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A Dashing Figure

Family Name
Microberlinia brazzavillensis, Microberlinia
bisculata of the Family Leguminosae
Common Names
Zebrawood, zebrano, zingana, allen ele, amouk
Trees grow to heights of 150 feet, with straight
and cylindrical boles up to 50 feet and trunk
diameters of 4 to 5 feet. Weight is 46 pounds
per cubic foot, with a basic specific gravity of 0.70.
The heartwood is pale, yellow-brown, with
narrow darker streaks. The sapwood is white
and can be up to 4 inches or more.
Zebrawood has a medium to coarse texture
and the grain is usually wavy or interlocked
The wood is difficult to dry. Experts recommend
quarter sawing to minimize degrade.
The wood saws well and has good gluing properties.
The heartwood is durable and extremely resistant
to preservative treatment; sapwood is permeable.

The pattern makes zebrawood ideal for dashboards and guitars.

Zebrawood, so named for its distinctive color markings, is native to West Africa, primarily in Gabon and Cameroon.

Commonly known as zebrano, zebrawood is a hard, heavy and dense wood. Zebrawood’s heartwood is pale yellow brown with narrow dark streaks that create a striping pattern which can vary from log to log. The wood sometimes yields other figures, such as curly zebrawood.

From Dash to Diatonic
Zebrawood is often sliced into decorative veneers and has a long history of use in car interiors for dashboards.

“The car interior use is a long one. Open the door to a Mercedes or Audi and you are going to see zebrawood,” said Myles Gilmer, owner of Gilmer Wood Co. in Portland, OR.

Other uses include furniture and high-end architectural millwork. Zebrawood is also a popular choice for marquetry and can be teamed with other woods as an accent, such as veneer banding or inlays for musical instruments or flooring.

“Zebrawood makes for a fabulous instrument, “ said Renato Bellucci, a guitarist who started playing guitar at age eight in Taranto, Italy. In addition to performing and teaching, Bellucci also makes classical guitars and in 2004 created his own custom guitar brand, Bellucci. (Click here to see a video of Renato Bellucci playing one of his zebrawood guitars.)

“As a guitar wood, zebrawood offers rich tones and spectacular sustain with a sound similar to blackwood,” said Bellucci. “The bass has a human-like, guttural quality, which is quite unique and almost exclusive of the African-tone woods in general. The trebles ring clear like bells and sustain is very sharp. The grain is generally not curly, but occasionally one finds curly zebrawood and the look is equally striking. Zebrawood delivers a beautiful tone with clear, well defined basses, ringing trebles and a vast array of harmonics and overtones,” said Bellucci. “It finishes fantastically well and works exceptionally well with both spruce and cedar tops. The wood is also suitable for Flamenco guitar construction.”

Graphic Appeal and Strength
A tough wood, it is used in ski equipment as well as tool handles. Zebrawood is a popular choice for turnery, as much for its properties as its distinctive look. It also is used in sculpture, carvings and small specialty items such as jewelry boxes, frames and decorative handles.

“I enjoy using the linear nature of the grain to create a graphic pattern,” said studio woodworker and furniture designer Richard Judd of Richard Judd Furniture in Paoli, WI. The owner of Zazen Gallery, located adjacent to his workshop, Judd has used zebrawood in end tables, an oval mirror and a “half-moon”’ table.

Gilmer, too, is a zebrawood fan. “It works well and a wonderful patina develops with age. We work with quarter-sawn material, otherwise it tends to be unstable.” He added that he has seen both the lumber and veneer used. “We see it sliced for furniture and cabinetry, but it is also used in the solid form. I’d say it is a 50/50 mix of veneer and lumber.”

A Cut Above
Gilmer said zebrawood is often considered one of the “big six” of the imported woods, a list which also includes padauk, African mahogany and sapele. He added that though zebrawood logs vary in size, good sizes are available, though a thick sapwood can cut down on the yield. “Zebrawood prices have increased over the years, due most likely to availability,” he added.

Zebrawood’s look can be manipulated by the manner of cutting. Most zebrawood is quarter-cut, which is recommended by experts to avoid problems with material buckling due to the grain, which alternates between hard and soft. Flat or rotary cut material will yield a very wild pattern filled with streaks.

While zebrawood’s texture can be coarse, the wood has a very lustrous look. It is said to work well with both hand and machine tools, but the wood poses some problems during seasoning. The Forest Products Laboratory recommends a kiln schedule of T2-C2 for 4/4 stock and T2-C1 for 8/4 stock. The heartwood also is considered durable and resistant to termites. When freshly cut the wood has an unpleasant odor that is said to disappear once the wood is dried

Stripes by Another Name
Zebrawood is a name that has been used by other species, all unrelated except for their distinctive light and dark stripes. Goncalo alves, also known as kingwood and tigerwood, from the species Astronium fraxinifolium and Astronium graveolens, is sometimes called zebrawood. Goncalo alves comes from Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil. Like zebrawood, it is a very heavy wood.

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