I have written about plain Narra in a previous post, and while that post is dated in some respects, most of the information remains accurate in relation to plain unfigured Narra blanks. In this post I will explain what makes Bee’s Wing Narra distinct from the Narra I have discussed before as well as provide more detailed pricing and availability information for this unique form of Narra.
What is Bee’s Wing Narra?
As is often the case with exotic, and some notable domestic, hardwoods, names can be misleading in that it might imply that there is a separate species out there when in fact what is really being conveyed is a variant form of the same species. That is the case with Bee’s Wing Narra. Narra, which is harvested from trees known botanically as Pterocarpus indicus, a close relative of always favored Padauk (various Pterocarpus spp), can also be sold under several other names including Amboyna when burl wood is being sold or Bee’s Wing Narra when a particular figure is present in the cut material. To understand this phenomenon, it helps to think of all the different descriptors of figured maple that are familiar, including, but most certainly not limited to: bird’s eye, striped, curly, flame, and tiger stripe. None of these are separate species of Maple, usually they are all Acer saccharum, but instead simply different figures that appear in the cut surface of the wood which create high demand and therefore much higher retail values because such figures are uncommon and cannot be predicted until a tree is harvested. No one really understand what causes different figures to appear in one log and not in another harvested feet away and that is part of the allure and the mysterious appeal of figured lumber.
As the name implies, some viewers believe that the figure in Bee’s Wing Narra looks, well, like the wings of bees. I’m not always sure that I can see it clearly but in some samples it is very striking and obvious, with the best pieces displaying clear chatoyancy, or “cat’s eye effect” which causes the surface to appear to shimmer and change appearance as the wood is rotated into different light refractions.
Pricing and Availability
You shouldn’t expect to find Bee’s Wing Narra in sizes larger than pen blanks, or perhaps bottle stopper, knife blade, or gun grip sizes at the largest. I’ve never seen Bee’s Wing Narra bowl blanks, although plain Narra bowl blanks are certainly available from West Penn Hardwoods, provided you don’t mind paying $30 per board foot.
Bee’s Wing Narra pen blanks are not hard to find. I’ve just now located them at the following vendors, all of whom I have had dealings with in the past and feel confident recommending: Bell Forest Products, Griffin Exotic Woods, WoodTurningz, and Amazon Exotic Hardwoods.
The offerings from Bell Forest Products are listed as “curly Narra” and could in fact be burl wood usually sold as “Amboyna.” Regardless, it promises a good figure even if it isn’t exactly bee’s wing in nature. Their pen blanks sell for $3.75 each. Griffin Exotic Woods sells pen blanks, listed as “gallery grade,” and they are quite dramatic, for a whopping $6.50 each, which represents a price reduction from the former $8.50! WoodTurningz blanks are significantly less figured and sell for a bargain price of $3.25, but again, they really cannot compare to the truly remarkable, and therefore highly prized, offerings from Griffin. Finally, rounding us out, Amazon Exotic Hardwoods offers Bee’s Wing Narra pen blanks as the low price leader at only $2.50. The photos they show look OK, but make no mistake, that isn’t the blank you will receive in the mail. MANY hardwood dealers use “stock photos” purchased, or “borrowed” off the Internet instead of photographing their own actual stock. This is misleading, I believe, especially if they don’t own up the practice. So, my pick here is Griffin Exotic Hardwoods because I know they photograph each piece they sell, so what you see is literally what you get. I’ve purchased from them before and I have always been amazed and the species they offer and the quality of what they sell. The blank will be dry and stable, even if they have had to dry it over 5-6 years of time. Yes, they are expensive, but if you really want a show stopper of a Bee’s Wing Narra pen, then spend the extra money and get what you REALLY want with this species. That said, that is just my opinion and I have had excellent experiences with the other vendors as well, but for a true gallery grade blank, my experience tells me that Griffin is the place to go.