|Wood of the Month:
Brazilian Tulipwood's Contrasting Colors Great for Inlays
Dalbergia frutescens, Dalbergia variabilis and Dalbergia tomentosa of the Family Leguminosae
If wood had a pedigree, Brazilian tulipwood, the colorful member of the Dalbergia (rosewood) genus might be considered best in show. Brazilian tulipwood has a long history as a cabinet wood. The French called it bois de rose and according to the editors of The Encyclopedia of Wood, bois de rose was "used extensively in the furniture of the French Kings Louis XV and XVI, and in classical furniture of the 18th Century."
Brazilian rosewood grows in tropical South America, most notably Brazil, where it flourishes near Bahia and Pernambuco.
Like many members of the Dalbergia genus, Brazilian tulipwood has a pleasant scent when the wood is cut. As the editors of The Encyclopedia of Wood write, "The name rosewood has nothing to do with garden roses, though it does derive from the supposedly fragrant scent of the timber."
They continue that rosewood collectively denotes various species of Dalbergia, "in particular Rio or Brazil rosewood, Indian or Bombay rosewood, and the Chinese huang-hua-li. Close cousins include tulipwood (or pinkwood in the U.S.A.), kingwood, and cocobolo, the diverse colors of which were used in the elaborate marquetry decoration of the furniture and joinery of the 18th Century Europe."
The editors write that changing trade patterns that allowed the introduction of rosewood in America and England made a dramatic impact on early 19th-Century interiors. "The emphasis of simple lines and elegant proportions was much enhanced by the rich figure."
The name tulipwood most likely comes from the tulip-like colors found in the heartwood. The heartwood of the tree is a gorgeous mix of pinkish-yellow with a striped figure comprised of salmon reds, yellows and violet. Adding to the vibrant color is the wood's natural luster.
Uses for the lumber and veneer include turnery, specialty items such as brush backs, jewelry boxes, vases and fine woodenware and other decorative pieces. It is also used for caskets, marquetry and inlay, inlaid bandings, and musical instrument parts such as marimba keys.
Small size limits uses
Ben Clift, sales manager for Danzer Specialty Veneer in Edinburgh, IN, says customers use Brazilian tulipwood primarily for accents and inlays in fine furniture, architectural work and reproduction work. "Its uses are dictated by the size of the trees, which are very, very small. Its veneer height is one to two meters or three to six feet. We carry the veneer and the flitches tend to be small."
Rich Banas of Interwood Forest Products Inc., in Shelbyville, KY, a subsidiary of Fritz Kohl Veneer Mill, Germany, estimates that one tree yields no more than 500 square feet of veneer. He says "The majority of it is used for inlay for fine furniture. You might see it teamed with rosewood and satinwood as a border. The size of the logs limits its uses but it has a rich history and has been featured in lovely furniture, such as Queen Anne and the old style French and English designs, again as a border wood or inlay."
Banas says that Brazilian tulipwood is not widely used, but it is always in use.
Tough to work with
Brazilian tulipwoods yield very strong wood. Its average weight is 60 pounds per cubic foot, but the wood tends to be brittle, which limits uses for the tree.
Several properties of the wood make it slightly to very difficult to work. For one, the wood tends to split after it is cut and difficulties in working the wood lead to some loss of material. Working the wood can be problematic because the hard wood can have a severe blunting effect on tools and cutting surfaces. Sharp tools are critical to working the wood successfully. William A. Lincoln, in his book World Woods in Color, describes the wood has "extremely hard to work. A reduction in cutting angle to 20 degrees when planing the irregular grain on quartered material is essential." He and others recommend pre-boring for nailing although the wood is said to glue well and can be finished to a beautiful, lustrous finish.
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