Frustrating mystery wood

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Forum topic by jcn posted 05-12-2010 09:27 PM 1804 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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37 posts in 3110 days

05-12-2010 09:27 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I’ve come across this certain type of wood several times, and every time it frustrates me.

It is a very beautiful and exotic looking wood. Deep redish to dark orange color, typically with dramatic grain patterns. It smells nice, though not like anything I can explain. Not quite like a cedar smell, but a strong and pleasant smell like cedar.

The thing that frustrates me about it is that it is so beautiful, but aside from that, I’ve had zero luck using it. It tends to be very soft and brittle. I’ve tried turning pens with it, and every time the blank will basically fly apart once I get it down to 1/8” thick or so.

I bought a larger piece of it for experimentation, and found that cutting it on my table saw filled the shop with smoke. Granted, my blade is probably about ready to be replaced, but no other wood smokes like that when I cut it. Once cut, I found that I could easily break a 2” x 2” x 4” piece apart with my bare hands. It’s just so soft and brittle, I can’t imagine it every being used for anything that isn’t purely decorative.

It is nice for accents though.

Anyway, sorry I don’t have a picture right now. But do any of you happen to know what this stuff is called? What’s it typically used for?

19 replies so far

View CharlieM1958's profile


16278 posts in 4392 days

#1 posted 05-12-2010 09:35 PM

The way you describe the color and grain sounds like Goncalo Alves, but I don’t recall it being that difficult to work with. Does it look anything like this?

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View childress's profile


841 posts in 3716 days

#2 posted 05-12-2010 09:38 PM

How is it that you bought some, but don’t know what it’s called???

-- Childress Woodworks

View jcn's profile


37 posts in 3110 days

#3 posted 05-12-2010 09:39 PM

Hmmm, hard to say.

The difficulty of working with it could be more to do with my level of skill than it is with the species of tree I’ve been mangling. :)

I’ll take a photo when I get home from work and update the thread.

Thanks for the help!

View jcn's profile


37 posts in 3110 days

#4 posted 05-12-2010 09:40 PM

childress: grab bag pen blanks and miscellaneous bowl blanks at Woodcraft. I recognize the smell every time I pick a piece of it up.

View CharlieM1958's profile


16278 posts in 4392 days

#5 posted 05-12-2010 10:11 PM

If it is Goncalo Alves, it is quite hard. So even though it works okay in larger pieces, I can see where it might be hard to turn pens with.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3248 days

#6 posted 05-12-2010 10:41 PM

With all due respect, I have worked with Goncalo Alves (aka Tigerwood) quite a bit. It is a very hard wood and I have never had any difficulty turning it. It does tend to burn a little when cutting it on the table saw but that is not a serious problem. A quick pass on the jointer removes all burn marks.

To say it is soft and brittle and to also say it smokes like crazy when being cut almost seems like an inconsistency.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View jcn's profile


37 posts in 3110 days

#7 posted 05-12-2010 11:00 PM

Forgive me, I’m kind of new to woodworking, I probably don’t have all of the terminology down exactly right. Maybe soft isn’t the right word. I’m not holding a piece in my hand right now, and I’m not sure I could actually score it with my fingernail or anything. But I do know that of the wood I’ve worked with most (oak, maple, lignum vitae, rosewood, aspen, poplar and pine) I don’t think I’ve ever found any that I could just break with my hands the way I could this stuff. And of all the mystery woods I have used out of pen blank grab bags, none of them broke apart on the lathe the way this stuff has.

Maybe it’s not Goncalo Alves. Does Goncalo Alves have a strong and unique scent?

I’ll post a picture here in a couple of hours, we’ll get to the bottom of this. :)

Thanks everyone.

View HokieMojo's profile


2104 posts in 3902 days

#8 posted 05-12-2010 11:14 PM

You could go to their site and look for it:

here are two of their grab back packs. They list the species in the pack.

does this help?

View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 3444 days

#9 posted 05-12-2010 11:25 PM

Another possiblity is Cocobolo. I has a strong smell….kind of like a cinnamon smell. It has some sheering problems which might account for your statement about brittleness. It is a hard and oily wood….I have seen it smoke saws because of the oil and the density of the wood. I find it does this more often if you use blades with higher then 40 or so TPI.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View jcn's profile


37 posts in 3110 days

#10 posted 05-12-2010 11:27 PM

Interesting idea.

Based on what I see there, the most likely candidate is Redheart.

After google searching it, I found one source that says redheart is just a word used for heartwood Hickory (, which is of course extremely hard. Hard enough that I would think I would know it.

Does hickory have a distinct fragrance?

Then I found another source that says redheart comes from a small shrub (

So I’m not sure what redheart is, but that’s the most likely candidate based on what I see on the Woodcraft website.

View jcn's profile


37 posts in 3110 days

#11 posted 05-12-2010 11:29 PM

reggiek: “Cocobolo is a tropical hardwood from Central America. Only the heartwood is used: this is typically orange or reddish-brown in color, often with a figuring of darker irregular traces weaving through the wood. By contrast, the sapwood (not often used) is a creamy yellow, with a sharp boundary with the heartwood.”

I think that’s gotta be it. Now that I read that, I remember a few pen blanks with very small sections in them of creamy white, with a very distinct line between the heartwood and sapwood.


So yeah, that Cocobolo, what a pain to use. Sheesh! :)

View pvwoodcrafts's profile


244 posts in 4096 days

#12 posted 05-12-2010 11:51 PM

Redheart smells terrible when worked. Bloodwood is kinda brittle when it gets thin but smells kinda good

-- mike & judy western md. www.

View jcn's profile


37 posts in 3110 days

#13 posted 05-13-2010 01:05 AM

As promised, here is a picture of the wood in question. I’m pretty sure it’s Cocobolo, as per reggiek’s suggestion. Cinnamon is a very good description of the fragrance.

I broke the smaller of the two pieces using two fingers. It basically just falls apart. I know it broke along the grain, where wood is weakest, but I would call this piece of wood extremely brittle.

the wood in question

View childress's profile


841 posts in 3716 days

#14 posted 05-13-2010 02:32 AM

that’s not cocobolo (doesn’t look like it anyway).... It has to be problems with your particular pieces, cause I can’t see why they would put something in a grab grab for turnings that are “brittle”. Your pieces must have some bad checks in it, causing it to break…

-- Childress Woodworks

View dustbunny's profile


1149 posts in 3469 days

#15 posted 05-13-2010 02:52 AM

That is padauk. I am pretty sure.
It does have a different smell to it when cutting.
Definitely hard, but I haven’t experienced it being brittle.
I have used it for intarsia

and end grain in a cutting board, it worked fine-


-- Imagination rules the world. ~ Napoleon Bonaparte ~

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