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Goncalo alves: beauty but not much demand.

With its "regal" looks and striped appearance, it is easy to see why Goncalo alves was often mistakenly called tigerwood, zebrawood and kingwood.

"People unfamiliar with this stripey wood gave it these inaccurate names, which were already used for totally different woods. It was called kingwood, because it's a beautiful and proud wood, but that name also refers to another wood," said Jim Dumas, owner of Certainly Wood in East Aurora, N.Y. The names zebrawood, tigerwood, and kingwood have not been used as references for goncalo alves since the 1940s/1950s, he added

Small-piece popularity

Most of what is sold in the United States comes from Brazil. However, the tree's growth range spans from southern Mexico into Central America and through the Amazon Basin. It grows plentifully in Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, in addition to Brazil.

Certainly Wood carries supplies of goncalo alves in lumber and veneer, with veneer being the most requested form. However, Dumas said, goncalo alves has peaked in popularity as an architectural wood, and is currently used mostly for small pieces. His most recent orders have been used to produce pistol grips and matching pistol boxes.

While goncalo alves is a striking wood, is does pose problems. "It is an oily wood and gluing is difficult. Nailing can also be a problem. Although the wood finishes beautifully, with a wonderful natural sheen and polish, it can be brittle and crack. It ages better in small items," he said.

Dumas said he has seen it used for pens, knife handles, brush backs and pistol grips and other small items that do not require gluing. Because of its natural waxy, oily nature, Dumas said it can be washed over and over, without problems.

Other uses

In the lands where the wood is indigenous, it is used for utilitarian purposes such as railroad ties and structural beams. "I wouldn't use it for construction purposes, when it would need to be nailed. It is stiff and strong but nailing can be difficult," said Dumas.

With its primary use diminished to small, specialty items, prices have also dropped, reflecting an overall lack of demand, Dumas explained.

Al Matulevich, architectural department manager for David R. Webb in Edinburgh, Ind., agrees there is little demand for goncalo alves, although his company recently sold a flitch to an architectural woodworking firm. "We inventory less than 50,000 feet here," he said.

A heavy hitter

Goncalo alves is a very heavy wood, comparable to Rhodesian teak. Its many uses include construction timber and flooring. It is also used for decorative high-end uses such as fine furniture and cabinetry. The wood can be polished to a beautiful, glass-like appearance.

Goncalo alves is often cut for decorative veneers and for inlays. With its striking figure, goncalo alves can be combined with other woods for a dramatic look. Its uses include paneling and specialty items, among them knife handles, brush backs, billiard cue butts and archery bows. It is used for piano dampers and also for carving and turnery.

Dumas said it is a dense, hard wood and will carve beautifully when used by experienced carvers. "I have seen some beautiful intricate carvings done in goncalo alves," he said.

Goncalo alves has many of the same decorative uses as other exotics like macassar ebony and rosewood. Goncalo alves, like rosewood, was a favorite of the French furniture makers in the heyday of the ostentatious furniture

designed for kings, which probably explains the name kingwood.

Goncalo alves changes color after it is cut. The freshly cut heartwood is "russet brown, orange brown or reddish brown to red with narrow to wide irregular stripes of medium to very dark brown," according to the Forest Service Handbook on Tropical Timbers of the World. After exposure the wood darkens consistently.

Durable wood

Experts do not always agree on whether this is an easy to work with wood. Some say that despite its high density, it finishes well. Others say it has a moderate blunting effect on tools and cutting edges must be kept sharp. Gluing can be difficult. William Lincoln in "World Woods In Color," cautions, "The contrasting layers of hard and soft material together with irregular or interlocked grain requires a reduced cutting angle of 15 degrees for best results." Pre-boring is recommended for nailing. Experts save the superlatives for the finish one can achieve with goncalo alves and the wood polishes to a natural, high sheen.

Goncalo alves is an extremely durable wood with a natural resistance to predators like beetles and to fungal attack. Matulevich said he has seen some supplies with worm holes similar to rosewood, but added that it is not considered a defect to most people when purchasing the wood. "It is considered more of a character marking," he said.

The U.S.D.A. Forest Service said that in laboratory tests, goncalo alves' heart-wood was very resistant to white-rot and brown-rot organisms.

Family Names

Astronium fraxinifolium and Astronium graveolens of the Family Anacardiaceae

Other names

Kingwood, tigerwood, zebrawood, bosona, palo de cera, palo de culegra, gusanero, gateado, guarita, guasango, urunday-para, mura, bois de zebre, chibatao and aderno.


Average height 75 feet, although some to 120 feet with 2 to 3 foot diameters. Average weight 59 pounds per cubic foot, seasoned. Specific gravity .95.


Moderately difficult to season. Problems include crook and bow, tendency to twist, slight checking. Air dries at fast to moderate rate; kiln schedule: T3-C2.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Wood of the Month
Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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