Iroko is a wood from tropical western and central Africa which resembles teak in appearance and durability.  It is sometimes used, therefore, as a teak substitute due to its lower prices and non-endangered status.

Geographical Distribution

Iroko is scientifically known as Milicia excels or Milicia regia.  Some sources may also refer to it as Chlorophora excels or C. regia although these genus and species identifications have been replaced in most circles.  The wood originates in the tropical coastal regions of western and central west Africa.

General Characteristics

Iroko heartwood varies from yellow to a more golden or medium brown.  The color tends to darken over time as is common with many tropical hardwoods.  If this is of concern to you when you are working with Iroko, you should become familiar with some of the various ways that color change can be slowed or prevented in hardwoods such as Iroko.

Iroko has a medium to coarse texture, with open pores and an interlocked grain.  The endgrain is diffuse and porous.

Iroko is very durable, and is resistant to both rot and insect attack.  Because of its durability and also due to its appearance, Iroko is sometimes used as a Teak substitute and may be refered to by some as African Teak, although Iroko is not remotely related to the actual Teak wood tree. Continue reading

Origins of the Material

About two years ago or so, a long time wood turner in my local area retired as he was over 80 and wasn’t working much anymore.  Over the years, he had acquired a sizable collection of different turning woods along with some lumber since he also made furniture from exotics as well as more locally sourced woods.  He was always on the lookout for something unique or different and he never felt that it was necessary for a piece of wood to be “perfect” for it to be an interesting piece to turn.  Once he decided to retire he held an auction to sell off his stocks of wood and equipment.  I was originally interested more in the very fine rack system he had for storing wood, but purchasing that system meant purchasing the wood that was on it as well.  I figured that between my son, who is also a wood turner, and I, we could find a way to use what amounted to quite a lot of turning wood of many different species, types, and qualities.  Among some of the most notable pieces is a log piece of African Blackwood with the tan sapwood intact, some planks of Australian Desert Rosewood, and many more pieces that are of unknown origin and unknown quality.

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At some time in the past, I purchased a selection of Australian wood pen blanks and when selecting wood for a rather large production run of stylus pens (for use with electronic touch-screen devices) I decided to use some of them.  I made my own notes as I worked and I am glad I did since these woods seem to be quite mysterious and there is a decided lack of content about them available.  This could be because the woods are rare, although given the pricing I doubt this, or it could more likely be that they are not commonly used for wood working applications, at least not in the United States.  It is also possible that the common names used when selling are not those that are truly common in the areas of origin.  Regardless, I will discuss what I can and hope that others will have experience to share.

Box Cedar

Cedar is a very common name applied to woods across several species.  Genus level representatives include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following: Calocedrus, Cedrela , Cedrus, Chamaecyparis, Cryptomeria, Cupressus, Juniperus, Melia, Thuja, and Toona.  There are least one species in each of these genus categories that is commonly known as a type of Cedar, and in some cases, there are multiple species within a genus listed here.  This gives some sense of the multiple possibilities of accurate identification when confronted with the common name of “cedar.”  The appellation “box” contributed nothing aside from a reference to “Cigar-Box Cedar” which is Spanish in origin and unlikely to be the wood I worked with since it was listed as an Australian wood.  The only “cedar” native to Australia is Toona ciliate and I have to guess that this is the wood I worked with.

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Geographical Distribution

The wood I know as Red River Gum is scientifically known as Eucalyptus camaldulensis.  As many readers will guess, the tree from which the wood is harvested is a native of Australia.  This species of Eucalyptus  a familiar and iconic tree (it leaves have appeared on Australian stamps) seen along many watercourses, including dry river beds which retain adequate underground water for growth, right across inland Australia.  The tree produces welcome shade in the extreme temperatures of central Australia, and plays an important role in stabilizing river banks.

While native to Australia, the tree has been exported for growth, literally, around the world and it is the most widely planted Eucalyptus species in the world.  As of 1980, plantations of Red River Gum were known to exist in all of the following nations and US States: Argentina, Arizona, Brazil, Burkina Faso, California, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Uruguay, and Zimbabwe.

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I undertook a major project to make bottle stoppers using TruStone material, which I have written about in the past.  This post is simply the photo of the finished stopper tops arranged in a baking tray.  The finished pieces are about the size of chicken eggs and make a very colorful display!

Geographical Distribution

Amazakoue is one of the common names of a wood scientifically known as Guibourtia ehie.  It is easily a contender for the record number of diverse common names including, but not necessarily limited to: Amazique, Amazoue, Mozambique, Ovangkol, and Shedua.  Amazakoue is native to tropical West Africa, ranging across Cameroon and Gabon, and north and west into Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Liberia.  Given this geographical range, the common name of Mozambique makes zero sense, given that Mozambique is located on the southeastern edge of Africa, nowhere near the actual range of the tree.  Amazakoue trees prefer closed rain forests and transitional forests, where they often grow in small groups.  As is true of many tropical woods, it is threatened by habitat loss and is listed by conservation authorities as “threatened.”

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Geographical Distribution

The tree that yields the wood variant known as Rainbow Poplar is scientifically known as Liriodendron tulipifera.  To further confuse the issue of identification, the tree may also be known by a variety of common names including, but not necessarily limited to: tulip tree, American tulip tree, tuliptree, tulip poplar, whitewood, fiddle-tree and yellow poplar.  Despite its order in the list, Yellow Poplar seems common among wood workers.  It is also important to note that despite the common name appellation of “poplar,” this tree is NOT in the genus Populus, despite the commonality of the scientific and common name.

Yellow Poplar is native to a large swath of North America, ranging from It is native to eastern North America from southern Ontario and Illinois eastward across southern New England and south to central Florida and Louisiana.  This is one of the tallest of the native North America trees, known to reach up to 190 feet in height, often with no branches up to 80-100 feet, making it a very popular and common timber tree.

The term “Rainbow Poplar” does not refer to a separate wood species, but rather is a designation of Yellow Poplar that has been stained due to mineral contamination. The resulting mineral stained wood, not commonly encountered but also not exactly rare exhibits a variety of colors ranging from green, purple, black, and red.  It is this distinct variety of colors that turns an otherwise ordinary piece of Yellow Poplar into the intriguing Rainbow Poplar. The precise cause of these streaks and discolored wood produced in certain trees is not fully understood.

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