Wood of the Month:
Indian Laurel's Uses Range From Fine Furniture to Dock Building

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

Terminalia alata, Terminalia coriacea, Terminalia crenulata, Terminalia tomentosa of the Family Combretaceae

East Indian laurel, East Indian walnut, taukkyan, sadar, sain, marda, matti, asna, cay, hatna, neang, mutti

Height for tree may reach 100 feet or more with clear, straight boles to 70 feet. Weight ranges for these trees are from 46-59 pounds per cubic foot with an average weight of 53 pounds per cubic foot and specific gravity of 0.86.

Difficult wood to dry. Problems, especially with large dimensions, include surface checking, warping and end splitting. Experts recommend slow drying. USDA Forest Service recommends a kiln schedule of T3-C2 for 4/4 stock and T3-C1 for 8/4 stock. Wood is very dense with medium bending strength. Poor steam-bending classification. Wood can be difficult to work with hand tools, especially when material has interlocked grain. Hard to nail but takes screws well. Wood glues well although it has natural oils. Wood can be finished well but filling is recommended. Sawdust can be an irritant.

Indian laurel, which is not one of the true laurels but obtained from various species of Terminalia, grows in India, Burma, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It has long been regarded one of India's prime commercial woods and is protected. According to Interwood Forest Products Inc., in the book Veneers, A Fritz Kohl Handbook, Indian laurel can only be exported from India as veneer.

In figured form, the wood resembles European walnut and is sometimes used as a substitute for it. The attractive wood is gray or light to dark brown with black lines and a striped pattern. It can also yield fiddleback and mottle grain patterns. Its grain ranges from fairly straight to irregular.

Wide Range of Uses
Indian laurel's uses are extremely varied. It is sliced for fine veneer and paneling and is also used for furniture and cabinetry. The heavy, compact and elastic wood is also suitable for use in its native lands for marine construction and piling, and for boat building. It is also used for joinery, tool handles, police batons and brush backs. As a turnery wood, Indian laurel excels.

The Name Game
Like many trees, Indian laurel goes by a number of names. Some prefer to use the term East Indian laurel, so as not to confuse the tree with the many similarly named trees. Larry Frye, writing in the Fine Hardwoods Selectorama, listed an alternate name for the tree as East Indian walnut, probably due to its close resemblance to European walnut. Other names for the wood vary from country to country. In Burma it is called taukkyan. In India it is known as asna, mutti and sain. In Sri Lanka the tree is called cay; hatna in Indonesia; and neang in the Khmer Republic.

As mentioned, this is not a true laurel. The true laurel is from the species Laurus nobilis of the Family Lauraceae, which grows near the Mediterranean Sea. Ancient Greeks used the leaves of the true laurel tree make crowns for victorious athletes.

Greg Engle, sales manager of Certainly Wood Inc., in East Aurora, NY, says the East Indian laurel he sees most often is quarter cut, straight grain and plain figure. "We are seeing more interest in East Indian laurel lately, just the way we are seeing more interest in the darker-toned veneers that were popular in the 1970s. Wenge is another wood that is enjoying increased use. East Indian laurel is more of a brown and tan color as opposed to the darker, chocolate brown wenge and is less coarse than wenge," he says.

Engle says typical uses for the East Indian laurel veneer include custom furniture and home interior products. "It isn't being widely used for commercial interiors, that I can tell," he adds.

Ben Clift, sales manager for Danzer Specialty Veneers Inc. in Edinburgh, IN, said his company inventories both plain and figured East Indian laurel, but has not seen much interest in the wood. "It is dark, like walnut in color and somewhat resembling it, although the two are very distinct. Most of the calls we get for it are for additions to earlier projects. It's a dark wood and they are not in vogue in the way of anigre, cherry and maple or makore and mahogany," Clift says.

Clift said East Indian laurel makes gorgeous wall paneling. "In the early 1980s, Indian laurel was very popular with our New York clients for commercial interiors and custom work. It is a species that can be very dusty to work with - it has a powder or dust that's a nuisance, but once laminated, it's great. It finishes very well."

East Indian laurel is listed as moderately durable, with its sapwood liable to attack by powder post beetles.


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