Distinctive fragrance and multiple figures are common for imbuya.

Family Name

Phoebe porosa of the Family Lauraceae

Common Names

Imbuya, imbuia, amarela, embuia, canela imbuia, imbuia phoebe and Brazilian walnut

Height/Weight

Average height is 130 feet, with diameters of 6 to 7 feet. Average weight is 41 pounds per cubic foot, with a specific gravity of 0.66.

Properties

Wood air dries rapidly, however thick stock may be slow to dry and is subject to honeycomb. Experts recommend slow kiln drying to avoid warping and a kiln schedule of T6-D2 for 4/4 stock and T3-D1 for 8/4 stock. Small movement in service.

Low steam bending classification.

It works well with hand and machine tools, though machining dust can be an irritant. The wood finishes very well.

If you are looking for a wood that will give you anything but the “same old, same old,“ imbuya might do the trick.

“Imbuya is the wood of many faces,” according to Rick Banas, vice president of Interwood Forest Products Veneer in Shelbyville, KY, of the Brazilian hardwood species Phoebe porosa. “Very seldom do you find two trees looking remotely similar. Colors, grains and figure types run rampant in this species. Fiddlebacks, mottles, clusters, burls, leopard skins [also known as chicken scratch] are only a few descriptions to describe the many grain and figure types, not to mention the wide color range from dark brown to olive green to yellows with an abundance of contrast.”

Imbuya’s uses include fine furniture and cabinetry work, high-grade flooring, high-end joinery, paneling and other architectural woodworking projects, and gunstocks.

Banas said that over the years his company has sold many unique veneer faces for the architectural, aircraft and yacht industries. “I’ve never heard of any [production] furniture group using imbuya, which I’m assuming is due to its inconsistencies of character,” he said. However, Banas added, “The trees are big and usually the figure types, colors and grains run fairly consistent within each tree, allowing this species to be very useful as veneer for high-end projects.”

Doug Newhouse, owner of Newhouse Wood & Veneer, West Hartford, CT, agreed that variation is a big part of imbuya’s identity. “The heartwood color of the Brazilian native imbuya [also frequently known as imbuia] covers a wide range of colors. Imbuya’s heartwood can be brown to yellow, and olive to shades of chocolate. In addition, there is significant difference in appearance, with each log being unique,” he said.

The heartwood of imbuya is considered resistant to attack by decay fungi. The sapwood is gray and clearly marked. Although a slow kiln drying schedule is recommended, in general the wood works well with machines or hand tools.

Newhouse said the tree logs typically yield 2,000 to 10,000 feet and lengths of 8 to 10 feet. It often is available in flat and quarter cuts.

Imbuya can be used in both solid wood and veneer form; the veneer is available in a wide variety of figures, including burl. The book, Veneers, a Fritz Kohl Handbook, describes imbuya burl as a very rare veneer, exclusively used for choice architectural work.

According to the book, “It is especially popular for accentuating wood for fillings in combination with other high-quality ones. To produce smooth, non-checked surfaces, imbuya burl must be very carefully worked due to its burl formation. When cleanly machined the surfaces have a beautiful luster, which can also facilitate further treatment.”

Commercial Timber

Imbuya is one of the top commercial timbers of Brazil, while thriving in the high altitude areas of the southern portion of the country.

Brazilians have a variety of names for the wood, among them imbuia and imbuya phoebe. “Imbuya trees are usually found growing in the Brazilian pine forests, but can also be found in the rainforests of the States of Sao Paulo, Santo Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, where the rainforest trees can grow to heights of 15 to 20 meters,” according to facts provided by the Brazilian embassy in Washington, DC.

While the commercial market has a long list of names for Phoebe porosa, including imbuya, imbuia, amarela, canela imbuia, embuia, it has historically been referred to as Brazilian walnut. Although the name Brazilian walnut is believed to derive from the wood’s similarities to walnut, some people consider it misleading because the wood is not a true walnut.

Spice Can Be Nice

According to Newhouse, “Imbuya has a distinctive, ‘spicy’ odor that is evident years after the veneer or lumber is cut.”

Banas agreed. “The most consistent property of imbuya might just be the fragrance, which is very unique to the tree,” he said. “If I were blindfolded and walked into a factory producing imbuya, it would be immediately evident to me what they were using.”

Yet while the wood is well-known for its spicy aroma, it is also infamous for being an irritant. When cut or sanded, the wood gives off a dust that can be highly irritating to some woodworkers.

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