Paldao first gained attention in the woodworking world as a walnut substitute. Demand for domestic walnut has increased over the years, and Paldao’s ability to mimic walnut was appreciated especially in the architectural community; but Paldao is a wood that should be celebrated for its own distinct qualities, not just as a stand in for walnut.
Paldao is an immense tree. It can grow up to 120 feet tall with widths of 5 to 7 feet. It can also produce boles of clear, knot-free material approaching 65 feet in length. However, the most impressive characteristics of this tree are the large buttresses that encircle the base. These help support the tree and can increase the diameter of the tree to almost 40 feet at ground level.
Paldao grows throughout the East Indies including the islands of Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra, Philippines and New Guinea. It is also found in the forests of Southern Asia from Myanmar to Vietnam. Many Indigenous peoples from these regions believed that evil spirits inhabited the nooks and hollows of the buttresses. These communities would leave the trees alone and unexploited. In fact, when large timber companies arrived from the west, it was difficult to locate local people to help log Paldao.
The heartwood is generally brown to reddish brown, occasionally with gold, grey or green overtones. Dark brown or black streaks often occur in the heart. The sapwood is pink to a dull grey in colour. Paldao is often figured, especially pronounced in the quartered material. It can display ribbon stripe, block mottle, broken curl and fiddleback figure. The flatcut material can mimic domestic walnut. The grain is often irregular and interlocked with a medium to coarse texture.
Paldao is moderately easy to work given its coarse and irregular grain. Tendency for tearout is small compared to other woods with interlocked grain. As usual, sharp tools are necessary for clean cuts and smooth surfaces. It glues and stains well without blotching. Screws and nails should be predrilled. It is not considered durable and is limited to interior projects. Once dry, it is considered to be moderately stable.
Solid Paldao is hard to come by. The veneer is another story though, with lots of veneers available in all sorts of figures and cuts. Given the size of the tree, Paldao logs can produce prodigious amounts of veneer in large sized sheets. It deserves its reputation as a premium architectural material, often used in boardrooms and elevator cabs. The veneer pairs well with domestic walnut solids. While colour and figure may vary from tree to tree; within the tree, colour and figure are consistent. Paldao is often used in furniture, interior trim and flooring.
The are no concerns about Paldao’s sustainability either from CITES or the IUCN. I do have concerns regarding some of the clear cutting that occurs in some countries which are home to Paldo, especially some of the island nations. Experienced wood importers should be able to help guide your purchasing decisions. The veneer is reasonably priced for an import while the solid is expensive if you can find it.
I’m a big believer in veneering. It is a sustainable practice that allows woodworkers access to material with outstanding colour and figure that is not available in solids. If you are contemplating the addition of veneering to your woodworking skill set, you can’t go wrong choosing Paldao and all of the visual impact it offers.
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.