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Red ivorywood: rarer than diamonds.

Red ivorywood has some interesting lore and is a very protected species. Supposedly, this wood is considered as rare as diamonds and as difficult to find. Albert Constantine Jr., calls the wood "the royal wood of the Zulus," in his book "Know Your Woods."

"It may be cut only by the chief of the tribe and his sons. When a chief's son is able to fell a tree and fashion a spear from the wood, he is considered to have reached manhood. Any other member of the tribe who cuts or possesses the wood is subject to death," according to Constantine.

The tree grows in south and south east Africa, particularly in Mozambique. Its availability is listed as rare. Its uses include furniture and interior joinery. Because of its strength properties, it is used for such utilitarian purposes as light-duty flooring, vehicle bodies and mining timber.

It is a very popular choice for carving and turnery. Red ivorywood is used for small items such as wooden jewelry and chess pieces. It is also used to make instruments and for inlay work. Red ivorywood has a very attractive rope figure. Because of this, the best logs are cut for architectural uses such as panelling and decorative veneer.

A tree of many names

Red ivorywood or pink ivory, as it is also known, is a medium-sized tree wit heights averaging from 20 to 40 feet. The tree can be identified by its small black berries which resemble the fruit of the buckthorn tree.

While its commercial and common names in the U.S. market include red ivorywood and pink ivory, it is no relative to another wood known as ivorywood. That name belongs to a Brazilian wood, Balfourodendron riedelianum, and is so named because of its resemblance to ivory.

Around the world, this tree goes by a variety of names. In the countries where it grows, it is known by more than half a dozen different names, according to its origin.

For example, in East Africa it is called mnai. In South Africa it is known as umgoloti or umnini. In Zimbabwe it goes by the name m'beza and in Mozambique it is called sungangona. Among its many names in South East Africa are pau preto, mucarane, and mulatchine.

The heartwood of red ivorywood is yellowish brown with a rich, golden red cast, a sort of pink-red striped figure that probably accounts for the name of the tree. Red ivorywood has a fine pore structure and its growth rings alternate in light and dark colors. The wood has a straight to interlocked grain with a moderately fine and even texture.

A tough wood

Red ivorywood is known as a heavyweight contender: it is very hard, very heavy and very tough. It rates high for strength in all categories, but it is not recommended for steam bending. This wood is very hard to season without problems.

Experts recommend a slow kilning schedule or serious distortion can result with high shrinkage. Expect large movement in service with this wood.

Red ivorywood can be tough to work with using hand tools. Medium to severe blunting can result on cutting surfaces and experts recommend keeping all cutting surfaces sharpened and reducing cutting angles to 20 degrees when planning quarter-sawn wood.

For best results, pre-bore when nailing. The wood will hold screws well and will glue satisfactorily. The wood has a natural luster and will stain and finish beautifully. However, this is not an especially durable wood and insects can damage it.

The medicine tree

The sapwood is permeable, but the heartwood is resistant to preservatives. Red ivorywood is a rare species, not widely used or carried by U.S. dealers of exotic veneers. One native American species related and the best known is Rhamnus purshiana, also called cascara sagrada or cascara buckthorn.

The tree, native to the northwestern United States and British Columbia, reaches a maximum height of 40 feet. Its main claim to commercial importance is in the drug made from its bark. The bark is stripped from the trees, dried and sold for use in the making of laxatives and other medicines.

Some four to five million pounds of bark are collected annually from these trees. The word cascara means bark and cascara sagrada is Spanish for holy bark, so named because the Jesuit priests of California were some of the earliest people in the United States to recognize its value for use in medicines.

Family Names

Rhamnus zeyheri of the Family Rhamnaceae

Other Names

Red ivorywood, pink ivory, mnai, umgoloti, umnini, m'beza, mulatchine, apu preto, mucarane, sungangona


Medium size, from 20 to 40 feet high with 7- to 12-inch diameters. Weight approximately 56 pounds per cubic foot; specific gravity 0.90.

Mechanical properties

Difficult to air dry without degrade; kilning should be done very slowly, with-care. Large movement in service. Hard, heavy, tough wood that is very strong. Has low steam bending rating. Wood can only be bent to a large radius of curvature.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Wood of the Month
Author:Kaiser, Jo-ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Insert tooling carves its own niche.
Next Article:Charisma by the square foot.

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