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.
Balsam of Peru resin has been used in medicine, pharmaceutical applications, in the food industry and in the perfume industry. Medically, it has been used as a cough suppressant and the treatment of hemorrhoids. Dentists have used it in the treatment of a condition known as dry socket. The resin has been reported to inhibit the growth of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria which causes the disease known as tuberculosis, as well as the common ulcer-causing bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, at least in test-tube studies. Because of these successes, it is used topically as a treatment for wounds and ulcers, as well as an antiseptic and in a treatment for relaxing the anal muscles which can alleviate hemorrhoids. Balsam of Peru can also be found in a wide variety of other products including but not necessarily limited to: diaper rash ointments, hair tonics, anti dandruff preparations, feminine hygiene sprays, soaps, detergents, creams, lotions, and perfumes.
Severe negative allergic reactions are quite uncommon but Quina has been known to cause reactions in sensitive individuals. This is thought to be the result, primarily, of an allergic reaction to the Balsam of Peru resin, which is known to be an allergen in susceptible individuals. Therefore, care should be taken especially if an individual has experienced allergic reactions with other woods or wood dust.
Complete information about health hazards associated with a wide variety of exotic hardwoods is available from The Wood Database along with additional information about the best use of a dust collection system, coupled with the use of personal protective equipment such as respirators, which is highly recommended when machining this wood. Fortunately, I have never experienced any negative side effects from working with Quina.
The species to which Quina belongs can become a highly invasive species when introduced into tropical countries where it is not native. In Sri Lanka it has overgrown several areas of a nature sanctuary and is rapidly spreading there.
The tree has also been introduced to several Pacific islands such as Fiji and to Indonesia and is a potential ecological threat there.
As always, the introduction of non-native plants, especially to tropical areas where growth is rapid, is frequently problematic and should only be undertaken in consultation with qualified local professionals.
My Personal Experiences
Personally I enjoyed working with Quina immensely and have added it to a very short list of tropical woods that I would be pleased to work with again in the future, especially in a bowl sized pieces if available. I enjoyed the spicy scent while working with the wood and thought that it produced an attractive finished product with minimal trouble, no doubt in part due to the excellent functionality and replaceablity of my Easy Wood Tools carbide tips!