By Joshua Farnsworth

Earlier this year my friend gave me a truck load of incredible 8/4 exotic lumber. Great friend, right? He told me that the boards were given to him by a fellow member of the military at his previous station. His military friend had apparently brought it with him when he moved back from living in Africa. So these boards have been sitting in my workshop for months, just tempting me to find out what they are. But I wanted to wait until I could share the moment with all of you! You can watch the video above to see me handplaning a section of one of the boards.

Exotic hardwood lumber sample boards for identification three boards

In the video you’ll see that my suspicions were confirmed: I had no idea what this wood was! I’m definitely not an expert on exotic lumber, as I use mostly lumber cut here in Virginia. So I went to my go-to source, The Wood Database, which is the most well-known source for wood identification on the internet. It was created by Eric Meier, author of the very detailed book: “WOOD! Identifying and Using Hundreds of Woods Worldwide“. You can (find it here).

Book cover WOOD! Identifying and Using Hundreds of Woods Worldwide by Eric Meier

He’s also the creator of the cool “Periodic Table of Wood” poster that a lot of you have probably seen (see it here).

I was able to find several possible species on The Wood Database, but wanted some more help because of the difficulty of identifying this wood. Eric had previously agreed to help me identify the lumber, so when I couldn’t figure out the species, I made up sample boards from three of the boards in the stack and sent the photos to Eric. As of today, he is still working with a British friend who works with a lot of African lumber species. So I don’t currently know the species. But if you are able to help identify the lumber, you’ll get kudos!

Joshua Farnsworth's hand on a Stanley No. 4 1/2 smoothing plane handplaning an exotic lumber board

Below I’ve added detailed photos of all three sample boards. Click on them for larger views. I handplaned the board faces (except for sample C…I’ll tell you why below), and finely sanded the end grain. I then added walnut oil to the board faces and end grain to make the identification easier. I tried to match my camera’s white balance to make the images as close to the actual color as possible. Here are some of the characteristics that I shared with Eric:

  • The lumber is very heavy (heavier than oak)
  • The lumber is fairly difficlut to plaine due to it’s hardness, but the flat-sawn boards don’t tear out much
  • Small cutoffs from the boards didn’t sink in water
  • I couldn’t sense any strong odor when handsawing, handplaning, or sanding. Just a mild smell.
  • The end grain appears to be very dense

Here are some closeup images of the different sample boards:

Sample from Board A

Exotic hardwood lumber sample boards for identification face grain

This first sample board was cut from the board that I handplaned in the video. These first two images show the face grain of the flat sawn board. The flat sawn samples (A and B) handplane fairly well, without much tearout or reversing grain.

Exotic hardwood lumber sample boards for identification face grain closeup

As you can see the end grain is quite dense:

Exotic hardwood lumber sample boards for identification end grain

Keep scrolling down to see sample boards B and C:

Sample from Board B

Exotic hardwood lumber sample boards for identification face grain

Sample board B looks a bit different because of the dark streaks on the face of the board. For this reason I initially thought that this board is a different species from board A. However, after Eric saw these photographs, he thinks board B is the same species as board A. Here’s a closer view of board B’s face grain:

Exotic hardwood lumber sample boards for identification face grain closeup

And here is the end grain of sample board B:

Exotic hardwood lumber sample boards for identification end grain

Sample from Board C

Exotic hardwood lumber sample boards for identification face grain

And finally, here is sample board C, which looks quite different from both sample boards A and B. It does have somewhat similar dark stripes to sample B.

Exotic hardwood lumber sample boards for identification face grain

This sample board was difficult to handplane, because of how the grain reverses, so I just flattened it on the spiral cutterheads of my power jointer before I rubbed it with the Walnut oil. Aside from faint machine marks, the grain is still quite visible.

The difficulty in handplaning I attribute to the strange figure that results from this being a quartersawn board. The alternating reversing grain of this wood is similar to some quartersawn Sapele that I handplaned a while ago. You can see the vertical end grain in the photo below which shows that it is quartersawn:

Exotic hardwood lumber sample boards for identification end grain

Eric also feels that this board is the same species as samples A and B. So what do you think this board is? Please comment at the bottom of this page with suggestions or questions. You can also check back in a few days to see if we’ve discovered what the species of this wood is!

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