There is very little published data about Suriname Ironwood so I will mostly be sharing my experiences with the wood, making this post different from most about woods I have worked with for the first time.
The scientific naming of Suriname Ironwood is mildly confused with some sources, mostly vendors, claiming it belongs to the Swartzia genus, a genus best represented in this blog by Katalox. However, academic sources show that the name Swartzia prouacensis is a synonym for the more correct Bocoa prouacensis. The wood is native to northern South America as implied by the common name, although its distribution is unlikely to be limited to the nation of Suriname, rather that is likely the most common commercial source of the wood.
As the name implies, Suriname Ironwood is HARD, in fact, it is ranked as the second hardest wood native to South America (since I know you will ask, the hardest of the South American woods is Schinopsis spp. aka Quebracho) and is the eighth hardest wood in the world (the hardest wood in the world is Acacia peuce aka Waddywood from Australia). These rankings for Suriname Ironwood are based on an estimated Janka Hardness of 4,380. This measure is estimated from specific gravity as there is no reported tested value.
This hardness defines everything about working with this wood, and simply put, it is difficult to work with unless you have very sharp and strong tools.
The heartwood is a chocolate brown with darker brown to black streaks. The sapwood is a pale yellow and is sharply demarcated from the heartwood.
Suriname Ironwood is not readily available and I know of only two sources, one of which is Woodcraft, and that is the source from which I obtained mine, but Woodcraft at this time only sells spindle sizes. Amazon Exotic Hardwoods sells spindle sizes as well.
Suriname Ironwood is not listed in the CITES Appendices and it is listed by the IUCN as a species of least concern.
My personal experience of this wood can best be summed up as this: If you have a chance to work with Suriname Ironwood, pull a Nancy Reagan and just say NO! This stuff is a pain in the butt and I just didn’t find that it was worth it. In fact, I had two pieces of this stuff and I threw the second piece out because a screw broke off in it so close to the surface that I couldn’t remove it, my pilot drill got stuck in it as well, and the screws wouldn’t move into the wood so I couldn’t get the face plate mounted flush. ARRRGGGHHHH! And along with this wood’s hardness, it is brittle and prone to chipping along any edge. It is a lot of work for something that just isn’t that special. A very similar look is found in Bocote and that is a wood that is easy to work with. Granted, it isn’t as hard but if you are after visual appeal rather than chasing record holders, it is a very viable choice.
In the end, in spite of it all, if you decide to give Suriname Ironwood a whirl I certainly wish you luck but I am not signing up for it again.
My finished piece measures 5.5″ x 1.5″.
All major cuts were made using the Easy Wood Tool system on my Robust American Beauty lathe, although I do use Robert Sorby bowl gouges for light final passes before sanding. Forward chucking was in a Nova Chuck, while reverse chucking was done using a Nova Chuck with Cole Jaws. Sanding was with Gold and Green Wave sanding discs as well as Abranet screens from Packard Woodworks. Final finish is Shellawax.