Recent years have seen a resurgence in the popularity of working with live edge material. Tabletops, counters, shelves and charcouterie boards are some of the Instagram ready projects for live edge wood. Usually logs are cut into lumber which is square edged with no bark and no pith. Live edge is flitch cut leaving the natural outer edge of the tree often including the bark intact.
Monkeypod is a tree that has benefited from the popularity of working with live edge material. It is a beautiful wood with a golden, richly brown heart and a yellowish white sapwood that is in sharp contrast to the heart. Monkeypod is often highly figured with amazing fiddleback and other wild grain patterns. This flamboyant appearance is perfect for large decorative surfaces.
The tree itself is native to the tropical Americas, south from Mexico to Brazil. It can grow up to 125 feet tall with trunk diameters of up to 4 feet. It has a large crown usually wider than the tree’s height. Once discovered, it was widely planted all over the world. Now it is found in the West Indies, the Pacific Islands (especially Hawaii) and Southeast Asia. It has many common names with Raintree being the most prevalent. This name derives from the way the leaves fold up during periods of rain allowing the moisture to pass through the tree canopy to the ground.
The wood itself is medium to coarsely textured. The grain is usually straight, although occasionally interlocked. The pores are large making it relatively easy to carve, and it is easy to work by hand or machine. Watch out for interlocked grain as it will fuzz or tear when planed. It glues and finishes well. The large pores make it a good candidate for staining, but the natural luster of the wood practically begs for a simple oil finish. It is durable, resisting attack by fungi and insects. Plus it is stable which is great for a wood destined for use as a large slab.
It is hard to find Monkeypod as lumber outside of its home countries. In these countries, it is used for general carpentry, furniture and wooden objects such as bowls. Hawaii, for example, is well known for its decorative bowls made from Monkeypod. In North America, Monkeypod is mostly sold as large slabs and bowl blanks. If you wanted to make furniture from Monkeypod, you will have to manufacture lumber from the slabs. Just remember that converting slabs to lumber will generate a lot of waste. Plus, most slabs are air-dried so further seasoning of your lumber is necessary.
Monkeypod can be expensive. Expect to pay a premium for the highly figured slabs. Since many of the logs come from ornamental trees blown down from storms, some people feel it is environmentally friendly. It can be grown on plantations and its fast growth rate means trees are quickly replaced. This means that the natural populations of Monkeypod are saved from exploitation.
If working with live edge material is your passion, Monkeypod may be a wise choice. Exotic hardwoods are facing increasing regulation in order to manage forests and preserve trees. Monkeypod is a wood that is currently sustainable and beautiful to boot It’s worth considering for your next naturally edged counters and tabletop 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.