August 14, 2011 | 6:07 pm CDT

Sweet Smell of Success: Fragrant etimoé offers dramatic-looking veneer choices.

Family Name
Copaifera salikounda of the Family Leguminosae

Common Names
Etimoé, figured etimoe, olumni, allihia, nomatou, ashanti, etedua, buini, gum copal and salikunda

Average height is 100 feet, but trees can grow to 140 feet with diameters of 7 to 9 feet. Weight ranges from 46 to 50 pounds per cubic foot, with an average weight of 48 pounds per cubic foot and a specific gravity of 0.77.

Wood dries slowly, but with minimum degrade or other problems. Small movement in service.

Wood works well with hand and machine tools.

Resin content does not cause problems, although experts recommend use of carbide-tipped tools and a reduced cutting edge for best results. Pre-drilling recommended for nailing and screw joints to avoid splitting.

A West African native, etimoé has a wide range of looks and applications, including flooring, paneling, turnery, vehicle bodies, using the seeds for tobacco or snuff, and using the resin to make scents. It also is considered a popular decoration wood in southern Europe, where one of its uses is being sliced in figured or specialty veneer for furniture and architectural woodworking.

The veneer is slowly gaining popularity again in the United States. Ben Clift, co-owner of RSVP (Renaissance Specialty Veneer Products), Columbus, IN, said that his company maintains a substantial inventory of figured etimoé for the architectural market. “The preferred lengths seem always to be over 10 feet long and the figure types range from fiddleback to mottled. We have stocked logs with rich dark contrasting chocolate colors to light tan with little contrast,” he said.

Clift added that etimoé looks great when finished. “Like most woods that are finished, the figure and color is amplified, bringing out all of the veneer’s natural beauty. It is not uncommon to find logs that yield large quantities of veneer or lumber, making it a nice species to utilize for projects needing both character and sequence.” The quarters with a high degree of figure seem to be the most popular with clients, especially on the West Coast, he added.

Although he has not sold any recently, Myles Gilmer, president, Gilmer Wood Co., Portland, OR, said he is still a fan of etimoé.

Gilmer said etimoé lumber is both hard and heavy. The heartwood varies in color from light reddish-brown to a little darker often veined with pink or red stripes and paler sapwood. “Etimoé has an almost metallic coppery sheen to it. It is a nice wood to mill, although you don’t see much lumber in the U.S. We sold it in the ‘70s and ‘80s for furniture and custom boat building. The wood is very lustrous,” Gilmer said.

Massive Resilience

Etimoé is one of those woods that ranges from plain to fancy, and then very fancy. According to the book Veneers: A Fritz Kohl Handbook, “Etimoé numbers among many African wood species known as mass lumber, which due to their uniform and textureless patterns, are considered being inferior quality wood. However, special wood patterns can be found, [such as figured and specialty etimoé, also known as tigerwood], which can produce very attractive surfaces.”

Etimoé grows in a range from Guinea through Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria. In both the lumber and veneer form, etimoé is known for its strength and hardness. In addition, the wood is resilient, with a medium bending and crushing strength and low stiffness and resistance to shock loads.

The wood’s natural resins have a tendency to exude during steam bending, which makes the wood only moderately rated for these purposes. The same resins also pose a small problem in the working properties, such as during cutting. Experts recommend a reduction of the cutting angle to 20 degrees when planing or moulding of quartered stock in order to avoid blunting of the cutting edges. Industry experts also caution that pre-boring of nail holes is necessary when nailing close to the edge of the wood in order to avoid splits. The wood glues well. Etimoé, like rosewood, also finishes beautifully.

Healthy Species

“It is an interesting tree, and like most trees of West Africa, it is used to make medicines,” Gilmer said.

“The wood also has a scented resin, which is used as a perfume in West Africa,” he added.

Gilmer referenced the book Woody Plants of Ghana by F.R. Irvine, in discussing the medicinal and non-lumber uses of etimoé. According to the book, “The seed, after the removal of the waxy red aril, has an aromatic odor, especially when dry. This is also given off by the bark and wood, but not by the aril. The broken seeds form necklaces in Guinea and in Sierra Leone, the seeds are used to make a scented body pomade. Elsewhere, when pounded, they perfume snuff.”

Irvine also writes that the seeds contain an aromatic crystalline principle, known as coumarin, and that the pounded leaves are used to make poultices. “The powdered dried leaves and bark, with baked and powdered clay, are applied to ulcerating sores. A cold infusion of the seeds is drunk as a remedy for vertigo.”

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.