Native to Central and West tropical Africa, padauk is known for its bright orange-red heartwood. It typically grows to heights approaching 100’ with diameters averaging 2’- 4’. It is a heavy, open pored wood with a coarse texture. It is usually straight grained, occasionally showing interlocked or wavy grain. The timber is strong, durable and shows excellent strength in bending and resistance to crushing. It dries well with minimum degrade and is exceptionally stable.
Before the introduction of aniline dyes padauk was a renowned dye wood. Indigenous people used its bark in herbal medicines and the bloodred sap became part of religious ceremonies. The leaves are edible and are an excellent source of vitamin C.
The rich red colour in the heartwood comes from chemical compounds extracted from the soil and deposited in the heart by the tree. While the woodworker appreciates the unique and distinctive colouring, for the tree, the extractives protect the heartwood from fungal and bacterial decay, contributing to its durability.
Padauk has excellent tonal qualities. It’s used for drums in its native Africa due to its low acoustical dampening properties. Luthiers also use it in string instruments (primarily guitars) for its resonant tonal attributes. Recent research has shown that the extractives not only cause its unique colouration, but also play an important role in shaping the acoustic profile of this wood.
Despite its density, the wood works well with minimal blunting of tools. It nails, screws and glues very well and one can finish it to a high polish. The white contrasting sapwood can be utilized to produce interesting visual effects on large surfaces Woodworkers should take note of padauk’s history as a dye wood.
Padauk end grain
Sanding dust can quickly cover your shop in a fine red powder that can get into your clothes and carpets. Some finishes can extract the red colour from padauk causing it to migrate into adjacent pieces of wood, especially if the adjacent wood is of a lighter colour. The orange-red colour in the heart will eventually fade to a reddish brown. This process can be slowed by using finishes with a UV (ultraviolet) inhibitor.
Padauk has long been a popular wood in high-end joinery, in both solid wood and veneer formats. You’ll find it sought after by woodturners and carvers, and it also makes excellent flooring, especially in applications on top of underfloor heating.
The attractive appearance of padauk, its excellent stability, and easy working characteristics will guarantee its popularity with succeeding generations of craftspeople.