Quarter-sawn Chenchen a Good Veneer

Chenchen is a wood that has been gaining in popularity but is still not widely known. Part of the problem may be that this African wood is known by so many different names. Antiaris and kyenkyen are the most commonly used, but bonkonko, kirundu, oro, ogiovu, ako, andoum, tsangu, akeche, mkuzu, mlulu, and mumaka are also used in various parts of the world.

The tree grows in the high forest zones of western, central and eastern Africa, but in widely varying sites, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Services’s Tropical Timbers of the World. It can also be found in a variety of places in tropical Africa, from the coast of Guinea to Senegal to the Cameroons, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Uganda.
The names chenchen and antiaris actually refer to three closely related species of Antiaris, which is the Javanese name for the gum resin of the upas tree: Antiaris toxicaria, Antiaris africana and Antiaris welsitschii. The wood’s name depends on the tree’s place of origin.

In Know Your Woods, author Albert Constantine Jr. writes that the large tree known as Antiaris africana “emanates from the west coast of Africa and in Ghana is called the bark cloth tree. In Nigeria it is sometimes called false Iroko. It is closely related to the upas tree, the botanical name of which is Antiaris toxicaria.”

The comparison between chenchen and iroko is easy to understand when you see them alongside one another. Both woods are very attractive, although iroko is darker.

The name bark cloth tree refers to the inner bark of chenchen, which was once used to make a white bark cloth in West Africa.

Easily Identified
Chenchen trees are easily identified by their distinctive bark, which is smooth and a pale dirty white to yellow with numerous wart-like growths, according to Constantine.

Chenchen has poorly defined sapwood and heartwood with a whitish sapwood that will darken on exposure, and a yellow to yellow-grey heartwood. The wood is considered soft and lightweight with an interlocked grain and a coarse texture.

Used for Canoes
Constantine also provides historical information about the species. “In West Africa this wood had been used principally in the manufacture of canoes, but some logs are now being exported for the manufacture of veneers,” he writes.

“Unreliable rubber collectors in the past have used the pale-colored latex which the wood contains as an adulterant to rubber.”

Other uses for the wood include ship building, core stock, interior trim, furniture and furniture components and decorative veneer, millwork, cabinetry, packing cases, and light joinery work.

According to one expert, its principal use is as quarter-sliced veneer for furniture but its long list of uses also includes carving, structural plywood, dowels, pulp and paper products, wainscoting and mouldings.

Tough on Tooling
Due to its sometimes gummy nature and coarse texture, chenchen can have a slight blunting effect on cutting tools. The interlocked grain can cause problems with planing, so a cutting angle of 20 degrees is recommended to help reduce the incidence of tear outs. Boring also can prove difficult due to the interlocked grain. Experts also recommend adequately supporting the wood to prevent any break outs at tool exits.

“The lumber can be seasoned fairly rapidly, but has a pronounced tendency to distort; twist may be a serious degrade,” according to “Properties of Imported Tropical Wood,” a research paper by the USDA Forest Products Laboratory. A drying schedule of T2-D4 is recommended for 4/4 to 6/4 chenchen.

The wood has good screwing and nailing properties, can be painted easily and finishes well. Steam bending is not recommended for the three species.

Chenchen is not considered a hardwood and can be easily dented and marred, so care in handling is recommended. As for its strength properties, the wood is rated medium in strength in compression which is also known as the maximum crushing strength, putting it below woods such as mahogany and teak in this category. Its bending strength resistance to shock loads is low. The wood is reported to glue satisfactorily and averages 27 pounds per cubic foot.

FAMILY NAMES
Antiaris toxicaria of the Family Moraceae
Closely related species include Antiaris africana and Antiaris welwitschii.

OTHER NAMES
Antiaris, chenchen or chen-chen, upas, kyenkyen, bonkonko, kirundu, oro, ogiovu, ako, adoum, tstangu, akeche, mkuzu, mlulu, mumaka, bark cloth tree, false iroko.

HEIGHT/WEIGHT
Reaches a height of 120 to 150 feet with cylindrical boles clear to 70 feet and trunk diameters of 2 to 5 feet. Weight ranges from 23 to 33 pounds per cubic foot with a specific gravity of 0.43.

PROPERTIES
Chenchen’s heartwood and sapwood are poorly defined. The wood dries rapidly and has a tendency to stain and distort. Carefully monitored kin drying is recommended to reduce the wood’s tendency to warp and split. Wood works well except for slight blunting effect so cutting edges should be kept very sharp for best results. Saws easily but the wood can be slightly gummy. Experts recommend a reduced cutting angle for best results, especially when planing.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.