Whether or not to incorporate coloured wood into a project is an important design question many woodworkers face. Cabinetmakers often emphasize grain and figure over colour. In these large scale pieces, small amounts of colour used in inlays and other details can often elevate the work. For turners and other makers of functional and decorative objects, coloured woods are often the major focal point.
Chakte Kok is a popular choice for woodworkers looking for that splash of colour. Chakte Kok offers a brilliant red often described as ‘red as a watermelon.’ It’s often sold with other species that share similar reddish colouring in a group called Redheart. Discriminating wood suppliers are increasingly importing Chakte Kok as single item in their inventories, allowing woodworkers to source from a single species.
Chakte Kok grows primarily in Central America from southern Mexico to Panama. Some species grow in the northern countries of South America. Most of the species imported come from Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Within this area, supplies are abundant, and the wood is harvested sustainably with little concern for over harvesting.
Chakte Kok end-grain
The Chakte Kok tree is relatively small, growing to about 75 feet with diameters rarely exceeding 18 inches. Consequently, the lumber tends to be narrow and usually only available as 4/4 stock. Bowl blanks and various turning blanks are also available. The wood is usually straight grained, occasionally with figure. It has a fine, even texture with a low to medium luster.
Colour is what most often catches the eye of the woodworker. The heart of this wood is usually a deep, bright red with a very large creamy white sapwood. The large amount of sapwood can produce a lot of waste if you are only after the red heart. Sometimes there are subtle shades of red present giving the wood an active appearance. Overall, it is a very attractive wood.
It is important to know that this rich red colour will oxidize to a brownish red. It can occur very quickly, often in an hour’s time. The colour can be revived by planing off the oxidized surface, but this will not help finished pieces. The use of a UV inhibiting finish will help slow this process as it will filter out the effects of direct sunlight. By the way, this process of oxidation occurs in all coloured woods and can only be slowed not eliminated.
Chakte Kok is easy to work, glue and finish. It planes well with little tearout. You can work it by hand or by machine with similar results. The fine even grain makes it excel as a wood for turning or carving. Sharp tools are always recommended. Screws and nails would benefit from pre-drilling. When finishing, remember to use a UV inhibiting finish. Personally, I have no problems with letting wood fade as it often develops a unique patina.
Chakte Kok has been used for furniture, case-goods and veneer. It is also commonly used for turned objects like bowls, pool cues and tool handles. Other uses include archery bows, small boxes and knife scales. Inlay and solid stringing techniques often incorporate this wood.
Prices for Chakte Kok are fairly high for an imported timber; but since its effect can be so dramatic, most woodworkers will work with relatively small pieces. For this wood, a little does go a long way. Furthermore, as other woods in the same colour range become scarce or endangered, craftspeople can access Chakte Kok knowing it is an environmentally sound purchase. If that next piece you are planning requires a little drama, Chake Kok may be your answer.
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.