Geographic Distribution

As is often the case when discussing tropical exotic hardwoods, it is necessary to do some housekeeping to be certain that we are clear about exactly which wood we are referencing.  In this case, we have to cover two continents.

Afzelia refers to a genus level designation used by botanists and other scientists to classify trees that grow in both Africa and southeastern Asia.  The African species are more abundant and include: A. africana, A. bella, A. bipindensis, A. bracteata, A. pachyloba, A. palembanica, A. peturei, and A. quanzensis.  Of these, A. africana is the most commonly exported species.

The southeast Asian species include: A. rhomboidea and A. xylocarpa.  Of these species, A. xylocarpa is the most commonly exported species.  A. xylocarpa is native to deciduous forests in: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

When commercially harvested examples of A. xylocarpa display a pommele or blistered figure they may be sold as “Afzelia xylay,” an abbreviation of the species name, or they may be referred to by the more poetic naming convention which we are using here, “Afzelia Lace.”

As is true of terms such as “bird’s eye maple” or “rainbow poplar,” the use of the descriptive term “lace” refers ONLY to a figure present in some examples of Afzelia spp. woods, usually A. xylocarpa, not to a distinct species of tree.

For the sake of simplicity and common understanding, I will refer from this point forward to Afzelia spp.

Afzelia Lace Burl

General Characteristics

The general characteristics described here apply to all Afzelia spp. woods.  The significant difference in describing Afzelia Lace is strictly limited to the figure that is present is samples marketed as such.  All other characteristics of the wood remain the same.

The heartwood of Afzelia spp. tends to be of a reddish brown color.  The sapwood, which is quite well defined from the heartwood, is of a pale yellowish white coloration.

As is often the case with colored tropical hardwoods, the color of Afzelia spp. woods will darken over time, especially upon exposure to ultraviolet light present in sunlight.  There are methods that can be taken to slow, although never completely halt, this process and information about such techniques is best presented in this excellent resource.

The grain of Afzelia spp. woods is almost always interlocked, and this gives rises to the most common figures that make the wood so popular with wood workers.

The texture of Afzelia spp. woods is of a medium to coarse texture, most likely a result of the interlocked grain, even when finely surfaced.

Afzelia spp. is naturally highly lustrous once properly surfaced.

The endgrain of Afzelia spp. presents as diffuse and porous with large to very large pores, but fortunately, these are few to very few in numbers.  Yellow and/or brown heartwood deposits are likely to be present.

While it wouldn’t seem likely to be relevant for the most common uses of Afzelia spp. in the western world, the woods are rated as very durable in terms of resistance to fungal rot.  However, Afzelia spp. is only moderately resistant to termites while its resistance to other forms of insect attack ranges from resistant to vulnerable.

Working Characteristics

While Afzelia spp. is generally considered to be a beautiful wood, especially the highly figured examples, it is also often found to be a rather difficult wood with which to work.

The major reason that Afzelia spp. is considered difficult to work is the very same reason that it is so incredibly popular for wood working projects: the interlocked grain that lends itself to such wonderful and varied figure.  As might be expected, this interlocked grain tends to cause tearing during machining, especially during plane operations.  Guidance on addressing this issue is available elsewhere from minds greater and more experienced than mine.