Santa Maria (Calophyllum brasiliense) is a common evergreen hardwood (broad leaf) species in Central America, the West Indies and northern South America. The genus name means “beautiful leaf” and the species name means “from Brazil.” In Brazil, the common name for this wood is jacareuba. Santa Maria is apparently a name that originated in British Honduras (Belize) centuries ago.

Santa Maria has been introduced in southern Florida as well. It is often planted when reforesting an area throughout Central and South America as it can grow under a variety of soil and water conditions. Under good growing conditions, the mature tree can reach 150 feet in height and 3  to 6 feet in diameter. The amount of clear lumber produced when sawing is very high. The seeds produce an oil that can be used in oil lamps. The sap has reported medicinal properties.

It is an ideal furniture wood as it is moderately dimensionally stable and it is also abundant so the price is not high in the countries where grown. Because of the large demand where grown (it is widely used for flooring, furniture, cabinets, furniture, and many other uses), Santa Maria is not the most plentiful export species.

The wood has moderate natural decay and insect resistance, so can be used outdoors. It cannot be used in contact with the soil however, as it is susceptible to termite attack.

Processing suggestions and characteristics

Density. The wood has a density that is about half as dense as water, or about 36 pounds per cubic foot at 8 percent MC. This means that a planed piece of lumber 15/16 inch thick will weigh about 2.8 pounds per board foot. (This is close to the density of black walnut and some soft maple.)

Drying. The wood has a great deal of cross grain, meaning that the small individual fibers do not run parallel with the vertical direction of the tree, but are angled or spiral up the tree. Further, the spiral reverses direction every year or so. This means that the wood is nearly impossible to split. It also means that warp lengthwise is likely (similar to sweet gum here in the U.S.). Perfect stacking, rapid drying and top weights on the stacks are suggested to control warp. Kiln drying green from the saw will produce the flattest lumber. For North America, 7 percent MC is the suggested final MC.

Shrinkage in drying is about 6 percent.

Gluing and Machining. This wood is fairly easy to glue, so long as the pieces or edges to be glued are flat.

Machining is difficult due to the cross grain. Cross grain, also called interlocked grain, means, when planing or machining, that on every surface there is some region where the planing is “against the grain.” The end result is that there is a lot of chipped and torn grain.  Knives must be very sharp and rake angles should be larger than normal. Low MCs are important to avoid fuzzy grain.

Stability. Santa Maria does change size when the moisture changes and due to the cross grain, can develop unwanted warp. Correct final MC from the kiln are important. Once dry, a 4 percent MC change results in a 1 percent size change tangentially (across the grain parallel to the growth rings or the width of a flatsawn lumber). A 6 percent MC change causes a 1 percent size change radially. Lengthwise shrinkage may be noted at times due to the cross grain.

Strength. Santa Maria is fairly strong. The bending strength (MOR) is 14,600 psi, the flexibility (MOE) is 1.8 million psi and the hardness is 1150 pounds. For comparison, white ash values are 15,000 psi, 1.74 million psi and 1320 pounds. Soft maple (red maple) values are 13,400 psi, 1.64 million psi and 950 pounds.

Nail and screw fastening properties are good, with little risk of splitting when being nailed.

Color and Grain. The color varies from region to region but is typically a reddish brown. The grain, which is fairly obvious, is wavy and interlocked, as mentioned. The texture is medium with pores that are open creating an unsmooth surface; it is similar to walnut in that respect.


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