Bulnesia arborea, Bulnesia sarmientoi
Verawood is the common name of two closely related species, Bulnesia arborea and Bulnesia sarmientoi. Their story is really about their close relative Lignum Vitae. Well known to woodworkers as the hardest and heaviest of woods; Lignum Vitae has very specialised applications such as bearings for hydro generators, propeller shafts and other industrial applications. Sadly, overharvesting landed Lignum Vitae on the CITES II list, limiting its importation and availability.
The search for a substitute began and Verawood answered the call. Endemic to Central America and the northern half of South America, Verawood is a small tree growing to 50 feet in height with diameters approaching 2 ft. The wood is diffuse-porous with many small to medium pores. The medullary rays are narrow and closely spaced.
The grain can be straight but is typically spiral or interlocked. The heartwood is usually a deep shade of green but can also range from olive to a dark brown. This colouration will deepen as it ages. The sapwood is a pale white to yellow and is distinct from the heart wood. Quartered surfaces have a distinct feathered appearance.
Like Lignum Vitae, Verawood wood is hard, heavy and dense. It also has an oily, waxy feel to it. These waxy compounds help protect the wood from fungal and insect attack. As a result, Verawood is extremely durable, even when in contact with the ground. These chemicals also give the wood a distinct, flower like scent. They may also provoke sneezing and skin irritation in susceptible woodworkers.
Obviously, the wood is difficult to work by machine or hand. It will skip over the jointer when being machined, so light passes are necessary. However, it responds well on the lathe and turnings made from Verawood will hold a lot of detail. It will be difficult to glue and clamp. Woodworkers may have to use solvents on surfaces to be glued, to remove the oils that hinder successful gluing. Clamp pressure should be monitored to prevent the glue from squeezing out and staving the joint. Finishing is unnecessary as the oils in the wood allow it to be polished to a fine luster.
Since the two species are so similar, either one can be used a substitute for Lignum Vitae. They can be used for heavy construction such railway ties and dock piling. Verawood makes fine tool handles, mallet heads, pulleys and turned objects. While they can be used for bushings and bearings, some caution against using them for propeller shaft bearings.
Unfortunately, overharvesting has caught up with Verawood and Bulnesia sarmientoi is now on the CITES III list. I would recommend purchasing Verawood from a dealer that specialises in exotic woods. They have the ability to follow all necessary protocols in order to import these woods legally. You should be able to access the paperwork that proves the wood was imported legally. Pricewise, Verawood is considered in the upper range for exotic woods.
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.