoods:

Copsewood Gallery features a number of domestic and exotic hardwoods in the creation of our decorative art boxes. We look for unique grain patterns, live edges and figures, and knotty/wormy wood to showcase nature at its finest. A trip to the lumber yard is always a scavenger hunt to see what we can discover.

While most people are familiar with domestic hardwoods such as red oak, cherry, poplar, walnut, and hickory; they may be less familiar with some of the exotic woods we commonly feature, such as sapele, koa, bubinga, and lacewood. Today’s blog features information on these lesser known species.

Sapele - (Entandrophragma cylindricum)

Origin: Tropical Africa

Sapele is a commonly exported and economically important African wood species. It’s sold both in lumber and veneer form. It is occasionally used as a substitute for Genuine Mahogany, and is sometimes referred to as “Sapele Mahogany.” Technically, the two genera that are commonly associated with mahogany are Swietenia and Khaya, while Sapele is in the Entandrophragma genus, but all three are included in the broader Meliaceae family, so comparisons to true mahogany may not be too far-fetched. Usually pronounced (sah-PELL-ey) or (sah-PEEL-ey)

Heartwood is a golden to dark reddish brown. Color tends to darken with age. Besides the common ribbon pattern seen on quartersawn boards, Sapele is also known for a wide variety of other figured grain patterns, such as: pommele, quilted, mottled, wavy, beeswing, and fiddleback. Grain is interlocked, and sometimes wavy. Fine uniform texture and good natural luster.

Sapele is on of our favorite woods due to its figure and luster. It pairs well with cherry due to the darker reddish hue.

Koa – (Acacia koa)

Origin: Hawaii

Koa is widely considered to be the most beautiful and useful of Hawaii’s native hardwoods, and along with Monkey Pod and Mango, it is the most common Hawaiian species to be imported into the lower 48 United States. Visually, Koa has been compared to Mahogany, while in terms of working and mechanical properties, it has been compared to Walnut. Because of its nearly equal tangential and radial shrinkage, (its T/R Ratio is only 1.1), Koa tends to be quite stable regarding environmental changes in humidity.

Color can be highly variable, but tends to be medium golden or reddish brown, similar to Mahogany. There are usually contrasting bands of color in the growth rings, and it is not uncommon to see boards with ribbon-like streaks of color. Boards figured with wavy and/or curly grain are also not uncommon. Grain is usually slightly interlocked, and sometimes wavy. Uniform medium to coarse texture.

We love Koa for its deep color, swirling grain pattern, and unique live edges.  

Bubinga - Guibourtia spp. (G. demeusei, G. pellegriniana, G. tessmannii)

Origin: Equatorial Africa

An immensely popular imported African hardwood, Bubinga may be loved as much for its quirky name as it is for its strength and beauty. Also sometimes called Kevazingo, usually in reference to its decorative rotary-cut veneer. Bubinga has a close resemblance to rosewood, and is often use in place of more expensive woods. Yet Bubinga also features a host of stunning grain figures, such as flamed, pommele, and waterfall, which make this wood truly unique. Bubinga also has an exceptional strength-to-weight ratio

Heartwood ranges from a pinkish red to a darker reddish brown with darker purple or black streaks. Sapwood is a pale straw color and is clearly demarcated from the heartwood. Bubinga is very frequently seen with a variety of figure, including: pommele, flamed, waterfall, quilted, mottled, etc. Grain is straight to interlocked. Has a uniform fine to medium texture and moderate natural luster.

Bubinga’s rich auburn color, combined with the endless variety of figure make this one of the most loved exotic hardwoods available.

Lacewood - Panopsis spp. (P. rubescens and P. sessilifolia)

Origin: Tropical South America

The name “Lacewood” is used very loosely and can be applied (and misapplied) to a number of different wood species. In its vaguest sense, the term “lacewood” is used to describe any wood that displays figuring that resembles lace. Attempts to identify a specific board macroscopically may be difficult. Two Australian species, Northern Silky Oak (Cardwellia sublimis), and Southern Silky Oak (Grevillea robusta) can both look very similar, and are sometimes sold as Australian Lacewood. Additionally, Leopardwood (Roupala spp.) looks similar, but tends to be slightly darker brown, and is significantly heavier

Lacewood has a very conspicuous flecking that gives this wood its namesake. The wood itself is a reddish brown with grey or light brown rays, which result in a lace pattern when quartersawn. Like other woods that exhibit the strongest figure in quartersawn pieces, (such as Sycamore), Lacewood has the most pronounced figure and displays the largest flecks when perfectly quartersawn; this is due to the wood’s wide medullary rays, whose layout can be seen the clearest when looking at the endgrain. Lacewood has a fairly coarse and uneven texture due to the difference in densities between the regular wood tissue and the rays. The grain is usually straight.

We use Lacewood primarily as an accent wood, but when used for boxes, the resulting lace patterns can be striking.

Claro Walnut - (Juglans hindsii)

Origin: West Coast United States (California, Oregon)

Heartwood can range from a lighter pale brown to a dark chocolate brown with darker brown streaks. Color can sometimes have a gray, purple, or reddish cast. Sapwood is nearly white. Wood from orchard trees that have been grafted with English Walnut (Juglans regia) may have a colorful/streaked appearance near the graft, which is sometimes referred to as “marbled Claro Walnut.” Claro Walnut can occasionally also be found with figured grain patterns such as: curly, crotch, and burl. Grain is usually straight, but can be irregular. Has a medium texture and moderate natural luster.

Claro Walnut is a commercially important tree species that’s used as rootstock on walnut orchards. The robust roots of Juglans hindsii are well-suited to the California climate, and are combined with grafts of English Walnut (Juglans regia) to produce a higher yield of walnuts. Another closely related species, Juglans californica, has a distribution that is farther south than Claro Walnut, and is sometimes referred to as Southern California Black Walnut; some sources consider these two to be the same species with simply two varieties.

Claro walnut has some of the most interesting grain/color combinations we have ever seen. Combine that with the many fissures, knots, and live edge grains common in this wood make every piece truly unique.

Information courtesy of The Wood Database.

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