The name says it all: widely known and appreciated for the distinctive dark brown/black stripes that resemble the African zebra, the tree itself is found in West Africa, specifically the rich volcanic soils of Cameroon. It is a tree that towers above the forest canopy where its miniscule leaves grab as much sunlight as possible to feed its large structure.
This tree can grow to a height of 120′ and a diameter of around 5′, with large buttressing at the root end. The tree twists and turns to find the sun as it outgrows the other species in its environment. The result is an interlocking grain that potentially makes it difficult to work with.
The wood is coarse grained with large open pores, while the interlocked grain makes it difficult to resaw or surface. Tear out is common and you may have to plane to oversize and then sand to a final dimension. Zebrawood glues well and will take most finishes, although some woodworkers may prefer to fill the larger pores.
The heartwood is a creamy white, overlaid with the definitive dark striping. The sapwood is sharply demarcated from the heart and the bark can be up to 12″ thick. Depending on how the log is cut, the striping can be chaotic and spider-like, or very linear. Flat sawn zebra will produce the former, while quartersawn lumber has the much prized vertical striping.
The quartered wood with its linear striping is the most desirable and the most available. Its distinct banded appearance lends itself to a decorative approach when designing. It is utilised as trim, banding, as an architectural veneer, and for the creation of decorative objects. It has been used as trim in high-end cars such as Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz.
Exploitation of its use as a design element has led to local extinction in many areas of its natural range. Since it is a member of the pea family, it forms a unique relationship with soil fungi, and it is now being planted to restore the unique Central African forests it came from. Zebrawood is not considered endangered by CITES, but woodworkers can help make this specie available for the future by respecting its unique decorative qualities in the design of their projects.
Peter MacSween - [email protected]
Peter's woodworking journey began with a career in carpentry followed by a decade buying and selling veneer. His spare time is spent abusing his guitars and exploring the great outdoors.