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LIGNUM VITAE

Guaiacum spp.

Guaiacum spp. of the family Zygophyllaceae. The wood is primarily from Guaiacum officinale and Guaiacum sanctum, but may also be from Guaiacum coulteri, Guaiacum angustifolium, and Guaiacum guatemalense. Native to several areas in South America

The name means "tree of life" which was given for its medicinal properties. Other common names include palo santo, greenheart, ironwood, and verawood, but ALL of these names are also used by several other, unrelated, species. Verawood (as opposed to Guaiacum spp. CALLED verawood) is a fairly similar wood with both woods being very dense and very hard and it is from the same family (but a different genus). Verawood and lignum vitae are often confused with each other, BUT they are easy to tell apart via the end grain. I had been sold several different batches of wood as lignum vitae and only much later when I improved my end grain processing (see END GRAIN UPDATE) did I realize they were mis-identified and moved them all to the verawood page.

This wood is one of the world's most dense and will readily sink in water. It is quite hard and takes a high natural gloss. Because of a pervasive oily substance in the wood that reportedly does not dry out over VERY long periods of time, it has been widely for support bearings for very heavy things like propeller shafts in boats (including submarines) and, likewise, support bearings for power generator shafts.

In woodworking, it is widely used as a mallet wood because of its weight, strength, and durability. It is fairly readily available, but expensive.

NOTE: I believe that a fair amount of the wood sold in the USA these days as lignum vitae is actually verawood / Argentine lignum vitae, (Bulnesia arborea and Bulnesia sarmientoi) which are not closely related to Guaiacum spp. but do have similar characteristics (until you look at the end grain)


LIGNUM VITAE vs VERAWOOD



my samples:
NOTE: these pics were all taken in very bright incandescent lighting --- colors will vary under other lighting conditions


both sides of a sample plank of lignum vitae / Guaiacum officinale --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. NOTES: (1) the sample is labeled with the common name "guayacan" but since that name is used as all or part of one or more of the common names of at least 70 different species, I consider it utterly useless as a designation. (2) the labeled side is raw but the 2nd side has been lightly sanded to 240 grit and shows a slightly redder tinge. The end grain update below as been sanded even more and shows a strong change from green to red. Over time it will revert to green.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above. See comments on color with the face pics above


both sides of a sample plank of lignum vitae / Guaiacum officinale --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


a small log-end cutoff loaned to me by Mark Peet for identification. The interlocked grain, the density, and the end grain characteristics make it conclusively lignum vitae but I have no idea which of the Guaiacum species it is.


the two flat cut faces that were big enough to bother getting pics of


the end grain and END GRAIN UPDATE of the piece directly above


I noticed that at least a few days after I had done the end grain update sanding and taken the pic directly above, the surface had developed numerous obvious cracks. I find that the heat generated by the fine sanding sometimes does this with dense wood but usually the appearance of the cracks is immediately after the sanding.


two shots of a small sliced block of lignum vitae that was sent to me for identification


both sides of one of the pieces


HIGH GRIT END GRAIN CLOSEUP of the piece directly above; this was only done to 400 grit (unlike my normal 1200 grit) but clearly shows the characteristics of lignum vitae. Sanding this stuff in general, and the end grain in particular, is VERY unpleasant because it clogs the sandpaper immediately because of its natural oil and you spend more time cleaning out the sandpaper than you do using the sandpaper.

web pics:


this pic said the piece was green (as in "recently cut-off a live tree") and that's why it's colored green, but personally, I'm pretty sure it's verawood mistakenly identified as lignum vitae.


another piece listed as "green" (this one also identified as Guaiacum officinale)



planks --- the colors are all over the map here and I don't know which ones might be correct or not


although these were listed as lignum vitae, I'm pretty much positive that they are verawood


plank with a color that just seems ridiculous


misc pieces identified as lignum vitae / Guaiacum officinale


although this was listed as lignum vitae / Guaiacum officinale, I'm pretty sure it's verawood


both sides of a piece of lignum vitae / Guaiacum officinale


planks listed as lignum vitae / Guaiacum sanctum but which are very likely verawood


plank listed as "pock" which is another common name for this wood


both sides of a set of planks with highly dubious color


plank and closeup


turning stock


knife handle scales


turning blocks


bowl blanks (heavily waxed)


planks with sapwood


bowls


bowl listed as lignum vitae but I'd bet money that this is verawood


spoon by Richard Carlisle


mortar and pestle listed as lignum vitae