Redheart, as the name implies, is a unique wood with a beautifully deep red color, in some specimens, making it a wood that is very popular with wood turners and other artisans attracted to its deep and vibrant coloration.
The naming of Redheart is uncertain and it may not be possible for anyone specimen to be identified to the species level short of having DNA analysis performed, a procedure which is generally not warranted for most users. In addition to the common name of Redheart, some users and vendors may also refer to Chakte Kok. Redheart is properly and scientifically known as Erythroxylon spp., often believed to be E. mexicanum. Some specimens sold as Redheart may in fact be more properly known as Simira spp. (synonymous with Sickingia spp.). In the end, these distinctions are generally of scientific interest only and should not in any way affect the experience the wood turner has when working with specimens of Redheart.
The tree is widely distributed throughout the tropical Americas from southern Mexico to as far south as Paraguay.
Redheart is aptly named, since in some instances freshly surfaced wood can be a very bright, watermelon red. However the color can vary in intensity and depth from board to board. Colors ranging from a light orange/pink, similar to Pink Ivory, up to a darker brownish red are all possible. In some cases, it can look quite similar to Bloodwood, though usually with a more visible and figured grain pattern. Redheart’s vibrant color quickly fades to a reddish brown in direct sunlight, but fortunately, there are some well-known and relatively simple means by which color change in exotic lumber can be prevented or slowed.
Redheart has very small pores, and a fine, even texture. The grain is usually straight, but pieces with wild or curly grain are sometimes seen. The end grain is diffuse and porous.
Redheart is rated as moderately durable in the face of attack by decay fungi, however, its resistance to insect attack is seemingly unknown, however, these factors should not be largely relevant for the purposes for which the wood is commonly employed.
Redheart has good working characteristics. The wood planes, machines, and sands well. In addition to these positive attributes, Redheart also turns, glues, and finishes well. As noted, color shift is to be expected if measures are not taken to minimize, if not prevent, this effect. Some users have noted that the wood tends to burn easily in operations such as drilling. The use of very sharp, high quality tools, coupled with patience, should reduce the incidence of this issue.
Some users report that the wood has a distinctive rubbery scent when being worked, although I canot claim to have experienced this myself.
I have turned the wood while still damp in the interior and was pleased to discover that although drying was rapid following hollowing and exterior turning, the wood displayed zero tendency to crack or check along grain, or other, lines, nor was warping an issue. I can’t predict how other specimens would react, but these results were certainly encouraging.
Redheart seems to not be rare as it is rather widely available from exotic wood dealers and the prices are moderate in comparison to some other commonly used exotic woods. Pen blanks can be purchased for $1.25 to $1.50 each, while a more substantial bowl blank size measuring 8”x8”x3” retails for slightly over $40 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 Redheart in stock as it is a relatively common exotic wood in dealers stock, as noted above. 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.
Because of its color and price, Redheart is most often used in small decorative capacities such as in custom turned objects such as bowls and pens. The wood may also be used in inlay or veneer work as well. Some makers of fine furniture may choose to use the wood because of its unique coloration, although most prefer Bloodwood instead because of its lower price, similar color, and higher strength. I have found no references to Redheart being used for flooring, but it would certainly create a striking, if not overwhelming, room accent!
Severe negative allergic reactions are unreported but Redheart could potentially cause reactions in sensitive individuals. Therefore, care should be taken by all users, especially if an individual has experienced allergic reactions with other woods or wood dust.