By Jo-Ann Kaiser
By Jo-Ann Kaiser
OTHER NAMES HEIGHT/WEIGHT PROPERTIES Goncalo alves is sometimes referred to as zebrawood or tigerwood - names that underscore the wood's often dramatic, contrasting color scheme. While the sapwood is very light, the heartwood is a mix of deep red and brown, often with dark streaks and colorations that give it a unique look that some compare to rosewood. The wood's color deepens with exposure and age and even the plainer-looking wood has a natural luster.
Goncalo alves is sometimes referred to as zebrawood or tigerwood - names that underscore the wood's often dramatic, contrasting color scheme. While the sapwood is very light, the heartwood is a mix of deep red and brown, often with dark streaks and colorations that give it a unique look that some compare to rosewood. The wood's color deepens with exposure and age and even the plainer-looking wood has a natural luster.
Goncalo alves grows plentifully in the forests of Mexico, Central America and in South American countries including Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. Brazil is a major exporter of the wood.
Two species are usually listed as sources for goncalo alves. They are Astronium fraxinifolium and Astronium graveolens. The wood from the latter is usually more straight-grained, less dense, and slightly plainer in looks than the former.
Variety of Uses
Jim Dumas, president of Certainly Wood in East Aurora, NY, describes goncalo alves as extremely heavy. "Of the 300 or so commercial woods sold, it is one of the heaviest," he says.
According to "Wood Handbook - Wood as an Engineering Material," published by the USDA, "The high density of the wood is accompanied by equally high strength values, which are considerably higher in most respects than those of any well-known United States species." However, the wood is not imported for its strength. In the U.S. market, goncalo alves is usually prized for its beauty.
Goncalo alves is used to make the dampers in grand pianos, but the tree is also a source of beautiful lumber and veneer used in furniture, cabinetry, marquetry and specialty items such as billiard cue butts, archery bows, and jewelry boxes. It is also popular for turnery and carving. Veneers are used for architectural applications such as paneling. The distinctive-looking wood is often used with other woods as an accent.
Working With the Wood
"We sell it with a disclaimer and tell people who plan to glue the veneers that other customers have reported problems," Dumas says. "I think if it weren't for the difficulties in gluing, it would be a much more popular wood because it is very dramatic. It is a cross between ebony and teak with broad black lines. Some novices mistake it for marble wood because it has that look."
Dumas says his company keeps goncalo alves in pallet form for customers who use it for specialty items such as gun handles and custom fishing rod grips. "One manufacturer makes custom grips from the solid goncalo alves by having customers imprint their grip in a material like Play-Doh, which is used as the pattern for the wood grip," he adds.
Another of Certainly Wood's customers, a New York fashion designer, used highly figured goncalo alves veneer for paneling in a showroom. "The wood has a natural luster. The right piece can be very dramatic. Non-figured goncalo alves is very bland. People usually buy it for the distinctive figure," says Dumas.
Goncalo alves can be difficult to dry. The USDA's Forest Products Lab recommends a kiln schedule of T3-C2. Problems in seasoning the wood include "some crook and bow accompanied by a slight tendency to twist."
All in the Family
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