Goncalo Alves: Pretty, Hard Wood for Flooring & Furniture

By Jo-Ann Kaiser | Posted: 01/24/2014 1:00PM


  Sponsored by: Northwest Hardwoods: Lumber that’s Graded For Yield®.



click image to zoomGoncalo Alves, TigerwoodFamily Name:
Astronium fraxinifolium and Astronium graveolens of the Family Anacardinaceae

Common Names
Goncalo alves, tigerwood, zebrawood, kingwood, zebrawood, urunday-para, mura bois de zebra, chibatao, guarita urunday and aderno, palo de cera, palo de culebra, gusanero, gateado, guarita, and guasango.

Goncalo alves ranges in height from 80 to 120 ft., with trunk diameters of 3-5 ft., depending on the growing area. Average weight ranges from is 59 to 62 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of .95. It has a Janka hardness of 1,910.

• Wood can be difficult to dry and has a tendency to warp and check. Experts recommend slow air drying and a kiln schedule similar to T3-C2 is recommended.
• Wood is extremely durable and not subject to attack by beetles. Wood is resistant to preservative treatment.
• Wood has small movement in service. Wood can have moderate to severe blunting effect. Carbide tipped tools are recommended. Wood is not considered difficult to work, despite its density.
The hardwood goncalo alves is a unique combination of strength, durability and good looks. It is derived from the species Astronium fraxinifolium and Astronium graveolens with a range that extends from Mexico and Central America to Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. Brazil and northern South America are reportedly two of the best sources for commercial goncalo alves lumber.

The hard, heavy and dense wood is rated as strong across the board and its uses include construction timbers and flooring along with decking, fine furniture and cabinetry, decorative veneer, architectural millwork and specialty items such as knife handles and jewelry boxes, and sports equipment such as archery bows and billiard cues. The wood is a popular choice for turnery and carving and it is also used in musical instruments, particularly guitars. Goncalo alves is not suitable for steam bending and pre-boring is recommended for nailing.

Around the world goncalo alves goes by many names, among them kingwood, zebrawood, urunday-para, mura bois de zebra, chibatao, guarita urunday and aderno, palo de cera, palo de culebra, gusanero, gateado, guarita, and guasango. In the U.S. a popular alternative name for the wood is tigerwood.

The Wood Handbook, produced by the USDA Forest Products Lab, describes the heartwood of goncalo alves as having various shades of brown to red with narrow to wide, irregular strips of dark brown or nearly black. The sapwood is grayish white and sharply demarcated from the heartwood.

Rick Hearne, owner, Hearne Hardwoods, Oxford, PA, carries goncalo alves, which he characterizes as very hard with a good grain and an interesting color ranging from gold to red to brown. “Goncalo alves is another one of the dense, wildly colored tropical hardwoods. It is sometimes called tigerwood, which is a good name for the wood which can feature black striping. It has a lot of end uses including architectural millwork and is also used for box making, inlay, wood turning and wood carving. It makes a great accent wood used to complement or contrast woods like maple. It is one of the woods that is typically wipes with lacquer before gluing so it isn’t as waxy.” Hearne’s website lists average lengths of the wood at 6 feet to 12 feet with average widths of 3 inches to 12 inches. “The wood is being marketed heavily for interior flooring, and goncalo alves is an excellent material for flooring as well as exterior uses such as decking.”

The Bass Place, Peoria, AZ, showcases a variety of stunning guitars on its website, TheBassPlace.com, among them a Warwick String Base II SC four string, made of tigerwood. Paul Norris, sales associate, says exotic wood is used in guitars but he sees much more of woods like ash and maple. “Exotics like tigerwood are very beautiful and can add to the price of a guitar significantly,” said Norris.

Dan Ivancic, director of Marketing for Advantage Lumber, Sarasota, FL, said tigerwood for decking is growing in popularity, although tigerwood isn’t as popular in that market as ipe. “Tigerwood is one of my favorite exotic woods for the grain it yields and the colors, such as reddish orange with black streaks. It’s a very durable wood anywhere, but especially outdoors. Uses for the wood include decking, fences, pergolas, surrounds for outdoor stoves and cabinetry. Another plus is tigerwood is an exotic that is typically less expensive than ipe and is easier to work than ipe.”

Winston Zheng, owner, Unique Wood Floors, Bloomington, MN, said tigerwood is one of the exotic species of wood floors that is popular, but getting some competition from hand scraped, distressed, “old looking” flooring. “We still sell the exotic species for flooring, such as tigerwood. It is very attractive and extremely durable. The tiger stripes gives it a unique look that contrasts well with the wood’s color. The wood can darken naturally over time. It might start as black and yellow and will become more red. Not a cherry red, but overall a more amber tone,” said Zheng. “Tigerwood flooring is also a good choice if one has other hardwood floors in the home. Usually it is difficult to mix hardwoods but Tigerwood would look good in a home with golden oak, for example.”

Jesper Bach, Baillie Lumber, said tigerwood makes a great flooring choice and one he selected for his home. “It is extremely durable and very dense. I would rate it in between ipe and Brazilian cherry as far as its popularity for flooring.” Bach believes that the striping in tigerwood is important to many of his customers. “In the flooring market I would say the typical customer wants more figure as it gives more ‘life’ to the wood. It is a gorgeous and beautiful wood.”

Jim Dumas, owner, Certainly Wood, said goncalo alves is a wood that can range from “boring tan to very striking if you get enough black veining and black ‘cloudiness’. As veneer it can be somewhat hard to glue as it is a waxy wood, but a pre-wash with a solvent usually is all that is needed.” Dumas has seen an increase in demand for the goncalo alves veneer in the past few years. “When it has the butterscotch or peanut butter color and black veining or black cloudiness, it can be very unique.” Dumas said while the wood can have a kind of waxiness to it, “It isn’t as oily or waxy as a wood like teak.”


About the Author

Jo-Ann Kaiser

Jo-Ann Kaiser

Jo-Ann Kaiser has been covering the woodworking industry for 31+ years. She is a contributing editor for the Woodworking Network and has been writing the Wood of the Month column since its inception in 1986.

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