Characteristics of padauk

      Basic characteristics of this beautiful, brilliant-red wood. October 10, 2000

by Professor Gene Wengert

I have been privileged to acquire a wood named padauk, which is deep red/orange in color. In fact, it is being used as shipping crate material. Most of the boards are 1/2" x 6" x 5', and several are 2" x 2" x 6'. I was able to identify the wood at a local store, but would like to know more about the nature of the wood itself, like how it is best worked, popular uses, where it comes from and, most of all, if it is worth getting.

There are three species of trees that produce wood that we call padauk--Burma padauk, Andaman padauk (named for the Andaman Islands where it grows), and African padauk. All are legume family and have the Latin names of Pterocarpus macrocarpus, Pterocarpus dalbergioides, and Pterocarpus soyauxii. The sawdust is probably a nasal irritant. There may be a faint odor. All are red when cut, but darken with exposure to light. The wood is resistant to termites. It is widely used for decorative carvings, flooring, etc. Because of interlocked grain, it is hard to finish smoothly--use very sharp tools and fresh sandpaper. I could give you more if I knew the country.

Professor Gene Wengert is Extension Specialist in Wood Processing at the Department of Forestry, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
You've found gold! I recently made some cabinet doors for a client with padauk. It is very much a respitory irritant, so please take precautions. I would also recommend dust collection, as my shop still has a red hue after a couple months. Edges and corners are brittle, so sharp tooling is important, as was mentioned. I found the wood to be very stable and a pleasure to work with. With regards to glue up, I'd recommend a poly glue as the wood is oily. A good sharp scraper is what I found leaves the best surface and I sprayed Magnalac as a finish. It takes a beautiful finish, revealing a vibrant natural appearance.

Comment from contributor B:
Besides being a nasal irritant, padauk causes a rather persistent burning sensation in the area surround any splinters you may receive. It is best handled with care (or gloves!). I have also found it to burn my eyes and nose, and the red dust will cling to your clothes and your wash will turn red several times after exposure. But, this is a very nice hardwood that requires fine tooling and yields a stunning orange/red color. It will darken when exposed to light as a dark mahogany. A beautiful wood when worked properly that ages gracefully.

Comment from contributor C:
An article in 'Wood' magazine early last year stated that padauk would turn a rather bland dark brown after a few months' exposure to UV light (sunlight). The way to prevent this and save the wonderful orange-red color is to treat it with a bit of Armor-all before sealing.

Comment from contributor D:
I have a beautiful red F# flute that is made out of Padauk wood. It is sealed with ArkOil, instead of a polymer coating. The sealant is a non-toxic, biodegradable product. The flute has an exceptional tone which is due to the density of the wood and the way it has been sealed. I haven't had it long enough to see if it will turn a dark brown color, but when not in use, I keep it in a felt lined container.

Comment from contributor E:
I've made an electric banjo body from padauk wood. I would say it turns a dark purple color as it ages rather than a brown. I used Deft spray lacquer as a finish.

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