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Dramatic Zebrawood: A Popular Exotic with a Popular Name

By Jo-Ann Kaiser

Find a list of hot wood looks today and the dark, exotic woods will be at to the forefront. Zebrawood, or zebrano, has a long list of uses for furniture and architectural millwork. It is frequently used as a sliced veneer and popular with custom applications, such as cabinetry or casework, flush doors, marquetry and paneling.

Many people are introduced to zebrawood through car dashboards. Rick Banas, a vice president with Interwood Forest Products Inc., Shelbyville, KY, says one of the major uses for zebrawood 20 years ago was in car dashboards. While the dramatic-looking wood that combines light with dark is still a dashboard favorite, it is used for many more applications today. "Supplies of zebrawood are plentiful in lumber and veneer," Banas says. "It's probably more in use because exotics are getting more attention lately."

Banas says zebrawood is a good accent wood. "It has a strong pattern and can be overpowering in large applications, but it is often used for smaller items, border work and in diamond matching," he adds.

Robert Pelc, president of Advantage Trim and Lumber Co., Buffalo, NY, sells zebrawood lumber. He says one of the reasons the wood has traditionally been used as an accent is its cost and availability. Pelc says supplies of zebrawood were short, due in part to civil wars in West Africa. "Supplies are much better, but it hasn't affected the price yet," Pelc says. He has seen some larger projects made of the wood, including a conference table entirely done in solid zebrawood and a home office floor done in solid zebrawood. "Smaller projects, like small bookcases and jewelry boxes, are more common, but the wood does make a dramatic statement for those who like the look."

Family Name
Microberlinia brazzavillensis of the Family Leguminosae.

Common Names
Zebrawood, zebrano, zingana, allene, ele, amouk.

Trees grow to an average height of 150 ft, with trunk diameters of 4-5 ft. Average weight when seasoned is 46 lbs/ft3, with a specific
gravity of 0.74.

Difficult to dry.

Kiln schedule of T2-C2 suggested for 4/4 stock and T2-C1 for 8/4.

Veneers kept in stock may buckle.

Texture medium to coarse, with a lustrous surface.

Grain often wavy or interlocked.

Works well with hand and machine tools.

Hard, heavy and stable with high stiffness.

Liable to attack from the common furniture beetle.

Not suitable for steam bending.

Has small movement in service.

Glues satisfactorily.

Finishes well.

Other uses for zebrawood include cabinetry, furniture, flush doors, inlay and crossbandings, and specialty items like brush backs, tool handles, wine corks and so-called "fancy goods." The wood is often sliced into veneer. It is also used in marquetry and paneling, and for turnery, wood sculpture and carving.

Pelc agrees that darker woods seem to be gaining in popularity, including zebrawood, Brazilian walnut, ipe and wenge.

Zebrawood is traditionally quarter sawn because the wood is unstable. Quartering also gives the wood the zebra-stripe look. The wood usually has an interlocked or wavy grain. It can be difficult to work because of the alternately hard and soft nature of the grain. Belt sanders usually give the smoothest finish when working with material that is both hard and soft.

It has a light golden yellow heartwood with streaks of dark brown to black. The dark and light bands give a zebra stripe look that accounts for the name, but zebrawood is a name that many other species use. Banas says the true, authentic zebrawood is considered to come from Microberlinia brazzavillensis (syn. Brachystegia fleuryana). A related species, Microberlinia bisulcata, is sometimes listed as the source of zingana or zebrawood.

"A surefire way to know if the wood is a true zebrawood is by the smell when the wood is cut," Banas says. Zebrawood has a very distinctive, foul smell, politely described as a barnyard-like odor. The smell fades after the material is dried.


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