Zebrawood: Distinctive stripes, often used for veneer

Zebrawood (Microberlinia brazzavillensis), also known as zebrano, is a West African tree, found mainly in Gabon and Cameroon. The Latin species name is derived from a city in the Congo, Brazzaville. The common name is certainly derived from the fact that the wood does indeed have stripes that look like a zebra. Because of this striking effect, the wood is expensive and so is usually produced as veneer rather than lumber. Uses include decorative veneer banding and inlays for furniture and flooring. (In the 18th and 19th centuries, zebrawood referred to a different striped species of wood from the countries we now call Nicaragua and Honduras.)

The tree itself can reach heights of 150 feet and 4 feet in diameter, but more typically is only 50 feet high and several feet in diameter. The bark is often 6 to 12 inches thick! The tree is in the legume family so has long pods of seeds. Legume trees are important for nitrogen fixation activities in the tropical soils that are continually leached by high rainfall and have little natural nitrogen. Heavy harvesting has resulted in listing this species as “threatened.” A few plantations exist in Africa. 

Processing suggestions and characteristics

This wood is reportedly slightly heavier than hickory. The reported weight at 8 percent MC is nearly 60 pounds per cubic foot, which means that a board foot at 8 percent MC will weigh about 5 pounds.

Drying. The wood is always quartersawn to highlight the striping. This means that checking is not a problem, but the wood will dry slowly. Some pieces are prone to warping. This can cause buckling in veneer. 

Shrinkage when drying is rather large, with tangential shrinkage (the width of a flatsawn piece of lumber) to 6 percent MC being over 9 percent. Radial shrinkage (the width of a quartersawn piece of lumber) is 5.4 percent.

Gluing and machining. Due to the coarseness of the grain, the wood does glue well. Machining, as with all dense species, requires very sharp knives. Interlocked grain means that smooth knife finishes are hard to obtain, as part of the surface is always machined “against the grain.” Sanding is good, although sandpaper needs to be fresh (that is, the particles must be sharp). The wood does polish well when rubbed.

Stability. This wood, in spite of high shrinkage when drying, is almost always quartersawn, which means that it is fairly stable, once dry. Shrinkage in width is 1 percent for a 4 percent MC change; this is the same as the flatsawn movement for most North American hardwoods.

Strength. The ultimate strength (MOR) is 22,800 psi; the bendability (MOE) is 2.3 million psi. This is 50 percent stronger than red oak and 25 percent stiffer.

Color and grain. The wood color is a pinkish brown with darker brown stripes. The grain is course and interlocked. Sanding with finer grits and then waxing the surface provides a great deal of luster and allows the stripped grain to show very well.


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

Profile picture for user genewengert
About the author
Gene Wengert

Gene Wengert, “The Wood Doctor” has been training people in efficient use of wood for 45 years. He is extension specialist emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.