Exotic Hardwood: Cabinets, Flooring, Decking, Furniture

Wider usage of exotic wood species in residential applications is one fantastic result of two major trends converging. The first has to do with the people who the homeowner. Market researchers describe “the new consumers,” as being more concerned with long-lasting value than convenience. Clients are willing to invest a larger budget, but they purchase with more care and thought. They think about the life-cycle of products and materials, and will pay more for products they feel good about. There is a renewed appreciation for craftsmanship. While it would be easy to connect the economic downturn of recent history to this shift in buying philosophy, this change of sensibility is a part of a more legitimate trend that has been evolving over the past decade and increasing the demand for exotic wood species.

The second trend has to do with the people within the building trades. Architectural curriculum increasingly includes construction training. As a result, architects and designers have better material sensibility which translates to more practical designs. Many firms partner with trusted craftsmen or offer “design/build” services, where the same company functions as both the architect and the contractor. This has advantages for both the design professional and the homeowner in terms of tighter control over the quality of the end product, where once again, exotic wood species benefit.

There are countless species of exotic hardwoods. Today we take a quick look into a few:

African Mahogany (Khaya ivorensis)

Khaya ivorensis typically grows in drier climates. It can be found in lowland rainforest that have a short dry season. It grows in groups or singly. It does not have many demands to survive because it can tolerate some shade and short periods of flood during rainy seasons. It is mostly found in West Africa and southern Nigeria.

African Mahogany can be straight grain and is typically interlocked. It shows a striped figure on quartersawn surfaces. The heartwood is creamy white and yellow. The sapwood isn’t always distinct from the heartwood. It stains and polishes well, which is why African Mahogany wood countertops look beautiful in any kitchen.

Such a hearty wood can be used in almost any application. African Mahogany creates stunning paneling as well as adding great value when installed as a hardwood floor.

african mohog2

It’s amazing to view how this beautiful wood originated. I think in building we often forget to review the source of such fine materials and that they may have other practical uses as well. Its bark is durable and is used to make many things such as furniture and paneling but the tree’s bitter bark  can be used as a natural remedy for coughs and whooping cough. Some find that when mixed with other concoctions it can be used to treat dysentery or as a bath product for back pains and as a lotion for rheumatism. Planting the tree improves and enriches the soil, so many people use the tree for that as well.
african mohog1

Afromosia (Pericopsis elata)

Afromosia is often used as a substitute for teak, but has nice features of its own as well. Afromosia is hard with interlocked to straight grain; boards tend to be fairly large and exceptionally clear. An attractive striped grain figure is very common as well. The wood is hard and heavy, and excellent for strong furniture.

In the image below Afromosia wide plank wood flooring adds depth to the coordinating neutral finishes:

The Afromosia, or African teak (Pericopsis elata) is an important tropical timber species found in Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Nigeria. It is considered endangered due to illegal logging and habitat loss.

afromosia tree

Aniegre (Pouteria altissima)

Aniegre is a golden/white colored exotic hardwood from equatorial West Africa. In addition to being a favorite for cabinet shops worldwide, it is excellent for high end jewelry boxes, musical instruments, tables and other fine articles.


Despite log prices doubling in the past 2-1/2 years, Aniegre is still a bargain for a figured exotic.  It is easy to mill, dry, and glue. When finished, the wood resembles pale straw with a slight golden tone.  Trees are typically 2-3 feet in diameter with 40-55′ clean trunks before limbs.  The highest grade logs are sliced for decorative veneers.


Anigre is often found in tropical East and West Africa, primarily in Cameroon but also in Angola, Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Zaire. Exportation from Cameroon is actually prohibited by local laws.


Bocote (Cordia spp)

Bocote is a wood that resembles rosewood and hence it is often called Mexican rosewood.  It is found throughout much of the South America and Mexico.  It is used for turning, inlays, furniture, tool handles, cabinetry, decking and veneers.


With its striking, zebra-like contrasts, and bold figuring, Bocote can be a very eye-catching wood. Bookmatching two consecutive panels can create symmetrical “faces” and other patterns in the wood, (though a relatively thin-kerf blade should be used to minimize the shift of the pattern). Bocote is generally used for its aesthetic attributes, rather than its mechanical ones—and although Bocote is by no means weak, its strength-to-weight ratio is below average. (It is roughly as stiff and strong as hard maple, even though Bocote is considerably heavier.)


Fun fact: Bocote has a moderate scent when being worked that resembles dill pickles.


