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.
Red River Gum is so named for its brilliant red wood, which can range from a light pink through to almost black, depending on the age and weathering. It is reported to be somewhat brittle and is often cross-grained. It displays a medium porosity and produces little oil.
Red River Gum cuts quite nicely on the lathe and in this respect its hardness is a plus since softer woods tend to not work well with lathe procedures. It presented no problems with gluing operations involving cyanoacrylate. It sanded nicely and achieved a nice smooth finish, albeit with pores still visible but not discernible to the touch. My specimens smelled vaguely of vinegar when being turned and sanded.
Australian woods are not commonly encountered in the United States marketplace. Because of this, I was unable to locate dealers selling Red River Gum and cannot quote a specific price for this particular wood. Mine was purchased as part of a set of Australian wood pen blanks from a national retailer, Woodcraft, who may still sell such sets.
The best dedicated source I am aware of for Australian wood specifically is without question is Lee Tree Wood Works located in Palmetto, Georgia. This is a speciality retailer with a wide selection of Austrailian woods to choose from. The Red River Gum pieces in stock were all burls and these command a considerably higher price than standard turning blanks. While they didn’t have any non-burl pieces at time of inquiry, this stock situation may change and you are encouraged to check with them directly if interested.
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.
Red River Gum wood has traditionally been used in rot resistant applications like fence posts. A more recent development has the been the recognition of the wood as valuable and useful in the manufacture of craft furniture due to its spectacular deep red color and common appearance of interesting figures in the wood. However, Red River Gum requires careful selection, as it tends to be quite reactive to changes in humidity, meaning that the wood will easily move and warp as moisture levels change. Because the wood is quite hard and dense , Red River Gum can take a fine polish and it carves well. It is a popular timber for wood turners, particularly if old and well-seasoned so as to minimize movement and warping. The wood also finds use in fine flooring applications.
Red River Gum is also popular for use as firewood and it also produces a fine charcoal. Such charcoal is actually used in the production of iron and steel in foundries in Brazil.
In addition, the tree is valuable to the apiary industry in both Brazil and Australia where the blossoms feed colonies of honey bees. The honey produced is of a fine color and flavor.
Severe negative allergic reactions are uncommon but many woods have been known to cause reactions in sensitive 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
My Personal Experiences
My personal experience with Red River Gum is quite limited, consisting of only two pen blank size pieces. Most of the Red River Gum available in this country to woodturners is in burl form, which is a very different type of material to work with when compared to standard lumber. I found Red River Gum to be easy to work with and its hardness and density gave it a very nice finish with sharp turning tools. I liked the deep red color of the wood and would be happy to work with it again should supplies become more readily available in the future.