There is no shortage of beautiful woods available to the craftsmen, but, there is one species which has a flare for the dramatic and that species is Ziricote. Its brown to grey heartwood is overlaid with black lines giving it the appearance of a busy spider web. Other pieces will have a ‘landscape’ figure, with images of mountains, valleys, clouds and marble like patterns. Add in a contrasting creamy yellow sapwood and you have a wood that captures the eye and the imagination.
Ziricote is found from Florida south through the Caribbean islands to Brazil. Most of the harvesting occurs in Central America, specifically Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. It is a small, slow-growing tree, typically 30 to 60 feet high with diameters of up to 3 feet. The trunk is straight but short. Consequently, Ziricote lumber is dimensionally small. Lengths are under 8 feet and widths rarely exceed 10 inches. It is sliced into veneer, cut into turning stock and manufactured into acoustic guitar backs and sides.
It is a dense, heavy hardwood. Occasionally, it is brittle and can be difficult to dry, leading to end and surface checks. Once dry though, it is stable. Air dried Ziricote is an excellent candidate for steam bending. The grain is usually straight, sometimes interlocked with a medium to fine texture. It has a high natural luster.
Despite being hard and heavy it is surprisingly easy to work. Of course, tooling and blades should be sharp and it yields well to hand tools. It cuts and machines without burning. Nails and screws will require pre-drilling with the appropriate sized drill bit. Take your time when sanding as the woods density can leave to swirl marks. Move slowly through grit sizes to avoid this problem. It glues well and you can use your choice of finishing techniques.
Given the small size of available lumber, plus the high waste factor, Ziricote excels in small projects such as boxes and turned objects. Larger scale pieces can be overwhelmed by its dramatic and active appearance. Most woodworkers will incorporate the sapwood in order to add a contrasting effect. It is also a highly regarded tonewood for guitars with musical characteristics similar to the Rosewood family.
Ziricote end grain
Ziricote can produce an allergic reaction due to the many chemicals and pigments which produce its colourful appearance. This reaction is more likely if you have been exposed and sensitized by other species such as Pau Ferro and the rosewoods. I recommend using a dust mask and keeping your work space clean until you can determine your reaction to this wood.
Ziricote is considered a rare wood, so it is expensive. It is not endangered, but there are problems with illegal harvesting and fake documentation. Choose your wood dealer wisely as they will be importing this species legally with an eye towards conserving this species. Don’t let the price deter you. Its suitability for smaller projects means you don’t have to break the bank by purchasing large quantities of this beautiful wood. The alluring appearance of Ziricote will never disappoint, and it will give years of visual pleasure to your woodworking projects.