Bubinga often has a wavy grain and sometimes highly figured. The sapwood is pale yellow which is truly a contrast from the dark reddish brown with black streaks of the heartwood. Easy to work with. Origin: Africa. Common uses are: inlays, furniture, and cabinetry.

Combining exotic hardwoods with an epoxy resin is a fast growing trend that I am just loving!
20121217024430_0___Ambro Luminate Table Enoki


Honduras Mahogany

Honduras Mahogany can vary between pale pinkish brown to a dark reddish brown.  Medium in texture and very easy to work with. Finishes and turns well. Common uses are: furniture, cabinetry, musical instruments and boat-building. Origin of Honduras Mahogany: Central and South America.


Ipe Decking (5/4 x 4, 5/4 x 6, 4×4 posts)

Ipê (ee-pay) is from the Bignoniaceae genus and is a dense Brazilian hardwood that is used primarily for exterior commercial and residential structures, such as decks, docks, and furniture. Durability, performance, and density are the characteristics that draw most people to use Ipê. The air-dried hardwood is naturally fire, insect, moisture, and movement resistant and “lasts two to three times longer than other outside lumber, such as cedar, redwood, and pine”.  Available upon request for FSC.



Katalox is an exotic wood that is native to Central America. It is far superior in strength to either Teak or Hard maple. Strength qualities in compression parallel to grain are exceptionally high. It is very hard – much harder than White oak, Hard maple, or Teak. The wood is exceptionally heavy. It weighs much more than Hard maple or Teak in the green or seasoned condition. The wood is very dense.



Machiche Decking (5/4 x 4, 5/4 x 6, 4×4 posts)

Machiche is an excellent hardwood with deep browns, brick reds, and fine grain patterns. This makes the wood look somewhat like old growth Honduras Rosewood. Though it is hard, the wood machines fairly easily, responding well to sharp cutters and also finishes well, bringing out beautiful highlights in the grain. Good sustain and crisp projection make this Central American hardwood a good choice for acoustical properties as well as dollar value.


Sapele nearly always shows a pronounced interlocked grain which yields a beautifully regular stripe figure when quarter sawn or sliced. It is also seen occasionally with wavy grain which will lead to a mottle or fiddleback figure. The heartwood is durable in regards to decay but can be susceptible to insects.  Sapele can be difficult to work when using planing or routing tools but glues and finishes well.  Commonly uses are: Furniture, veneer, flooring, trim and millwork, boat building and turned objects.  Origin of Sapele: Africa.



Teak heartwood is golden to medium brown and darkens with age. Highly durable Teak can be easy to work with but can have a blunting effect on cutting edges. Origin: Grown on plantations, widely throughout tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Common uses are: Ship and boat-building, furniture, carvings and turnings.



Often marketed as “Caribbean, Mayan or Aztec Walnut” by the flooring industry, Tzalam does not actually belong to the traditional walnut genus (Juglans) that most people think of, rather it is part of the Lysiloma genus that produces feathery foliage with long flat seed pods. Sometimes compared to Hawaiian Koa, Tzalam has variegated heartwood consisting of medium and light brown colorations with sporadic hues ranging between orange, amber and red. Over time, these colors will mute down to a more subdued nature. Sapwood is a pale white. Tzalam exhibits a straight, open grain that can be lively at times. It readily takes a high polish and is considered an easy wood to work with.

Mesa Tzalam Horqueta 05_875Mesa Tzalam Horqueta 07A_875


Wenge is dark brown with black streaks, but lightens when exposed to light.  It has a straight grain and course texture which can be a challenge when sanding and finishing. Wenge is very durable and resistant to insects, and it can be difficult to work with.  Origin: Africa Common uses: Flooring, tool handles and furniture.

Bed Frame: Walnut and Wenge Wood



Zebrawood heartwood is light brown or cream color with dark black brown streaks. Course in texture, the grain is wavy or interlocked. The wood saws and finishes well, but can be very difficult to plane or surface. Origin: Brazil. Common uses are: Furniture, and boat-building.



Ziricote ranges from medium to dark brown with darker streaks of black from the growth rings. High density and medium texture, the grain is straight or slightly interlocked.  In spite of its density, Ziricote is easy to work and turns and finishes well.  Origin: Central America and Mexico. Common uses: Veneer, cabinetry, gunstocks and musical instruments.


As always I hope today’s post inspires you to do great work.



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