Two Unusual Australian Woods

At some time in the past, I purchased a selection of Australian wood pen blanks and when selecting wood for a rather large production run of stylus pens (for use with electronic touch-screen devices) I decided to use some of them.  I made my own notes as I worked and I am glad I did since these woods seem to be quite mysterious and there is a decided lack of content about them available.  This could be because the woods are rare, although given the pricing I doubt this, or it could more likely be that they are not commonly used for wood working applications, at least not in the United States.  It is also possible that the common names used when selling are not those that are truly common in the areas of origin.  Regardless, I will discuss what I can and hope that others will have experience to share.

Box Cedar

Cedar is a very common name applied to woods across several species.  Genus level representatives include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following: Calocedrus, Cedrela , Cedrus, Chamaecyparis, Cryptomeria, Cupressus, Juniperus, Melia, Thuja, and Toona.  There are least one species in each of these genus categories that is commonly known as a type of Cedar, and in some cases, there are multiple species within a genus listed here.  This gives some sense of the multiple possibilities of accurate identification when confronted with the common name of “cedar.”  The appellation “box” contributed nothing aside from a reference to “Cigar-Box Cedar” which is Spanish in origin and unlikely to be the wood I worked with since it was listed as an Australian wood.  The only “cedar” native to Australia is Toona ciliate and I have to guess that this is the wood I worked with.

Box Cedar Geographical Distribution

Toona is native to southern Asia stretching from Afghanistan south to Papua New Guinea and the subtropical rainforests of Australia in New South Wales and Queensland.  The Australian stocks have been extensively cleared and the wood is essentially commercially exhausted.  However, it grows quickly and trees of up to 1 meter in diameter are harvested from plantations, or from wild stocks still in existence in Papua New Guinea.  Toona finds uses in the Australian furniture industry but is not widely known outside of Australia.

Box Cedar Pricing and Availability

Australian woods tend to be uncommon in the United States marketplace when compared to other exotic hardwoods sourced from Southeast Asia, Africa, and/or Latin America.  I was not able to accurately price specimens and my two pieces were purchased as part of a set and therefore I can’t accurately estimate the cost of each.  Lee Tree Woods in Palmetto, Georgia is a specialist dealer in Australian woods, especially burls, and may have Toona in stock at some times.  If interested in working with Australian woods, including Toona, they would be my go-to source.

Working Characteristics of Box Cedar

The workability characteristics of Toona are not widely discussed and the following are only my impressions.  I found the wood to be relatively soft, which is expected with any type of “cedar.”  Many softer woods, like most “cedars” don’t turn well, but I found that these specimens cut well with lathe tools although there certainly was a great deal of open porosity and some fuzzing which required sanding.  Sanding proved to be quite easy, again, as expected with a relatively soft wood.  There was no appreciable oil content and the wood glued easily.  I expected there to be a characteristic odor of cedar wood but in this case the scent, while sweet, was not remotely similar to the more traditional scent associated with cedar used as blocks or linings in chests, cabinets, or closets.

Overall I found the wood labeled as Box Cedar to be easy to work with  and while it didn’t strike me as a wood that I would go out of my way to find again, neither would I be disinclined to work with it again if the occasion should arise.

Black Acacia

The term “acacia” could refer to any of roughly 1300 species of shrubby plants spread throughout the world in the tropical to warm-temperate regions of both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, including Europe, Africa, Southern Asia, some Pacific Islands, and the Americas.  Perhaps one of the most famous of the Acacia species is the Hawaiian Acacia koa.  The greatest concentration of “acacia” occurs in Australia, to where about 960 are native.  Recent reclassifications have moved most of the non-Australian species to other genus classifications, but for our purposes this is not relevant.  I am confident that the wood labeled Black Acacia that I worked with was sourced from Australia as it was purchased in a set of Australian pen blanks.



The most common Australian timber wood that is a member of the extensive Acacia genus is Acacia melanoxylon, commonly known as the Australian Blackwood, however, the specimen I worked with does not remotely match the given appearance of this hardwood, unless I was working with only the sapwood.  I have a low degree of certainty about this identification.  Those interested in learning more about Australian Blackwood should find information readily available from sources such as The Wood Database.

Also as noted, Australian woods are not commonly sold in the United States and pricing them is difficult, especially since I cannot locate another specific reference to “black acacia” in dealer stocks.  The information provided above regarding specialty dealers applies equally well here.

Since I am not confident of the identification of the wood I worked with, I cannot discuss the workability and durability characteristics reported by others and will only refer to what I personally observed with a limited amount of experience with only two specimens of wood labeled as “black acacia.”  I found the wood to be moderately soft and therefore easy to cut.  The wood presented with a moderate porosity and it sanded to a smooth finish easily.  There was no appreciable oil content and it glued easily.  There was no scent associated with the wood.  In terms of appearance, the wood was quite light in color with black streaks throughout, although there was no other color, character or figure present.

Overall I found the wood labeled as “black acacia” to be easy to work with but it presented a lack of characteristics that would drive me to locate additional specimens to work with again.  Black streaking in wood is easily replicated with other species of which I can be confident of the identification, including spalted domestic woods such as maple, or exotics such as Zebrawood or Wenge.  I don’t regret the experience of working with so-called “black acacia,” but neither am I driven to locate additional stocks.  I a wood worker should have wood labeled as such, or has experience with working it, I would be delighted to hear about their experiences and any additional knowledge regarding identification and origin that they may have available to share.

One Response

  1. Rick