Ah, gorgeous Chechen. As I write this, it sits in spot number 2 on the list of my favorite woods that we use (#1 is Redheart). Chechen is strong, heavy, displays an amazing variety of colors, and takes a fantastic finish. For the linguists out there, it is pronounced Chuh-Chen with the emphasis on the second syllable, not Cheh- chen like the Republic. Weird warning about this article: There is a disgusting pic below. Not for the faint hearted.
A close up of the colors of Chechen
Chechen is grown primarily in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico. It is a very valuable tree and is a wonderful source of lumber for these nations.
The heartwood of Chechen is incredible, displaying high contrasting stripes of reds, oranges, and golds with alternating grainwork of dark chocolate browns.
On the Janka scale of hardness Chechen measures 2,250, making it one of the hardest woods we offer. The Janka hardness scale measures the resistance of a wood to denting and wear. Technically, in one of the more unique tests we have heard of, it measures the force required to push a small steel ball halfway into the wood. In comparison, Red Oak and White Ash (the wood that professional baseball bats are made of) score right around 1,300 on the Janka scale. Our foreman, Puzz Longbeard has a very hard head. His head scores in the 800s.
The Chechen tree is a small to medium tree with dark black sap. One of the most distinguishing facts about the tree is that is it poisonous, but more on that later.
Incredible looking Chechen timber.
Chechen lumber is also known as Black Poisonwood, Chechem (it’s original Mayan name), Coral Sumac, Cedro Prieto, or Caribbean Rosewood. Don’t be fooled, however, it is not a member of the Rosewood family but has gained that moniker due to its amazing coloration and because every wood secretly yearns to be a Rosewood.
Fort Save vs. Poison (dc25)
If you are travelling through Latin America or the West Indies, be wary of trees with black sap! The Chechen tree emits a toxic sap that can cause some nasty skin reactions. It starts with a redness but will develop into itchy and burning blisters and is, like shaking hands with Puzz Longbeard, very painful. As if that wasn’t enough, the rash won’t start for a few days after contact so you can’t even be sure where you got it or how to treat it. On the bright side, the sap from the Gumbo-Limbo tree acts as a natural antidote to the poison and these trees often grow near Chechen Trees. The Mayans had a wonderful myth about these 2 trees involving 2 brothers that fell for the same beautiful woman. A vicious brawl ensued and both brothers died. While the brothers were chilling in the Underworld, they both prayed to their Gods to be able to look upon the beautiful woman again. The Gods granted their wishes and each of them was reborn as a Chechen and a Gumbo-Limbo tree. Spoiler Alert: the mean brother became the tree with the toxic sap. Rest assured, only the sap is poisonous. The wood, once kiln dried, is safe as is any Dog Might product made with Chechen. Before I forget, I would like to nominate Gumbo-Limbo for coolest tree name ever.
I warned you.
Thoughts from a Woodworker
After years of going to our lumber mill, they would, on occasion, order rough boards of woods that were more rare. Then, they would try to sell them to us with nearly a 100% success rate. Our first introduction to Chechen was the direct result of these fiendishly good sales tactics. Immediately, after the first planing pass, we were hooked.
My personal minimalist wooden wallet made from a fine piece of Black Poisonwood
Now, everyone in our shop loves Chechen. It may not be everyone’s absolute favorite, but all our woodworkers appreciate its beauty. Chechen is incredibly hard but remains relatively easy to work. Because of its density, sanding it can really suck: you just have to know going in that it’s going to be a time-consuming process. Plus, the resulting finish is well worth it. It is because of the hardness of the wood that it has such a gorgeous luster. And the color, oh my, that color. The pics of Chechen products on our site just don’t capture the sheen. The warmer tones in the wood really come alive after varnishing, especially the golden hues. The grain work, often straight, can be interweaving and almost wild at times. Chechen is a near perfect mix of beauty and strength. When I finally go to the great mead hall in the sky, it damn sure better be made of Chechen.
A Dragon Sheath, made from the only board of Spalted Chechen we have ever seen
Sources: A bunch of pages from the innertubes and the only book I will ever read, The Wood Bible.