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Log Blog: Wenge
The most sinister of all the woods we use, Wenge is a shop favorite. It’s rich, dark color makes it the perfect choice for the gamer that often makes the “Mwahahah” noise during gameplay, like the ruthlessly evil DM in my Pathfinder game, Dan. I don’t think he reads this blog so I feel safe making that comment.
Wenge is pronounced with 2 syllables with a long “A“on the final one, like When-Ghay. If you are into pneumonic devices, it rhymes with BenGay, the pain-relieving cream.
Wenge wood doesn’t actually come from a tree named Wenge but from a Legume tree named Millettia Laurentii. It grows in swampy areas in Africa including the Congo, Zaire, Cameroon, and Gaboon. (I feel like this entry of the Log Blog rates very high on fun words to say). The tree is modest in height, averaging about 60’ with a 2 foot diameter although they can grow bigger, up to 90’ tall.
Wenge is dense and heavy. On the Janka scale it is rated 1,930. For early craftsmen, Wenge was very difficult to work with. Without the benefit of modern machinery for cutting and transporting, they usually had to resort to fire for “cutting” the wood. Our Foreman, Puzz Longbeard, tried this in our shop one day with disastrous results. Early woodworkers would start a fire at the base of a Millettia Laurentii tree to bring it down, then continue to use fire to sculpt the wood, using damp pieces of material to protect the wood not being used. Thank Odin that we now have mighty, mighty power tools that do this work much, much quicker…and safer. If you ever plan on working with Wenge, keep your tools sharp then sharpen them again after cutting. Wenge dulls even the hardest blades quickly.
Now, let’s talk about the color. The heartwood of Wenge is a gorgeous warm brown but it is the nearly black streaks throughout that heartwood that make this wood the stunning specimen that it is. Overall the appearance is very dark but up close, the active nature of the grain becomes evident.
YEAH, ANOTHER POISONOUS WOOD
If you have read any of the previous entries in this here Log Blog you are probably getting the idea that our shop is just a big space filled with poisonous dust. Well, you aren’t far from the truth. A lot of woods we use here must be dealt with carefully and Wenge is no exception. First off, the dust has been reported to cause nervous system issues, abdominal cramps, skin irritation, and eye problems. Honestly, we have never had much problem with it but the Viking Mead we consume, I believe, acts as a shield against most physical ailments. It’s like a big wet shield. Worse than the dust is the splinters. The splinters from Wenge are nasty. Because it is hard and dense, it is very prone to splintering when in its rough form. Every woodworker in our shop has had at least a one inch splinter of Wenge inside some part of their body for at least 24 hours.
CUTS LIKE A KNIFE, BUT IT FEELS SO RIGHT
(The other Mike is Canadian so I thought he would dig the Bryan Adams reference.) Because of its hardness, Wenge takes a very sharp edge. So sharp, in fact, that in the Congo, sharpened pieces of Wenge have been used in ritualistic scarification and circumcisions. Perhaps the title “feels so right” was not the best wording…
NOTES FROM A WOODWORKER
I will never forget the first day we made an Adventure Case out of Wenge. It was the first time we had worked with this amazing wood and it did not disappoint. The color is, of course, amazing, but what we didn’t expect was the gorgeous luster it exhibited. It is truly an amazing wood. Many of our customers are shocked when they see it in person for the first time at a con. They have a hard time believing that the color is completely natural, only enhanced by 3 coats of Dog Might Varnish.
After working with Wenge for a number of years now, another aspect of the lumber I adore is its ability to take a beating. My aforementioned DM, Dan, has the very first Adventure Case ever made by us in Wenge. He has used it every session for the past 3 years and it has held up amazingly well. Because of its hardness, it resists dents and scratches and the sheen looks as good as it did the day we built it. Unfortunately, my characters haven’t fared so well over that same time frame. Damn you, DM Dan!!! Damn you.
Sources: A bunch of pages from the innertubes and the only book I will ever read, The Wood Bible. I also read the first paragraph of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.