August 15, 2011 | 11:06 am CDT



Wood of the Month:
Afrormosia: Poor Man's Teak

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

Pericopsis elata of the Family Leguminosae

Mesquite, honey locust, ironwood,algaroba, honeypod, ablarroba, honey mesquite and Texas ironwood.

Average height is 150 feet with diameters of about 3 feet. Weight varies from 39 to 49 pounds per cubic foot with average weight of 43 pounds per cubic foot and a specific gravity of 0.69.

Afrormosia dries slowly with little degrade and small movement in service. The wood has medium resistance to tools. Experts recommend a 20-degree cutting angle to avoid raising the grain when planing. Tungsten carbide-tipped saws are recommended to avoid tool wear. Prebore for nailing and screwing. Afrormosia glues well and finishes excellently.

Wood is heavy and dense, has high bending strength, medium stiffness, high crushing strength, moderate bending classification. The wood may distort during steaming.

Afrormosia closely resembles teak and is so often used as a teak substitute that it is sometimes referred to as African teak. But the wood is prized for for more than simply its resemblance to teak -- it is also valued for character and properties all its own.

Afrormosia trees grow in West Africa - primarily Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Its heartwood is yellow brown but darkens on exposure. The trees are described as "gregarious," thriving in wet or dry conditions. According to Herbert Edlin, author of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees, afrormosia has the "appearance of a fine-grained teak but lacks the slightly oily finish. It does not bleach on exposure (like teak) but darkens with time." Edlin also writes that it shows little movement after seasoning, is stronger and harder than most teaks, and is less prone to blunting steel tools.

Afrormosia is suitable for many applications, among them veneers, paneling, boat building, stairs, flooring, high-end joinery, cabinetmaking, farm implements, decks and marine piling.

A Wood By Any Other Name...
Al Matulevich of the David R. Webb Co. Inc, in Edinburgh, IN, calls afrormosia an esoteric import. "We don't get many calls for it, but when we do it's for wall paneling and furniture." Matulevich agreed that afrormosia has long been substituted for and compared to teak. "In the trades it was once known as the 'poor man's teak' because of its appearance and cheaper price. It also was known for a time as 'bar teaky' in the trades to play up on the teak resemblance," Matulevich. said.

Andrew Poynter of A & M Wood Specialty Inc., Cambridge, ONT, said afrormosia has traditionally been a very popular wood in the United Kingdom because it is easily imported from West Africa. Poynter said that he gets a few calls for the lumber, but his company does not stock or sell large quantities of the wood. "We recently did a couple of flooring jobs with it in the United States," Poynter said. "I also have seen the wood referred to as java teak."

Poynter said that afrormosia has a ribbon stripe on quarter-sawn material and can be "somewhat difficult to machine - especially when quarter sawn. It has a less dulling effect on cutting surfaces than teak, because afrormosia does not contain the silica that teak does," Poynter said. Poynter added that good lengths and widths are available in the timber.

Albert Constantine Jr. writes of another common name for afrormosia in his book Know Your Woods. "The bark is blotched with red and orange, which is why it has acquired the common name of red-bark."

Constantine writes that after afrormosia has been cut for some time, "it resembles Burma teak, changing from a yellow color to a warm brown with exposure to air and light." The main difference between teak and afrormosia, according to Constantine, is that "after repeated scrubbings, afrormosia remains a dark color. It is useful for decking."

Durability and Versatility
Afrormosia is a heavy and dense wood that is extremely durable and very resistant to termites. The wood has a wide range of uses both for interior and exterior applications. The wood does contain tannin, a substance that has a tendency to cause blue stains. If the wood is used near metals in wet conditions, such as in boatbuilding, it will cause corrosion or dark staining.

Sawdust from afrormosia can be an eye irritant, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's book Tropical Timbers of the World. The USDA recommends working the wood in conditions with good ventilation.

For drying, the USDA Forest Service recommends a kiln schedule T10-D5S for 4/4 stock and T8-D4S for 8/4 stock. The wood dries slowly with little degrade except for a slight warp, according to the Forest Service.

Afrormosia trees are considered "medium tall" for the forests of West Africa. The boles can be irregular but are clear to 90 or 100 feet.

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