Quina is technically known as Myroxylon peruiferum and is one of only two species in this genus, the other being Myroxylon balsamum, commonly known as Santos Mahogany. These two trees are also commonly known as Balsamo trees due their unique fragrance, Balsam of Peru, that has its own uses in the perfume industry. Despite the specific name of the fragrance, the tree itself is found throughout the tropical Americas from southern Mexico to Argentina in South America.
The tree can be quite large, growing up to 65-100 ft (20-30 m) tall, 2-3 ft (.6-1.0 m) trunk diameter.
Compared to other tropical woods, Quina is quite dense and heavy for its size as well as having a fairly high degree of hardness.
The color of any specific piece of Quina can only be known, it cannot be predicted. Reported colors range from light golden browns to darker purplish reds or even burgundy in the heartwood. As would be expected, the closer to the sapwood, the color will be lighter. It is possible that striped or ribbon patterns may appear in quartersawn sections but this is not common as it is in some other trees.
Deep color may change over time, especially on exposure to light sources. Fortunately, there are some well-known and relatively simple means by which color change in exotic lumber can be prevented or slowed.
The grain is interlocked which may make the wood harder to work with, but the grain is of a fine texture. The end grain is unfortunately diffuse and porous so turned pieces may require heavy finish work with sanding.
Quina is reported to very durable in regards to decay and some sources claim that its high amounts of natural oils provide an excellent defense against insects although this is disputed.
The density and the interlocked grain cause many to rate Quina poorly when it comes to a wood for working. It does have a noticeable blunting effect on tools, which therefore must be frequently sharpened when working with this wood, although tool sharpening is a good practice regardless of the wood being worked. Alternatively, replaceable carbide turning tools circumvent this problem handily.
The high oil content may make gluing difficult if the surfaces are not first pre-cleaned with a solvent such as mineral spirits, acetone, or a lacquer thinner. However, the high oil content does allow for the wood to take on a high luster without finishing products being added simply through fine sanding and buffing.
No discussion of Quina is complete without mention of its distinctive scent, which is of course heightened when the wood is still green and wet, but present even in dried samples. The sweet scent is spicy with hints, some say, of vanilla and green olives. This scented resin leads to uses in the perfume and other industries for this wood.
The pricing of Quina is consistent with other midrange tropical woods. Pen blank sizes should never be more than about $1.00 each while a relatively generous bowl blank of 8″x8″x2″ retails for slightly over $17 at an exotic wood retailer such as West Penn Hardwoods, a reliable source for bowl blanks from many species at fair prices. Other exotic wood suppliers may also have Quina in stock as it is a relatively common exotic wood in dealers stock. Woodfinder is a website that is dedicated to advertising exotic wood dealers and I can’t speak to the quality of any of them, but they do have the advantage of performing searches based on your location which might allow you to visit a wood dealer in person to hand pick what you want to work with at a price you are comfortable paying.
Quina wood finds use if applications such as flooring, furniture, interior decorative trim pieces, oddly it is also used in heavy construction as well as being a favored wood for turned objects such as bowls, pens, bottle stoppers, etc.
Uses of Balsam of Peru
While it isn’t exactly a use of the wood itself, the uses of Balsam of Peru, derived from Myroxylon, have to be considered as well. The Balsam of Peru aromatic resin is extracted primarily from a type of tree that is found only in Central America and Southern Mexico, despite its common name, which originated many years ago as a result of an error in understanding the origin of specimens shipped from Peru to Europe. The specimens had been harvested in Central America and transported south for shipment, resulting in a misunderstanding of the origins of the wood and a name that is forever in error but also commonly understood. By the seventeenth century, Balsam of Peru was known in European pharmaceutical texts and today the majority of the resin comes from El Salvador, where its extract and preparation is performed as a handicraft as opposed to an industrial process.