Fine grained, elegant Swiss pear is held in high regard around the world.

Family Name

Pyrus communis of the Family Rosaceae. Also Sorbus domestica and Sorbus torminalis of the Family Rosaceae.

Common Names

Pear, Swiss pear, European pear, common pear, pear tree, pearwood, wild pear, choke pear

Height/Weight

Average height varies but trees can grow from 30 to 40 feet tall and some grow to 60 feet or more. Average weight is 44 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of 0.70.

Properties

The wood dries slowly with a tendency to warp. Experts recommend kiln drying for best results.

The wood machines well, but can be slightly difficult to saw. Experts recommend sharp cutting surfaces due to the wood’s tendency to blunt cutters.

The wood takes a variety of finishes well.

The heartwood is non-durable and liable to insect attack.

Most of the fruit and ornamental blossom trees around the world belong to the Rose Family (Rosaceae) and pear is no exception. Pear trees, known by the commercial names Swiss pear, European pear and pearwood, belong to the species Pyrus communis. Pears of this species grow in Europe and Western Asia. The so-called common pears also can be found in the United States, but most of the commercial timber and veneer is from Germany, Switzerland and France.

Common pears grow wild in Europe and Asia, but not in the “New World,” according to the book Encyclopedia of Trees by Hugh Johnson. “The common pear from which all the orchard varieties are derived occurs frequently in the south of Europe, and is not uncommon in the north. It is one of the longest-lived of the fruit trees and eventually reaches a remarkable size.” Johnson writes there are records of pear trees growing to 60 feet and more, with diameters of 16 feet. The common pears yield the “fruit-wood of French provincial furniture; the light brown that glows in old armoires and dressers.”

Unsteamed, pear’s sapwood is a pale white to yellow, with a heartwood that is flesh-toned to pale pink-brown. Pear is often steamed to produce a warm reddish tone. It also is stained black to make violin and other musical instrument parts.

“Pear is truly one of the most elegant woods available in the world,” said Rick Banas, vice president of Interwood Forest Products, Shelbyville, IN. “Its warm tones, fine grain structure and pleasing finish have made it a favorite of architects all over the world. Although pear has been widely used by the European furniture industry, it has never found its way into the U.S. market with the exception of some exclusive custom pieces,” said Banas. “Figured, as well as non-figured pear, have been equally in demand in the United States for architectural markets, as well as aircraft and yacht interiors.”

Swiss pear, according to Veneers: A Fritz Kohl Handbook, comes from the species Pyrus communis, Sorbus domestica and Sorbus torminalis. “There are differences in color and grain structure between them, although most people wouldn’t know or care,” said Banas.

Myles Gilmer, owner of Gilmer Wood Products of Portland, OR, said uses for Swiss pear run the gamut. “It is used for architectural uses, such as paneling, and in lots of furniture and cabinetry. It’s very popular with carvers and wood turners.” Gilmer said most of the wood is steamed, which brings out a pleasing pastel reddish-pink color and relieves stresses within the wood so that it dries flat. “Without steaming, it is a pale flesh color, and pear has long been used by sculptors trying to mimic the color of flesh.”

Gilmer said the wood stains very well and is ebonized for musical instruments. “Pearwood can yield wood with fantastic figures such as a curl-like fiddleback and a very distinctive mottled roe. The curl figure is popular for use in violins, guitars and recorders. Pearwood is a nice looking wood that takes a dynamite polish. Fine grained, it has a wonderfully tactile feel.”

Richard Hearne, owner/president of Hearne Hardwoods Inc., Oxford, PA, makes three to four trips to Europe each year in search of pearwood. While the wood is known by many as Swiss pear, much of what he sells comes from Germany. Ninety-five percent of the Swiss pear he sells is steamed “Because we want the two to match and the veneer is usually steamed, we carry steamed lumber. In North America, the demand for most Swiss pear or pearwood is for upscale architectural millwork applications, such as reception areas in financial institutions or private offices. Many in Europe consider pearwood to be the finest hardwood.”

Hearne said it is among the most expensive hardwoods. “It is a typical fruitwood, so it is hard and dense, with properties similar to rosewood.” One factor driving the price of pearwood, Hearne adds, is the waste involved in processing the material. Another is the demand. “European pearwood is one of the finest continental hardwoods.”

Ed King, manager of operations and European sales at Hearne Hardwoods Inc., agreed that European pearwood is an interesting wood with a lot of character. “European woods like English sycamore, brown oak and yew wood are very hot this year. Pear isn’t one of the really hot woods, but it always has a following.”

Common Uses

Uses for Swiss pear include fine furniture, cabinetry, architectural millwork, wood turning, wood carving, instruments and instrument parts, and veneer. Because of its distinctive color and fine grain, pear is also a popular choice for marquetry and inlay work.

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