Wood of the Month:

Utile Is a Popular Choice for Boat Construction and More

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

FAMILY NAME

Entandrophragma utile of the family Meliaceae.

COMMON NAMES

Utile, sipo, cedar, efuodwe, okeong, mebrou zuiri, assie, tshimaje rosso, kosi-kosi, efau-konkonti, mufumbiakuk, adebay, muyoyu and kalungi.

HEIGHT/WEIGHT

Trees average in height from 150 to 200 ft with diameters up to 8 ft or more. Average weight is 41 lbs per cubic foot with a basic specific gravity of 0.53.

PROPERTIES

Wood air dries at a slow to moderate rate. It has a slight to marked tendency to end-check and warp. Kiln dries satisfactorily. There is medium movement in service. The wood works easily with hand and machine tools, although interlocked grain can cause tearing when planing or shaping. Utile nails and glues well. Its heartwood is extremely resistant to decay and preservatives. The heartwood is moderately resistant to attacks by termites, but the sapwood is susceptible to attack by powder-post beetles. Timber from utile is corrosive to metals.

Utile (yü-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, m’vovo, tshimai rouge/noir, ogipogo and ubilesan. “I think utile is the commercial name used in Africa, but sipo is more recognized in our market,” 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. “It’s 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.”

Banas has purchased sipo veneer and plans on adding it to his lineup. “Sipo 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 don’t care so much about a species as they do about how a wood looks and performs.”

Similarities to Sapele

Utile (Entandrophragma utile) is similar in respects to sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum). When first cut, utile’s 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.

Utile’s light brown sapwood is distinct from its heartwood. Utile’s 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, utile’s has a faint cedar scent, although one of utile’s 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 “requires considerable care in seasoning, as it has a strong tendency to warp and twist.”

The Forest Products Laboratory’s Handbook recommends a kiln schedule of T2-D4 for 4/4 stock and T2-D3 for 8/4 stock. Utile “air 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,” 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 “dense wood, with high crushing strength and medium bending strength, low stiffness and shock resistance, and a very poor steam-bending rating.”

Utile finishes well — filling the grain is recommended to attain the best finish.

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