Wood of the Month:
Padauk: A Wood by Any Other Name...

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

Pterocarpus soyauxii of the Family Leguminosae

African padauk, Andaman padauk, Burma padauk, Angola padauk, narra, mbe, mbil, ngula, bosulu.

Average height is 100 feet, but the wood can grow to 130 feet with diameters of 2 to 5 feet and wide buttresses. The average weight is 40 to 50 pounds per cubic feet when seasoned.

Dries well with with minimum degrade. A kiln schedule of T10-D5S is suggested by USDA Forest Service for 4/4 stock and T8-D4S for 8/4 stock. It saws well with slow feed and machines easily, although there is some tearing on the interlocked grain. It finishes well and glues easily; holds nails and screws well. The heartwood is very durable and very resistant to termite attack.

Look up padauk in a reference book and you will most likely find three to five different trees mentioned, all from the species Pterocarpus.

"Padauk is the 'generic' name for a number of trees just as oak refers to a variety of similar species," said Brian Attridge, general sales manager for General Woods & Veneers Ltd. "Many species can legitimately claim the name padauk, but they should be mentioned individually because there are differences in color and properties," Attridge added.

"African padauk is probably sold more than the others in the United States and Canada, partly due to availability. We don't see a lot of Burmese padauk on the North American market at this time," he said, adding that his company typically buys five to six truckloads of padauk at a time.

"Padauk species are known for yielding wood with vibrant colors, brightest when cut and darkening with age and exposure. Many believe that the most vibrant padauk - a vivid orange - comes from padauk grown in the Congo," Attridge said. He added that the wood's color can fade with exposure to the sun, resulting in some users adding UV inhibitors to retard the process.

Variety of Uses
Attridge said padauk is used for a variety of items. Because padauk yields vibrant colors - depending on the species and the log, colors range from blood red to bright orange, brick red, or red with purplish streaks to a yellow-orange - it is a good choice as an accent wood and for use in inlay work and marquetry.

Padauk is also known as a dye wood, meaning the wood is used to make dyes. Properties of the wood make it suitable for use in musical instruments. Some of the wood is cut into decorative veneers and made into paneling.

Other uses for padauk include: high-class joinery, furniture and cabinetry, fancy turnery, carving and sculpting. It is also used for tool and knife handles and boat-building, paddles, oars, agricultural implements and billiard tables.

In the Italian woodworking market, padauk is a popular choice for flooring because of its high resistance to abrasion, its durability and strength. Padauk's stability also makes it a good choice for floors with built-in or under-floor heating.

Location, Location, Location
Al Matulevich of the David R. Webb Co., said that most of the padauk his company sees is from Africa.

"It is not a species we sell in volume. It is an accent wood. Quarter cutting veneers yields a straight grain that is more popular than the cathedral grain you get with a flat cut. The color varies log by log, but Burma padauk is generally more orange in color and African and Andaman padauk generally have more vibrant red orange colors. When padauk veneer is stored it sort of 'crystallizes' on the surface, developing a white powder that is easily sanded off," Matulevich said.

African padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii) comes from central and tropical West Africa. It also goes by the commercial names camwood, corail and barwood. African padauk has excellent strength properties.

Andaman padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergoides) is found only in the Andaman Islands and is sometimes called Andaman redwood or vermillion wood. In the book, Know Your Woods, Albert Constantine writes that many of the penal colony settlements in the Andaman Islands, logged the 120-foot "vermillion" trees, so-called because of their brilliant red color.

"Among old cabinetmakers it is often referred to as East Indian mahogany and Indian redwood," writes Constantine. Some padauk logs yield striped or mottled looks. Andaman padauk has a high resistance to cutting and moderate blunting effect.

Burma padauk (Pterocarpus macrocarpus), also called pradoo or mai pradoo, grows in Burma and Thailand. It grows to 80 feet high and yields a bright yellow red to dark brick red heartwood, often streaked with darker color. Like other padauks, it has a spicy odor when cut. Burma padauk can be hard to saw if the wood is dry and difficult to use with hand tools because of its interlocked grain and coarse texture.

The "Fine Hardwoods Selectorama" lists Angola padauk (Pterocarpus angolensis) among its lists of padauks. It comes from East Africa and is also known as muninga. This tree grows to an average height of 60 feet. The wood is aromatic when cut, but the dry sawdust can cause nasal irritation. The heartwood color is variable, from pale brown to chocolate brown, to brick red or purple brown with red streaks.

In commercial markets, narra (Pterocarpus indicus), is sometimes called padauk. Also known as red or yellow narra, Solomon's padauk or Papua New Guinea rosewood, it grows in southern and southeast Asia, in the Philippines, Cagayan, Mindoro, Palawan and Cotabuto.


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