Sponsored by: Gingrich Woodcraft, Inc. 

Red & Ready

Family Name: Pterocarpus soyauxii of the
Family Leguminosae with closely related species
Pterocarpus macrocarpus and Pterocarpus dalbergiodes

Common Names: African padauk, African padouk,
camwood, barwood, corail, mbe, mbil, ngula, bosulu,

Height/Weight: Tree averages 100 feet to 130 feet
in height with diameters of 3 to 4 feet. Average
weight is 45 pounds per cubic foot, with a specific
gravity of 0.72

The wood dries rapidly, with little degrade.
Experts recommend a kiln schedule of T10-D5S for
4/4 stock and T8-D4 for 8/4 stock.
Padauk works well with both hand and power tools,
glues well and takes screws well. African padauk is
extremely stable, with very small movement in service.
The wood finishes well, although many experts
recommend using an ultraviolet inhibitor to help reduce
the wood’s tendency to darken.
Wood dust is reported to be an irritant and is also capable
of staining clothes and skin.

Typically related — and sometimes unrelated — species share a common name. That is clearly the case with padauk. At least seven species carry a version of the name in the genus Pterocarpus. They include: African padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii), Andaman padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergiodes), Angola padauk or muninga, kiaat (Pterocarpus angolensis), Burmese padauk (Pteropcarpus macrocarpus), narra/narrah and its burl amboyna (Pterocarpus indicus), and sandalwood padauk (Pterocarpus santalinus).

The wood thrives in tropical climates and is found in Central and West Africa, India, Indochina, the South Pacific, and in North America in southern Florida. Comparable to oak in weight, but considered stronger, the various padauk species resemble American elm in looks; except for muninga, which is smaller and bush-like.

African Is King
One of the more commercially popular of the species is African padauk, whose uses include furniture and cabinetry, architectural woodwork, tool and knife handles, as well as musical instruments. It is a popular accent wood and also is used as an inlay. African padauk’s excellent durability makes it a great choice for heavy-traffic flooring, while its unique color and grain are ideal for decorative floor pattern.

The coloring is dramatic. The Encyclopedia of Wood describes the freshly cut heartwood as “a very distinctive, vivid blood red, maturing to dark purple-brown with red streaks.” The color is sharply demarcated from its sapwood, which has very little commercial use. African padauk’s grain can be straight or interlocked and its texture ranges from moderate to very coarse.

Myles Gilmer, owner of Gilmer Wood Co. in Portland, OR, said padauk has been one of the “go to” exotic species for years. “It is very popular as a guitar wood. It’s affordable, attractive and it sounds good.”

Gilmer sells African padauk as well as the other padauk species for a variety of uses. “It is popular for specialty items, furniture, frames and jewelry boxes.”

Ben Barrett, president/owner of Berkshire Veneer in Great Barrington, MA, noted that African padauk is a mid-range priced veneer, available in good dimensions with few defects, so it yields well. “Given the limited range of Andaman padauk, I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of padauk used today is African. Due to its stability, it’s often used for making spirit levels and flooring. High grade logs get sliced into veneers for cabinets, furniture and paneling.”

Jim Dumas, owner of Certainly Wood in East Aurora, NY, added that African padauk has been one of the most-used of the padauk species because it is the most available.

“African padauk can be an orange red when first cut, but in time it may turn to a cranberry maroon color or a brown,” said Dumas. “The use of ultraviolet light inhibitors can help to maintain the color — think of it as putting on suntan lotion, only it is designed for furniture and other wood products.”

Dumas said he has seen some nice examples of figured padauk, such as curly and quilted padauk. “It is a good choice for an accent wood. Many of our customers select it for use with woods like walnut and curly maple or with narrah and amboyna burl. It’s considered an excellent turnery wood and I’ve seen some wonderful bowls made from it. I have used it to make a cabinet for my home, teamed with narrah, amboyna burl and spalted maple.”

Padauks by Another Name
Dumas said he considers Southeast Asian padauk (narrah), as the most desirable padauk because of its ability to maintain its color. Andaman padauk is also an attractive wood, with the traditional coloring of rich crimson or deep red, often with dark red streaks. Also known as Andaman redwood, its grain can be interlocking, yielding a variety of figures.

Burma padauk, also commercially important at times, is also known as pradoo and mai pradoo. Its uses are similar to African padauk, including the construction of railway cars and other applications demanding strength as well as durability.

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