BOTANICAL NAME: Pterocarpus soyauxii of the family Fabaceae (syn Leguminosae) the legume, pea, or bean family, but this is just the most common of a number of woods that go under the generic name padauk. "Look up padauk in a reference book and you will most likely find three to five different trees mentioned, all from the species Pterocarpus."

My own database includes the following species as ones that have padauk as all or part of one or more of their common names, BUT ... not all of these are actually sold as padauk (at least not in the USA). For example, Pterocarpus indicus is a clearly different wood and is sold as narra (the burl of which is known as amboyna burl) and has its own page on this site.

COMMON NAMES: African padauk, Angola paduak, barwood, bosulu, burma padauk, camwood, comwood, corail, African coralwood, muenge, mbe, mbil, mututi, ngula, vermillion, and yomo. In the US, Vermillion is the most common "other name".

"In commercial markets, narra (Pterocarpus indicus), is sometimes called padauk. Also known as red or yellow narra, Solomon’s padauk or Papua New Guinea rosewood, narra grows in southern and southeast Asia, in the Philippines, Cagayan, Mindoro, Palawan and Cotabuto." My own admittedly limited experience is that narra is a totally separate wood that looks nothing like padauk, but I've just discovered that I may have been misled by having bought a piece of wood that was advertised as narra but which in fact was something else. I'll research this further.

TYPE: hardwood

COLOR: Heartwood colors are variously described as including rich red, blood red, brick red, purple red, reddish orange, pinkish red, and sometimes with dark streaks, and my experience supports all of that. Sapwood is pale beige. The heartwood's color can fade with exposure to the sun, so some users add UV inhibitors to retard the process. The color will deepen significantly if left open to the air. Recently I have purchased two different pieces of padauk, each of which is significantly different in color from the "normal" red and from each other. One is a pale tannish orange and the other is a puplish brown. Both are shown in the pictures.

A web quote: "Color is vivid reddish-orange initially, but changes to bright red, red or coral pink with dark streaks over time". That doesn't sound right to me. my own experience on the color aging is unequivicable and most sources agree: if the wood is left unfinished, the rich red turns to a much darker reddish brown. In fact, the first time I ever saw a piece of padauk, which at the time I knew only as vermillion, it was mounted on a lumberyard wall and I told the owner that it wasn't vermillion (which the sign said it was) because it was a brown with only a hint of red, and he agreed. He said it was padauk but that since they had not carried it since he took over some years before, he had never changed the sign. It wasn't until later that I realized we had both misunderstood the situation.

Padauk is also known as a dye wood, meaning the wood is used to make dyes. I've seen clear evidence of this since sometimes when gluing up pieces, I will notice that the glue turns reddish as it leaches color from the wood.

GRAIN: generally straight to somewhat interlocked.

TEXTURE: Depending on who you read, the texture is either "fine to medium" or "moderately coarse". I go with the "moderately coarse" because of the significant pores. Everyone agrees that it has large pores so a filler is generally recommended. The pores are shown quite well in some of the pictures.

PROPERTIES / WORKABILITY: It saws well with slow feed and machines easily, although there can be some tearing on interlocked grain. It finishes well and glues easily; holds nails and screws well. Has a slight tendancy to chip/splinter (I've observed this myself both when sawing and also when doing laminated turnings)

DURABILITY: The heartwood is very hard and durable and very resistant to termite attack and decay. This wood is used for flooring in some locals, which is certainly an indication of durability.

FINISH: :Finishes to a beautiful sheen without the need for stain." Ah, well, yeah it doesn't need a stain, but it does need some kind of coating, for two reasons. First, the open pores will absorb skin oil and other moisture and second, the color will darken if just left to the open air and will fade if exposed to sunlight.

STABILITY: high dimensional stablity

BENDING: Not suitable for steam bending.

ODOR: spicy when first cut

SOURCES: "Central and West Africa" is most commonly mentioned, but I've also seen specific references to Cameroon, Zaire, Angola, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Nigeria, and at least one source mentioned India as well and I've seen one reference to South America and one to Asia. I have no idea whether or not it actually grows outside Africa.

