open main page here


Brosimum guianense

Brosimum guianense (syn. Piratinera guianensis of the family Moraceae

Snakewood comes from a smallish, relatively rare tree found in the forests of Central and South America and is reportedly is somewhat brittle and difficult to work, but worth the effort. It is very rare in general and fully figured pieces are even more rare and very expensive. It is also available in unfigured form, usually at a greatly reduced price. There is generally a problem with pith checking (that is, the center of the logs tend to have long voids and splits after drying). Typically only 25% of a log will have the famous snakeskin figure and this, combined with the frequent pith checks make it a popluar wood for vendors to sell in log form by the pound because that way they put the onus on the buyer of finding out the typically bad news about what's inside the log. The color, which can be quite bright on first exposure, and have a lot of red, darkens with age to a solid brown.

My samples are mostly unfigured, or at best are figured only on a part of each. Some wood snobs say that unfigured snakewood is useless but they are very wrong --- it is a very hard, dense, wood that turns VERY nicely and polishes to a VERY high gloss (glass-like) and sometimes does not suffer from as much brittleness as the figured sections.

Both figured and unfigured sections are prone to extremely thin cracks that sometimes cannot be seen until after the wood is fully worked and a finish is applied.

Called "snakewood" because of the fairly obvious snake-skin look of the figured portions. In England it's called "letterwood" because the figure was interpreted as looking somewhat like hieroglyphics.

my samples:

both sides of a sample plank of snakewood / Piratinera guianensis --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. The labeled side is raw and has a light patina but the 2nd side has been freshly sanded to 400 grit and although you can't tell from the pics, it took a high polish even at just 400 grit. Had I buffed it, it would be like glass.

end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above

END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above

both sides of a sample plank of snakewood / Brosimum guianensis (should be guianense)--- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. This was an amazingly heavy/dense piece of wood so I measured both the size and the weight very carefully and this piece pro-rates out to 83lbs/cuft which is at the upper end of the expected range for snakewood. My end grain update process took this to one of the most, if not the most, "glass-like" surfaces that I've ever seen in unfinished wood. I tried to get some pics from things relfected in it, but had not luck, but it is absolutely mirror-like, just darker.

end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above

END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above

a bunch of really small/thin pieces that came in a mixed lot; the bottom ones are about 1/16th thick and the top ones are massively flawed behind the top surface. None are usable for anything but at least now I have a first-hand pic of this wood --- color is very accurate and as you can see, it has none of the red or orange that most pics show, although I cannot say with authority that snakewood never has any of those colors.

a closer pic of a couple of the pieces from the group above --- these two have been sanded a little more but are still pretty rough.

plank and closeup --- the upper portion has the classic snakeskin figure and the rest does not.

plank and closeup --- this one has only a hint of the snakeskin figure

a pair of small planks, several more pics of which are shown directly below

plank and face grain closeup

side grain and end grain closeups of the piece directly above

the other plank

side grain and end grain closeups of the piece directly above --- the end grain pic is too red

plank photographed at a woodworking show --- this plank had a hard shiny finish on it that clearly enhanced the color

pics sent to me by a South American vendor of waxed turning stock. I do not have dimensions but I'm guessing these are about 2 1/2" to 3" on a side.

web pics:

log halves --- the first one is 4 feet long and the top one in the 2nd pic is also 4 feet long

more log halves. This wood is frequently sold as log halves because it is so frequently full of flaws --- buying one of these logs is like buying a pig in a poke, and it usually DOES turn out to be a cat.

small pics of big planks --- the enlargements show several common pith flaws clearly


unfigured planks

turning stock

turning sticks

four views of some turning sticks --- these pics were sent to me by a correspondent who said nothing about the wood or the pics (or anything else) and had an email return address name of "Wilco Misiedjan". I'm sure all the pics are of the same, or a highly similar, set of wood and the radical differences in color are just another example of how hard it can be to get color-accurate pics of wood. Clearly the purple-tint pics were taken in sunlight and need color correction; the others are probably close to accurate.

pen blanks

heavily waxed pen blanks, all from the same vendor

knife handle pairs

scales (waxed) that were being sold for an amount that pro-rated out to $740/BF

knife handle pairs

knife handle pairs

knife handle pairs

heavily waxed scales, all from the same vendor

knife handle blank and pool cue blank

turning billet that almost certainly is waxed or oiled

veneer (rare for this wood) --- the second pic is a bookmatched pair

veneer pic sent by Neal Kuwabara who wanted to see if I agreed it was snakewood, which I do. The cracks seem to confirm what I've heard about snakewood being too brittle to make a good veneer

A very nice piece of work by Richard Carlisle. I've made the pic a little brighter than it was when Richard sent it to me so that the spots would stand out better. This is a serving spoon (I thought it was a letter opener at first) with the bowl part on the right. The design seems to be such that if someone doesn't like what you're serving to them with it, then you can just damned well STAB them with it. :-)

knife handle and pistol grips