BOTANICAL NAME: primarily Microberlinia Brazzavillensis but also includes Microberlinia bisulcata

Note that there are well over 2 dozen species from almost 20 genera that have zebrawood as all or part of one or more of their common names. Fortunately, however, this causes no confusion (well, ok, not TOO much confusion) in the USA because all of the other woods have more immediately recognizable common names (e.g. goncalo alves, marblewood, African blackwood, etc.) that are used by all vendors in the USA for the various woods.

COMMON NAMES: the most common names are zebrawood (central africa) and zebrano (central africa and gabon) but others include: alenele, allen ele (cameroon), allene (cameroon), amouk (cameroon), bois zebra, ele, ele (cameroon), enuk enug, enuk-enug (central africa and equatorial guinea), izingana (gabon), nkomi (africa), okwen (africa), sebrano (central africa), sebratra (central africa), zingana (central africa and gabon), zinganga (gabon)

TYPE: hardwood

COLOR: This is a wood which cannot be confused with any other. The name is inescapable --- the grain pattern looks very much like zebra stripes although the darker stripes are much thinner than the lighter stripes. For a wood which sometimes looks even more like zebra stripes, see Macassar Ebony. The dark stripes range from dark brown to almost black and the lighter portion ranges from light tan to golden yellow. The striping varies considerably and the wood is almost always quartersawn to show the striping to good effect. Flat cut pieces can be REALLY striking but you don't often see them. There is a clear distinction between heartwood and sapwood and the sapwood can be up to 4 inches thick. The color does not darken over time.

GRAIN: interlocked or wavy, with several reports saying that this produces alternating hard and soft grained material.

TEXTURE: most reports indicate high luster but my own experience is a more medium luster. Polishes quite nicely.

PROPERTIES / WORKABILITY: easy to work with both hand and machine tools, but it must be carefully planed or it will tear out due to interlocked grain and even occasional grain reversals. The tearout will leave a fuzziness which can be sanded pretty easily. Gluing is satisfactory with care. Finishes well when filled. Used primarily for decorative purposes where strength and mechanical properties are unimportant

DURABILITY: some reports say heartwood is durable and resistant to termite attack, other reports say this wood is non-durable and susceptible to insect attack. Resistent to preservative treatment.

FINISH: one report says that when it is finished with oil and polyurethane it frequently has an "inner light" which is beautiful. That has not been my experience. Another report says that it is is oily but it holds a finish very well. That (the oiliness) is also not in my experience but I agree that it holds a finish well. I have worked with a number of different planks and have never experienced either oiliness or "inner light", but I do find that it will sand and finish quite nicely.

STABILITY: small movement in service

BENDING: no specific report but the fact that it is reported used for archery bows implies good bendability

ODOR: unpleasant odor disappears after drying.

SOURCES: West Africa from Gabon, Cameroon, and Congo --- gregarious, sometimes in pure stands along riverbanks.

USES: boat building, furniture, dowels, floor lamps, cabinets, rifle stock, turnery, fancy goods, marquetry, and decorative paneling (usually in veneer form), inlays, archery bows, decorative veneer

TREE: A very large tree attaining a height of 150 feet with a diameter of 6 feet, the bark is extremely thick, up to 12", and the tree’s yellow sapwood can grow up to 4" wide.

WEIGHT: moderate --- about 46 lbs per cubic foot

DRYING: difficult to dry and requires care in order to avoid surface checking, splitting and distortion.

AVAILABILITY: readily available

COST: moderate --- retail prices for 4/4 zebrawood range between $9/bf and $11/bf. Prices for 8/4 and larger thicknesses were slightly higher. Wholesale prices for 4/4 zebrawood average about $6/bf in quantities of 100/bf or higher.

HOBBIT COMMENTS: I saw a web quote that "veneer needs careful handling to avoid cracking" but this has not been my experience, although it is possible that this report refers not to true veneer but to very thin solid wood such as guitar backs, and such sheets may well be somewhat fragile. Actual veneer is not, in my experience, particularly fragile and can be handled without any special caution.

web quotes:
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“There are different varieties of it,” said Myles Gilmer of Gilmer Wood Co., a retailer and wholesaler in Portland, Ore. “You get some of it that has a very fine stripe, and others that are wider, with a more diffused stripe. Zebra is a real tricky wood because the main defects are those gum ducts [pockets] in it. If you’re looking at the butt of the tree you can see them interspersed in the tissue, and know full well that these things extend the full length of the log.”

Gilmer said loggers need to be extremely careful when downing zebrawood trees, which can reach heights up to 150' with trunk diameters of 5'.

“They will put a lot of brush and stuff down to kind of pad it, because if it hits something weird, like something on the forest floor, the whole tree can shatter and all that is left is big chunks. So it is kind of fragile, and one of the defects you’ll see are "fell fractures". If it's dropped, it stresses. It’s like it instantly flexes and it sets up these little microfractures, and usually you only see those things when you put the oil on it in the final [finishing]. It looks like a tiny little crack, but it doesn’t actually feel like a crack.”

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“We sell it for accent pieces, musical instruments — like a solid-body guitar,” said Gerry Bishop of Colco Fine Woods & Tools, a retailer and wholesaler in Memphis, Tenn. “We sell it for turnings. It kind of fuzzes up a lot when turning, but it finishes real nice. It almost has a shimmer to it.” Bishop built a zebrawood desk and said he had no problem milling the wood, which he described as being a bit softer than oak.

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Turned objects made of Zebrawood can be stunning. The wood turns well without catching. In the past it has been put to every imaginable use from hat racks to lifeboats to fancy veneering. Its goldish brown color and lively figure lend themselves to any project.

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Almost all zebrawood sold is quartersawn in order to show off the striped figure. Huge boards are available, although not quite as large as 20 years ago.