Types of Tigerwood


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Tigerwood has several names such as muiracatiara, zorrowood, boroto, courbaril, African walnut, Congo wood, and Brazilian koa. Those using the term “tigerwood” might refer to  Coula edulis, a west African tree, Lovoa trichilioides, African, or Goncalo alves from South America.

Tigerwood comes under several different categories of wood and as many different names. So, identification of this wood can be extremely confusing even for experienced woodworkers who have to procure it for use in their various projects. Here, we look at the various types of tigerwood so you can use it as required.

The species of tigerwood that we discuss in this article are evergreens that grow in subtropical or tropical conditions. The color of the wood varies from region to region, but the striking grain pattern of the wood remains more or less constant.

Background: Tigerwood

Backdrop or background wooden. Tiger tree.

Tigerwood is one of the unique types of hardwood, which makes good flooring and furniture. In addition, the wood is good for indoor use, and the natural grain patterns eliminate the need to apply stain to it.

It is among the most durable, stable, and dense hardwoods and has a smooth, natural luster when cut. The cut wood has a metallic, oily appearance which makes the wood so attractive and sought-after.

Tigerwood only rose into prominence in the 1900s when it appeared in the United States. Before that, the wood only served to make musical instruments such as violins and pipe organs.

From the 1900s onwards, tigerwood became the preferred choice for several outdoor applications like outdoor furniture, boats, and decking. The wood is hard, measuring up to 2,160 lbf, on the Janka hardness scale.

Tigerwood grown in Brazil has a high specific gravity, and being so dense, has an inherent resistance to decay and rot. This durability property makes it suitable for use in homes for flooring, furniture, and wood veneers.

This wood also has moderate resistance to wear and tear and has excellent air-drying properties. In addition, it has exceptional dimensional stability, which means that under extreme weather conditions, it exhibits minimal contraction or swelling. This property makes it a preferred flooring.

Types of Tigerwood

We call several varieties of tigerwood, which you will find growing in South America and Africa. Here are a few primary types of tigerwood that you may come across in the United States and that you can procure easily, although they may not be native to the U.S.:

African Walnut (Lovoa Trichilioides)

African Walnut , wood
Image Credit: Jean-Pierre Chéreau & Roger Culos via Creative Commons

You will find these evergreen trees growing in West Tropical Africa. African walnut trees grow up to a height of 150 feet and with tree trunks of up to 4 feet in diameter.

The heartwood has a golden-yellow to reddish-brown color but can also have dark streaks. The wood tends to become dark over time. The sapwood is medium yellow or light grey, and there is a clear distinction between the heartwood and sapwood.

African walnut has a straight to interlocked wood grain with a uniform texture and a high luster. The wood is moderately durable and is resistant to certain insects but susceptible to termites.

This wood is moderately hard with a Janka hardness rating of 940 lbf. You will find it easy to work with using machine and hand tools, but the wood is prone to tearout when working in interlocking grains. However, the wood turns, finishes, and glues quite well.

We use African walnut for making veneer, plywood, flooring, furniture, cabinetry, and turned objects.

Goncalo Alves (A. graveolens and A. fraxinifolium)

Single Piece of Goncalo Alves 1/4" x 3" x 24"
Single Piece of Goncalo Alves 1/4″ x 3″ x 24″ (Image: Amazon)

Also called tigerwood and jobillo, Goncalo Alves grows between Mexico and Brazil and in Paraguay and Uruguay. The trees grow up to 130 feet with tree trunk diameters of up to 5 feet.

Goncalo Alves is light golden brown to reddish-brown and may have some dark brown streaks. In addition, the wood is richly mottled, which makes it often compared to rosewood.

The wood is heavy with tight, interlocked grains with a medium to fine texture. It also has a smooth, glass-like finish, making it a preferred wood for use in interiors of homes.

This wood is difficult to work with because it is quite hard with a Janka hardness rating of 2,170 lbf. It has a blunting effect on cutting blades but, once worked, produces satisfactory results.

Goncalo Alves takes glue well, but if you are going to drive nails and screws into it, you should drill a pilot hole first.

We use Goncalo Alves to make flooring, veneers, furniture, cabinetry, carving, turned objects, and other small wood specialty objects such as pool cues, archery bows, and knife handles.

According to furniture and wood experts, you should treat the surface of Goncalo Alves with a solvent before gluing. It simplifies the process and facilitates the development of high natural polish on finishing.

Zebrawood (Microberlinia brazzavillensis)

beatiful tenor ukulele made of zebrawood

You will find this wood growing in West Africa. Zebrawood or zebrano trees grow as high as 130 feet with a tree trunk diameter of 5 feet.

The heartwood is light brown to cream with contrasting dark black or brown streaks, which resemble zebra’s stripes. The wood grain pattern varies according to how the wood is cut, whether flatsawn or quartersawn.

The wood grain is coarse with open pores with a wavy or interlocked pattern. As a result, the heartwood is fairly resistant to insect attack.

Zebrawood is moderately hard with a Janka hardness rating of 1,830 lbf.  It saws well, but planing can prove difficult due to the interlocking grain, which also leads to frequent tearout.

We use zebra wood for making veneer, tool handles, furniture, skis, and boatbuilding.

Conclusion

When we talk about tigerwood, several overlapping categories make this a difficult wood to identify. There are a few more varieties of wood considered under the tigerwood category.

But we have only considered these three species because adding more wood varieties to the mix would only add to the confusion. The information provided here should set you on the right foot for identifying, procuring, and using tigerwood.

We hope you can now use this striking wood in your next woodworking project to create a visual feast in wood and revel in the satisfaction it brings.

Happy Woodworking!