USES: Excellent turning wood - used for fancy turnery such as knife and tool handles. Prized for high end cabinets and furniture, it is also used for carving and scupting, and as an accent wood. Other uses include veneer, inlay, bobbins, flooring, billiard tables, marquetry, toys, joinery, dowels, shuttles, spindles, stencil & chilsel blocks, sporting goods, paddles, and boat building. When you go to craft fairs and see cutting blocks, for example, with many woods in them, padauk is almost certainly the red wood you see right next to the purpleheart.

Properties of the wood make it suitable for use in musical instruments.

I once made a "tongue drum" using 3/4 padauk on top and a 1/8 piece on the bottom, all encased in a very hard oak shell, and the results were just fabulous, with a deep mellow tone. It was a huge hit with my kids and my wife used to show it off to visitors. Over a period of several years, however, the wood apparently lost much of its resiliency and the tone of the sound it produced became progressively duller until eventually (I think about 6 or 7 years) it was more of a clunk than a musical tone and the tongue that had produced the least musical sound when new ending up producing nothing but a lifeless thud.

TREE: Average height is 100 feet, but the tree can grow to 130 feet with diameters of 2 to 5 feet and wide buttresses.

WEIGHT: 40 to 50 pounds per cubic feet when seasoned.

DRYING: Dries well with with minimum degrade. A kiln schedule of T10-D5S is suggested by USDA Forest Service for 4/4 stock and T8-D4S for 8/4 stock.

AVAILABILITY: readily available from exotic wood dealers [UP TO WHAT WIDTH?]

COST: moderate to low (for an exotic) --- should be no more than $8 to $9/BF for good quality

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web quotes:

Many believe that the most vibrant padauk — a vivid orange — comes from padauk grown in the Congo

the best padauk comes from the Andaman Islands and is called vermillion and is much more highly figured than the stuff from southeast asia.

Padauk species are known for yielding wood with vibrant colors, brightest when cut and darkening with age and exposure.

In the Italian woodworking market, padauk is a popular choice for flooring because of its high resistance to abrasion, its durability and strength. Padauk’s stability also makes it a good choice for floors with built-in or under-floor heating.

Because of the wide variety of sub-species which all go under the same name, some care is appropriate in purchasing this wood from unknown suppliers. One moderately common variety is more a dirty brown than the attractive red-orange which is normally associated with this wood.

It is an accent wood. Quarter cutting veneers yields a straight grain that is more popular than the cathedral grain you get with a flat cut. The color varies log by log, but Burma padauk is generally more orange in color and African and Andaman padauk generally have more vibrant red orange colors. When padauk veneer is stored it sort of "crystallizes" on the surface, developing a white powder that is easily sanded off,” Matulevich said.

"the dust from padauk is carcinogenic" Personally, I think that's probably an overstatement, but I always wear a good quality mask when sawing and sanding and recommend that everyone else do the same. I do know that the dust from some exotics can definitely cause serious respiratory problems and this may be one of them. Cocobolo is the one I'm the most cautious about.

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Andaman padauk (Pterocarpus dalbergoides) is found only in the Andaman Islands and is sometimes called Andaman redwood or vermillion wood. In the book, Know Your Woods, Albert Constantine writes that many of the penal colony settlements in the Andaman Islands, logged the 120-foot “vermillion” trees, so-called because of their brilliant red color.

“Among old cabinetmakers it is often referred to as East Indian mahogany and Indian redwood,” writes Constantine. Some padauk logs yield striped or mottled looks. Andaman padauk has a high resistance to cutting and moderate blunting effect.

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Burma padauk (Pterocarpus macrocarpus), also called pradoo or mai pradoo, grows in Burma and Thailand. It grows to 80 feet high and yields a bright yellow red to dark brick red heartwood, often streaked with darker color. Like other padauks, it has a spicy odor when cut. Burma padauk can be hard to saw if the wood is dry and difficult to use with hand tools because of its interlocked grain and coarse texture.

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The “Fine Hardwoods Selectorama” lists Angola padauk (Pterocarpus angolensis) among its lists of padauks. It comes from East Africa and is also known as muninga. This tree grows to an average height of 60 feet. The wood is aromatic when cut, but the dry sawdust can cause nasal irritation. The heartwood color is variable, from pale brown to chocolate brown, to brick red or purple brown with red streaks.