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What Is Wenge Wood?

Updated February 21, 2017

Wenge is the wood of the Wenge tree, Millettia laurentii. The Wenge tree is native to western Equatorial Africa, especially Zaire, Cameroon and Gabon. The lumber is used for general construction in the tree's home range. In North America, Wenge is considered an exotic wood, and finds use as a veneer and in cabinetry and woodcraft projects.

Description

Wenge is a dark, straight-grained wood with a somewhat coarse texture. The grain has a pronounced alternation of narrow tan and dark brown, almost black wood that forms striking patterns when properly cut.

Properties

Wenge wood is quite dense, with a weight of 24.9 Kilogram per cubic foot, yet porous enough to require use of a filler before finishing. It is of moderate hardness and resistance to wear and abrasion. Working with the wood requires sharp tools and attention to its tendency to become oily when exposed to air. Wenge's hardness makes it unsuitable for carving, but it is good stock for turning.

Construction Use

Wenge's density and hardness are suitable for general construction, both interior and exterior, in regions where it is readily available. Outside of its native habitat, the wood is most often used to make veneers used for furniture, panelling and cabinetry. Because of its appearance and durability, Wenge is also used for high-end hardwood floors or for stair treads.

Other Uses

In the United States, Wenge's dramatic colour and striking grain make it one of the exotic woods used in small projects, particularly for inlays and veneers. It serves well as a replacement for hickory in wooden athletic equipment such as bats and racquets, and is sometimes used for an accent wood on electrically amplified stringed instruments. The wood's high porosity tends to deaden sound, however, making it unsuitable for acoustic instrument bodies.

Dangers

Cutting, shaping, turning or sanding Wenge produces dust particles that can act as an irritant of moderate toxicity. Woodworkers who use Wenge in their projects should exercise caution to minimise contact with these particles. You should use a dust-collection system and a dust mask or respirator, and remove splinters immediately to avoid irritation of the skin by the wood's oils.

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About the Author

Kelvin O'Donahue has been writing since 1979, with work published in the "Arizona Geological Society Digest" and "Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists," as well as online. O'Donahue holds a Master of Science in geology from the University of Arizona, and has worked in the oil industry since 1982.