|Wood of the Month:
Utile Is a Popular Choice for Boat Construction and More
By Jo-Ann Kaiser
Utile (yÃÂ¼-til), or sipo (se po) as it is frequently called, is the name of a tree that grows in east, west and central Africa, specifically in Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Liberia, Gabon, Uganda, Angola, the Ivory Coast and Ghana. The trees thrive in the moist, high forests of tropical west and east Africa.
Utile/sipo is one of those woods with a long, long list of names, including timbi, assang-assie, mâvovo, tshimai rouge/noir, ogipogo and ubilesan. âI think utile is the commercial name used in Africa, but sipo is more recognized in our market,â says Rick Banas of Interwood Forest Products Inc., a subsidiary of Fritz Kohl Veneer Mill, Germany. Banas says he has seen lumber and veneer sipo in Europe, but more sipo lumber in the U.S. market. âItâs a nice mahogany-like wood, probably a bit more red in tone than sapele, with a more open pore, but overall it is similar to sapele.â
Banas has purchased sipo veneer and plans on adding it to his lineup. âSipo lumber is already being used in the United States, primarily for panels and doors. I find that the U.S. market is very open to new things. They donât care so much about a species as they do about how a wood looks and performs.â
Similarities to Sapele
Utile (Entandrophragma utile) is similar in respects to sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum). When first cut, utileâs heartwood is pinkish brown, but the wood darkens in color and both sapele and utile have a rich, red- or purple-brown heartwood.
Utile can have a figure, but it does not usually have the distinctive ribbon stripe figure or pommele figure that sapele sometimes has, and utile has a more open texture than sapele.
Utileâs light brown sapwood is distinct from its heartwood. Utileâs grain can range from interlocked to irregular, which will yield a wide, irregularly striped figure on quartered surfaces.
While sapele is said to have a strong cedar scent when cut, utileâs has a faint cedar scent, although one of utileâs trade names is cedar.
Many Uses for Utile
Utile is an appealing wood with many uses, including furniture and cabinetry, interior and exterior joinery for doors and window frames, countertops, decorative veneers and plywood.
The wood is also used in boat construction and planking, domestic flooring, musical instruments and sports equipment. Utile is used in general construction and paneling.
Seasoning the Wood
In the book Know Your Woods by Albert Constantine Jr., the author notes that utile ârequires considerable care in seasoning, as it has a strong tendency to warp and twist.â
The Forest Products Laboratoryâs Handbook recommends a kiln schedule of T2-D4 for 4/4 stock and T2-D3 for 8/4 stock. Utile âair dries at a slow to moderate rate with a slight to marked tendency to end-check and warp. Kiln dries satisfactorily with only a slight degrade,â according to the Forest Products Lab.
Working the Wood
As for working properties, utile will work well with hand or machine tools, with only a moderate blunting effect to cutting surfaces. If an interlocked grain is present, a reduced cutting angle will help to avoid tearing.
The editors of the Encyclopedia of Wood describe utile as a âdense wood, with high crushing strength and medium bending strength, low stiffness and shock resistance, and a very poor steam-bending rating.â
Utile finishes well â filling the grain is recommended to attain the best finish.
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