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Lacewood: a common name for an uncommon wood.

Lacewood: A common name for an uncommon wood.

The term lacewood has been appropriated by several species of woods, both as a common and commercial name. For example, lacewood is often used to refer to Australian silky oak and the Brazilian grown louro faixa (Carvalho Brasiileiro.)

But it is also the name given to the quartered European plane from a completely different species, Platanus hybrida. Selected logs of European plane are cut to produce lacewood, a highly decorative wood that is traditionally used for paneling, interiors and fine furniture pieces.

For this article, lacewood will refer to the species Cardwellia sublimis, also called silky oak, selano, northern silky oak or Queensland silky oak, referring to the area of growth in Australia. Silky oak is often written in quotation marks because the tree is not considered a true oak of the genus Quercus. Lacewood sold commercially in the United States also includes the related species Grevillea robusta, known also as southern silky oak, both of the family Proteaceae.

Silky oak gains popularity from

|Down Under'

Silky oak is native to eastern Australia, but the tree has been planted extensively around the globe. In addition to its lumber uses, it has been planted to provide shade for coffee and tea plantations in tropical and subtropical areas and is also popular as an ornamental tree.

The name refers to its physical resemblance to oak. The term silky oak originally applied to a number of species of trees native to Australia and New Zealand, including Grevillea robusta, which is also found in New South Wales, and Cardwellia sublimis. Both natives of Queensland, these species are similar in appearance; both are large trees, growing as tall as 120 feet with diameters averaging 4 feet.

In Australia, silky oak is used as a softwood substitute for shutters and other building materials. Other uses for the species include: joinery, furniture, parquet flooring, decorative veneers, turnery and some light construction.

A tree by any other name...

Dr. Regis Miller, project leader for the Center for Wood Anatomy Research, U.S. Forest Products Laboratory, Madison Wis., said the confusion over the term lacewood is typical when zeroing in on the proper names versus trade names.

According to Miller, one theory for the similar trade names is that immigrants from Europe thought the Australian varieties were similar to European species, and hence gave them the same name. "Tasmanian oak, silky oak and others are not true oaks, but they may have looked like an oak and hence the name," he explained. Dr. Miller said he considers Grevillea the silky oak and Cardwellia the lacewood. He said the big rays of the wood cut on the quarter give it a lacy look, which accounts for the name lacewood.

Lacewood growing in popularity

The wood is not widely used, but is growing in popularity. When freshly cut it is pink to reddish brown and has large, oak-like rays. Quarter-cut silky oak gives a beautiful silver-grain figure. Occasionally gum duct lines are visible. It usually has a straight grain but the wavy figure can produce a very attractive look. Cardwellia's texture is coarse, but even, with an average weight of 34 pounds per cubic foot. Grevillea robusta has an average weight of 36 pounds per cubic foot.

Silky oak, or lacewood as it is known when quarter sliced, can be a difficult wood to dry; it dries slowly with slight distortion. Other problems include surface checking, splitting and cupping in wide flat sawn boards. Experts say the wood will season well in 4/4 stock but problems increase with thicker stock. They recommend careful slow air drying followed by a mild kiln schedule to avoid problems such as honeycombing. The Forest Products Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests kiln schedule T3-C2 for 4/4 stock and T3-C-1 for 8/4 stock.

Lacewood and silky oak sapwood is vulnerable to attack by the powder post beetle. Its heartwood is moderately durable and resistant to preservative treatment. The wood is considered below par for strength in the categories that rate its density for bending and compression. However, it will steam bend well.

Also, silky oak/lacewood gets high marks for machinability and is considered easy to work with both hand tools and machinery. For best results, cutting angles reduced to 20 degrees are recommended when planing or moulding. Lacewood is described as a naturally lustrous wood that can be nailed, screwed and glued with no problems. It stains easily and can be finished satisfactorily.

Distributors speak of uses

Doug Newhouse, general manager of William L. Marshall Ltd., Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., said lacewood is sold in both veneer and lumber for a variety of uses, among them trim and moulding. He added that lacewood is slightly more expensive than mahogany.

Jim Martin, president of Marwood Inc., Jeffersonville, Ind., said his company gets its supplies of lacewood from Brazil, but has used the Australian silky oak lacewood in the past. He said both are very attractive veneers and are used in such installations as paneling and store fixtures. He said he has seen a slight increase in popularity of this wood, which he attributed to the trend toward lighter colored woods. He described the lacewood figure as a pebble, button or flake.

Jim Summerlian, head of Sumwood Inc., Palos Verdes, Calif., has also sold both varieties. He said he finds it easier to get the widths and lengths needed from Brazil because of availability and the lower freight costs. "We have been selling the Carvalho Brasileiro for a few years and it has the look of the traditional lacewood."

Ekke Hoppe of the M. Bohlke Veneer Corp., Fairfield, Ohio, also said his company sells the Australian lacewood and Brazilian variety, louro faixa. "We sell both, but getting the supplies from Australia has been difficult because some of the wood is ecologically protected. We have used more of the Grevillea than Cardwellia when getting lacewood from Australia."

Hoppe said inquiries and requests for lacewood have increased in the last two to three years because it seems to be a favorite with architects. "You will never see large quantities of lacewood. It might be used for one or two rooms for paneling and trim or on a piece of furniture, but never in volume. It is always quarter sliced, too." Hoppe said the wood arrives cut in flitches of paneling length.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Wood of the Month
Author:Kaiser, Jo-Ann
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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