By Jo-Ann Kaiser
By Jo-Ann Kaiser
COMMON NAMES HEIGHT/WEIGHT PROPERTIES Pommele is the French term for dappled and it is especially apt for describing highly figured woods like sapele, makore and bubinga when the so-called quilted or blistered looks are present.
Pommele is the French term for dappled and it is especially apt for describing highly figured woods like sapele, makore and bubinga when the so-called quilted or blistered looks are present.
Sapele can be plain or have ribbon-like stripes or a highly figured grain, but the term "sapele pommele" is reserved for a specific figure.
Charles Stem, president of The Wood Gallery Inc., Wood Knobs, IN, is often asked by customers to describe the look of sapele pommele. "I liken it to champagne bubbles, rising in a glass," says Stem, who used sapele pommele framed with solid mahogany for his office desktop. "Sapele pommele is one of my favorite woods. It's just a beautiful look."
Rick Banas of Interwood Forest Products Inc., Shelbyville, KY, a subsidiary of Fritz Kohl Veneer Mill, Germany, compares the look to that of a turtle shell. "You also have material with smaller eyes and swirly grain, but the most popular sapele pommele with our customers is the large turtle shell look or bigger eyes with veining."
Albert Constantine Jr. describes the look of sapele pommele as a "plum pudding and blister figure" in his book Know Your Woods.
A Step Beyond Bird's-Eye
Stem says some material has the "wonderful champagne bubble look for 3 to 5 feet and then displays a big bubble, sort of like a hiccup. This affects the ability to book match the material." While some consider this a defect in grain, he adds, others appreciate and enjoy the wild character.
Banas says that heavier figured material is usually found near the outside of the tree, and notes that the figure may not penetrate through the log. "With some logs, you get yields of 200,000 square feet of pommele figure while others may only produce 2,000 square feet of pommele."
"Sapele is like many of the African species," he says, "in that each tree gives a variety of figures. For sapele, you can get figures such as mottled, block or fiddleback or a variation of all three." Banas says he has seen pommele logs ruined because they were sliced incorrectly. The logs were cut perpendicular to the grain instead of cutting the circumference of the tree.
Upscale and Distinguished
Banas says sapele pommele is one of the more expensive exotic woods but it remains in demand with users. "We get a call for it every month," says Banas.
Sapele grows in East, Central and West Africa. Its growth range includes the Ivory Coast to the Cameroons to Zaire, Uganda and Tanzania. Color varies from a medium to dark red to purple brown but Stem says his customers prefer a red-brown hue.
In the past, the wood has been marketed as sapele mahogany in some markets, according to Constantine. "Sometimes it is mistaken for African mahogany and used as such; however, it is harder and heavier, weighing from 35 to 40 pounds per cubic foot, and the stripe is much more pronounced." Constantine writes that sapele is superior to both African and American mahogany in strength. He compares its strength to American oak.
Stem warns that improper finishing can ruin the pommele pattern. "Sometimes people will lose some of the grain pattern when they finish the material. If they darken the material too much, the distinctive pommele look disappears." Stem explained that sapele bleaches well and users can avoid 'losing' the pattern during finishing by bleaching the material and then adding color.
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