Widely popular in the hardwood flooring industry, Goncalo Alves or Tigerwood is a beautiful wood well suited for many fine woodworking projects. This hardwood tree is native to Central America, from Mexico south to the northern countries of South America. It typically grows to heights of 100 – 130 feet with trunk diameters of 3 to 5 feet.
Goncalo Alves end-grain
The heartwood is brown to reddish brown with brown and black streaks. Some boards display black streaks over an orangey brown background, which is where the common name Tigerwood comes from. The sapwood is a lighter shade of pale brown. The wood also exhibits a natural lustre, and the various colorations will darken over time.
The wood of Goncalo Alves is hard, heavy and dense. It is diffuse pored resulting in a fine, even texture. The grain is usually wavy or interlocked; straight grained material is harder to come by. Goncalo Alves can be difficult to dry as dense woods don’t dry easily, and they can be prone to surface checks. However, once dry it is considered stable. It is also an extremely durable wood with outstanding weathering qualities.
Goncalo Alves is used for general construction in its countries of origin. Most of the exported wood is used for fine furniture, architectural millwork and cabinet making. Specialty objects made from Goncalo Alves include pool cues, guitar fingerboards, knife handles, piano dampers turned and decorative objects. The best figured logs are sliced into fine veneers.
Despite its density and hardness, Goncalo is usually easy to work. Carbide tooling is a must with cutting angles of 15 degrees being your best choice. When ripping, use a blade with less than 28 teeth for good chip clearance. You may want to use backer boards when crosscutting to reduce chipping where the blade exits the wood. Screw holes must be predrilled and waxing the screws will make installation easier.
Goncalo Alves is an oily wood so sandpaper will clog quickly. Don’t skip grits, as scratches will remain on the wood’s surface. The oils in the wood can also interfere with gluing. You can try alcohol or acetone to remove these oils on surfaces to be glued. Quickly follow with an application of white glue. Let it sit for 30-45 seconds. Then clamp the joint. Be careful with clamp pressure as too much will force out the glue and starve the joint. I recommend a trial on some scraps to identify any problems during glue ups.
The oils can also interfere with finishing, especially if you use polyurethanes. Oil finishes work well and highlight the grain. If you want a film finish, lacquer and shellac are good choices. If you are set on using a polyurethane finish, try a wash coat of shellac first. Apply your polyurethane on top of the dried shellac undercoat which protects against the wood’s oils. Again, I would practise your finish schedule on some scraps.
There are no environmental concerns with Goncalo Alves. Supplies are good and pricing is competitive with other imported hardwood species. You can usually find a range of thicknesses up to 8/4. Select your wood carefully in order to find pieces that have a uniform appearance. If a shipment arrives at your dealer examine it quickly. Over time the pile will be picked through leaving behind the plainest material.
Goncalo Alves is a good choice if you want to experience imported lumber and want some assurances that the lumber is harvested well and has a future. This striking wood is suitable for all sorts of projects. Just remember forget about the hand planes and let your machines do most of the work.