LOG BLOG #4: LEOPARDWOOD
Few woods have as much character as the next one up in the Log Blog, Leopardwood. Named for its distinctive spotted pattern, this lumber is unlike any other. Now I know that Barb wanted me to write about Bolivian Rosewood but - let’s face it - she has a bit of a problem and I, for one, will not be an enabler.
Leopardwood grows in carefully managed forests in Brazil. Unlike our foreman, Puzz Longbeard, this tree is a magnificent specimen! It can grow to nearly 100’ tall with enormous trunks as large as 4’ in diameter. For comparison’s sake, Puzz is about 6’ tall.
Leopardwood is pronounced by saying “Leopard” and then “wood”. It is also known as Roupala Montana. It was named by Jean Baptiste Christophore Fusee Aublet in 1775. The name Roupale was a name used locally in French Guinea and Montana refers to “coming from mountains”. Jean Baptiste was clearly an expert in names having 5 of them himself.
Leopardwood is very consistent in its coloring, displaying medium to dark reddish brown tones with grey or light brown “flecks”. The unusual spotting is due to medullary rays that are displayed when the lumber is sawn. Medullary rays are bands of connective tissue that radiate between the pith and bark of the tree, which results in gorgeous visual effects in finished pieces. The flecks vary in size from board to board. Other woods have medullary rays, like White Oak, but few have so many so densely packed.
Leopardwood is fairly dense and hard, measuring 2150 on the Janka scale. Because of the density of medullary rays, it can be hard to work, having a tendency to tear out during planing. It is commonly grown in Latin America.
Give to me your Leopard, take from me, my Lace*
Leopardwood is sometimes confused with Lacewood and is referred to as such occasionally. “Lacewood” is used to describe any wood that displays specks that resemble lace. Leopardwood is therefore a type of Lacewood. Sometimes lumber mills will have 2 bins, one Lacewood and one Leopardwood. In those instances, Lacewood is selections of a few different types of wood that are hard to separate. Leopardwood is darker in color and denser than other woods commonly lumped into the category of “Lacewood,” and therefore easier to distinguish from the others.
LEOPARDWOOD? HOW ABOUT 'LOVEWOOD'!
Looking at any finely finished box made of wood fills me with love, but Leopardwood takes it one step further. In Trinidad and Tobago, the mashed or bruised roots of the Leopardwood tree are sniffed as an aphrodisiac. One day, I tried sniffing wooden boards of it in our shop. The other woodworkers described me as “extra complimentary” that day. This was not a scientific test, mind you.
THOUGHTS FROM A WOODWORKER
Leopardwood has an interesting history with Dog Might. We love it, use it often, have experimented with it a ton, and don’t sell very much of it. It’s odd. I personally believe that people don’t buy it because it doesn’t look like wood. It doesn’t matter though, because we love using it and we will continue to do so.
Why, you ask? It’s just cool as hell. It is easier to work than some of the other woods we use and, when it is sculpted, beautiful things occur. The medullary rays react wonderfully when moving across a contoured surface, like the curved bowl of a Component Collector. We have also tried some very cool staining techniques with it, to varying degrees of success. We used some hand mixed dyes to create a line of Adventure Cases and Dice Chests that we called Dragon Scale. They were very cool. The Leopardwood, when dyed red or green or blue, looked like the skin of a dragon. But, after selling a bunch of them, we found that the finish was unreliable. The wood was often too dense to allow the dyes to soak in or it was impossible to seal coat and varnish the finished product. We managed to get enough to fill our orders, and they did look amazing, but we quickly took them off the site. Lesson learned. We were disappointed, though, and we may revisit Dragon Scale finishes at a later date.
Before I forget, I must mention that for those of you allergic to Poison Ivy, Oak, or Sumac, the oil in Leopardwood can cause a similar reaction. The dust also can act like an irritant so, I highly recommend wearing a mask when working with this wood. I always recommend that Puzz wear a mask when he is in the shop, but that’s for different reasons.
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.
*Some of you youngsters may not get that reference. It’s from a Stevie Nicks/Don Henley song.