Monday, May 21, 2012

Focus on wood: Goncalo Alves

Goncalo Alves is a love / hate wood for me to work with. I’ve used it several times (mostly in boxes), but it does have its challenges.  First, let’s take a look at the wood itself.  Goncalo Alves is one of those woods that is sold under a couple of different names. You are getting used to hearing that by now aren’t you? It is also sold as tigerwood and Brazilian koa. It also gets called Zebrawood, Urunday-Para, Mura, Bois De Zebre, Chibatao, Guarita, and Aderno. Just to be clear, it is not zebrawood (that’s a different wood). It is also not related to koa from Hawaii in any way. Goncalo Alves is, however, from Brazil. The sapwood is very light in color. The heartwood is a lighter brown/reddish in color with very distict streaks of very dark brown to almost black.  The color will deepen and redden with exposure. 
Goncalo Alves jewelry box with anigre top

Goncalo alves is a very hard wood, which can be rather brittle.  That is to say, you need to pre-drill when nailing or gluing. When used as hardwood flooring, even the flooring nails will split the tongue with frequency.  This can also cause issues when performing some operations such as routing in a rabbit. When routing in general, light passes are advisable lest the bit grab the wood and tear a large splinter out.  This wood can produce a very sharp edge. Having sliced my thumb open running it across a planed and jointed edge, I can testify to this. It wasn’t a splinter, it was a slice. It also produced a good amount of bleeding and swearing.

With all that being said, I love the way this wood finishes. It doesn’t absorb much finish. If you apply a finish like Danish oil, be aware that you will be wiping much of it back off. Sand it to a 400 grit though and you have a surface that is silky smooth. Add a coat of wax to it and you have a surface that is smooth as glass.
Goncalo Alves jewelry box with a bubinga top

So, while it is temperamental to work with, I love the way it looks when it is finished.  It’s getting a bit hard to get a hold of as of this writing, but one that I’m looking forward to working with some more.  It always pops to mind when I’m looking for a lighter wood that will really show off a secondary wood.