Guide to Zebrawood

If you purchase a product through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission. Details

Zebrawood is, also known as Zebrano, is documented as far as the year 1773 when the world came to know about this striking type of wood. It is well-known for its unique zebra-like stripes throughout the wood grain.

Zebrawood comes from a tree that is native to Africa. In 1773, 100 pieces of zebrawood were imported to Britain from the Mosquito Coast in present-day Honduras and Nicaragua. Since those days, zebrawood has always enjoyed popularity, and it is considered one of the more affordable but rare exotic woods in the world.

Zebrawood: Background

Wood surface, zebrawood/zebrano (Microberlinia) - vertical lines

This wood grows in the central part of West Africa in the rainforests of The Congo, Cameroon, and Gabon. The trees grow mostly along riversides and streams, and the trees grow to 130 feet, with tree trunks reaching a diameter of up to 5 feet.

Zebrano is a moderately hard but extremely flexible wood with good physical properties. It does not dry quickly, and you need to carry out the process very slowly and evenly.

Today zebrawood is very rare, and it is considered an endangered wood species. Although reforesting is being done on a war footing, illegal harvesting of this wood continues.

Zebrano is one of the dark, exotic woods sought after by woodworkers throughout the world. The wood is popular for furniture, making veneer, and architectural millwork. You will also find it used in flush doors, marquetry, paneling, and cabinetry.

It entered the market with its popularity for car dashboards about 20 years ago. People liked the classic natural wood finish. Even if dashboards may not be made of wood today, zebrawood patterns still enjoy wide popularity in automobile interiors.

Zebrawood serves as a suitable accent wood, and the strong pattern creates a sharp contrast wherever it is used. Woodworkers use it for smaller items where border work is done, and they also use it for diamond pattern matching.

Zebrawood: Appearance

Texture of zebrano, wooden background

As mentioned above, zebrawood is characterized by its zebra-like wood grain pattern. The heartwood is light brown or cream with extremely dark streaks, making the wood resemble a zebra’s stripes.

It has a heartwood of golden yellow with darker streaks of dark brown and black. The contrasting pattern is characteristic to zebrawood but other than the species Microberlinia brazzavillensis, which is zebrawood, you will also find it in related species like Microberlinia bisulcat.

For the varying appearance of this wood, a lot depends on how it is cut – whether it is flatsawn or quartersawn. The wood grain is coarse with open pores, and you will see a wavy or interlocked grain pattern.

Zebrawood: Durability

Further to its striking looks, zebrawood is classified as a durable type of wood. Once appropriately dried Zebrano exhibits high resistance to insect attack. The wood is highly resinous and has a fair degree of water resistance. It is moderately hard with a Janka Hardness rating of 1,830 lbf.

Zebrawood: Maintenance

Zebrano is a slightly tricky type of wood to maintain, and it is a highly resinous wood giving it an oily texture. Due to this property, it resembles teak in texture. You can use teak oil for maintaining Zebrano, and it serves to harden the surface, provide protection, and enhance the look of the wood.

Before applying finishing oil, it is good to add some clear filler to fill the somewhat open pores and coarse wood grain ridges. Tung oil is also a good option. Once done, a layer of furniture wax should complete the finishing process nicely. Instead of oil, you can use polyurethane, imparting a clear, smooth, but harder finish.

A word of caution here. When you buy tung oil, ensure that it is pure tung oil and not a mixture of oils and additives containing some tung oil. With pure tung oil, you will get a fine, oiled finish.

Waxing is optional, and without waxing it, you can wipe the wood down lightly with some lemon oil for wood finishes, which somewhat restores the appearance of the wood. It also replenishes any wood’s natural oil that may have become depleted due to evaporation.

Zebrawood: Workability and Uses

tenor ukulele made of zebrawood on aged wood background

Even if you procure high-grade zebrawood, it is brittle and tends to chip. A major consideration while procuring this wood is to avoid getting buttress stock. Buttress stock is the region of the lumber near the root.

Zebrano commonly grows in swampy regions, resulting in a high buttress area. It is a rare wood, so loggers try to get the most out of the log, resulting in a large area of buttress stock processing.

The buttress region of the lumber tends to be brittle, and it also has a considerable level of longitudinal shrinkage. It is easy to identify buttress stock from the regular parts of the log. You will see fine grain cross-checks, and the wood is a bit softer too.

Buttress stock does not exhibit as striking color contrast as the rest of the wood. If you suspect that Zebrano is from buttress stock, avoid using it. If you do, avoid installing it in a prominent place, and do not use it in combination with the normal stock.

Being a moderately hard type of wood, zebrano is a dense and strong type of wood. It is popularly used for making veneer, but you need to care while cutting it due to the high resin content. You may need to steam the wood before working it for flat-sawn processing.

We use zebrawood to make kitchen islands, and it makes an attractive-looking centerpiece in a kitchen, imparting a modernistic look. Zebrano makes suitable cabinets, decorative panels, and high-end cigar boxes. We also use it in molding work.

Zebrawood: Price

Zebrano is among the more expensive woods but typically not as expensive as other exotic types of wood such as rosewood, ebony, and in some cases, even teak.

The main reason this wood becomes so exorbitantly expensive is its scarcity and demand for use as an accent wood. The civil wars in West Africa led to further shooting up the price of Zebrano.

Today, zebrawood enjoys wide popularity and other darker woods like Brazilian walnut, Ipe, and wenge.

Zebrawood: Sustainability

Zebrawood does not feature in the CITES Appendices. However, it appears on the IUCN Red List. It is considered vulnerable as its population has reduced by 20% over the last three generations.

Zebrawood: Summary



Botanical name Microberlinia brazzavillensis
Color Straw-like color with dark streaks
Durability  Fairly Durable
Hardness (Janka Scale)  1,830 lbf.
Strength  Moderately strong
Maintenance  A bit tricky to maintain
Price Quite expensive
Suitability for outdoors No
Suitability for wood carving No
Workability It saws well but challenging to plane
Smell The unpleasant smell while working
Availability Scarce

Zebrawood is among one of the cheaper exotic woods that you can find. But that is not to say that you can procure it quickly, and the wood is also not that easy to work or maintain.

However, we have provided useful tips for working with zebrawood and maintaining it. If you can procure some of this exotic wood, you would do well to plan some interesting woodworking projects. Any woodworking project that uses zebrawood promises to be a fruitful one indeed!