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Wenge: a tough act to follow.

"Hard," "exotic" and "quite attractive" are words often used to describe wenge. But despite its popularity 10 to 15 years ago, especially in Europe, it is rarely used much in North America except for specialty items, turnery and architectural uses.

Ulli Kaempfe, export sales manager for Interforest Ltd., based in Durham, Ontario, Canada, said he sees "almost no inquiries for the wood, which is actually quite attractive and warm."

One reason could be because wenge is a tough wood to deal with from start to finish because of its open pore nature, Kaempfe said. Another drawback to using wenge is its tendency to change color in the sunlight. Kaempfe said that the wood can fade to a gray color in constant light. However, improved finishing techniques could probably minimize that tendency.

Lahti, or white wenge as it is sometimes called, is sometimes used as a substitute. Lahti can be stained to look like the darker wood, but does not demonstrate the tendency to fade to gray, as does wenge, said Kaempfe. Lahti, he added, is "color-proof."

Shockingly tough

An expensive exotic, wenge is readily available, although not used with regularity.

Wenge is known for its high natural abrasion resistance, making it an excellent choice for flooring. However, wenge yields a dark-colored floor as compared with other flooring woods, such as oak.

It is also a good choice for general construction work and interior and exterior joinery. Wenge is extremely well suited to turnery and for wood sculpting. Wenge is sometimes used as a substitute for hickory to make sports equipment and specialty items.

As a heavy wood, it is not recommended for use in plywood. However, this dark-toned wood is sliced for architectural uses such as paneling, and for fancy veneer work for marquetry and cabinetry.

The panga connection

Wenge is a product of Zaire, Cameroon and Gaboon. A wood that is quite similar, panga-panga, comes from Mozambique. These closely related Millettia species are from the Family Leguminosae.

Wenge is a dark wood. The clearly defined heartwood is dark brown with closely spaced black veins throughout. Also closely spaced are light bands of parenchyma -- the wood's soft tissue that distributes and stores carbohydrates -- which give the wood a distinctive and attractive look.

Panga-panga has a slightly different look. The heartwood is a dark chocolate-brown with prominent bands of light and dark parenchyma bands, giving it a distinctive and pleasing figure.

Wenge and panga-panga are coarse textured and fibrous woods. When the veneer is sliced, it takes expertise to keep the pores closed with no open, rough edges. If they open or become rough, glue will come through. It takes time to bring wenge up to its best color. When sliced it is creamy beige; in time, the wood will turn a dark brown. Experts say that it takes lots of work to obtain an acceptable finish and the edges can be particularly hard to sand.

Of the two woods, panga-panga is the easier to dry, seasoning well with little degrade. Experts recommend a slow drying schedule for wenge; kiln schedule T6-D2 is recommended for 4/4 stock, T3-D1 is recommended for 8/4 stock. Both have small movement in service.

Panga-panga is used frequently for flooring in public buildings, hotels, showrooms and offices. It is also used for interior and exterior joinery and for general construction. Like wenge, it is sliced for veneer for architectural purposes.

Panga-panga will blunt cutting surfaces, so experts recommend a reduced cutting angle when planing or shaping. The natural resin cells of the wood also tend to interfere with the gluing process. Pre-boring is recommended for nails. Panga-panga's grain should be filled before finishing. Like wenge, it is just too heavy a wood for use in plywood but it is a popular choice for turnery.

Family Names

Millettia laurentii (wenge) Millettia stuhlmannii (panga-panga) of the Family Leguminosae

Other names

Wenge: palissandre du Congo, dikela, mibotu, bokonge, tshikalakala, awong, nson-so. Panga-panga: mpande.

Weight/height

Wenge: 60 to 90 feet with diameters of 2, 3 and 4 feet. Boles usually straight and unbuttressed. Weight averages 55 pounds per cubic foot seasoned. Specific gravity: 0.88

Panga-panga: weight is 52-62 pounds per cubic foot seasoned. Basic specific gravity: 0.65 to 0.78; air-dry density 50 to 60 pcf.

Mechanical properties

Both woods dry slowly; need care to avoid surface checking. Stable in service with high bending strength (wenge) and resistance to shock loads.

Low steam bending classifications. Wenge is durable and resistant to termites.
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Copyright 1993, 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
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Words:747
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