The Dramatic Beauty and Strength of Tigerwood

Tigerwood Grain

Tigerwood is an exotic wood species that is best known for its beautiful grain. With its deep reddish/orange background with dark vein stripes, it is a dramatic and durable hardwood.

Exotic Beauty

Tigerwood is known by a variety of names – Brazilian koa, Congowood, African walnut, coubaril, bototo, zorrowood or muiracatiara, to name a few. Tigerwood may also refer to several different species of trees: Coula edulis, a tree species from tropical western Africa from Sierra Leone to Angola, Lovoa trichilioides, also African in origin, or Goncalo alves in South America (primarily Brazil). They all are evergreen varieties that prefer tropical or subtropical growing conditions, and all feature the same dramatic grain patterning, although the color may vary from region to region.

With trees growing up to a height of 80 feet or more, it can be found in the top canopy of forests as well as the lower story and has no special soil requirements. In fact, its growing popularity has led to export restrictions in Africa from some regions to limit over-cutting and excessive logging.

Tigerwood Properties

Tigerwood is considered very dense and heavy with a Janka hardness up to 2160 depending on the growing region (67% harder than Red Oak at 1210) and has a specific gravity (SG) of 0.45. It is naturally resistant to rot and decay and will not attract mold and fungus growth, which makes it extremely popular not only for exterior use but also for furniture work, veneers, flooring and other wood projects where the dramatic look gives a certain flair to the finished product.

Tigerwood FlooringTigerwood is reported to air-dry well with some minor warping or checking (which can occur in extreme conditions) and it generally resists shrinkage and movement after drying. Tigerwood is dimensionally stable and resists twisting and warping, in the end, product. and will stand up well to wear.

Tigerwood has a wide range of coloring and striping. The striping can vary from fine lines to bold strokes and the color can have a large degree of color change from a light orange and tan to a deep reddish brown. It also has a highly lustrous surface that is considered almost oily in appearance.

Tigerwood is commonly used to produce flooring products and is considered very durable, and it resists denting and wear very well. What is interesting about tigerwood is that it is often graded differently than other species when used for flooring applications because of the dramatic coloring, which is what makes tigerwood so desirable. As an example, lesser grades such as #1 Common refer to small milling defects or the lack of streaks in the end product. Clear grade tigerwood flooring is color-sorted for a rich pink color with pronounced brown and black streaks.

Working with Tigerwood

Tigerwood is considered only moderately difficult to work with, especially with hand tools. Cutting edges may wear down more quickly than with other wood species, so carbide tips or bits are recommended for power tools. Pre-drilling is also recommended when screwing and nailing tigerwood. These steps are best to accommodate the wood’s properties, but of course also to serve to protect your investment in this exotic wood choice.

Sanding can also present more of a challenge with this hard exotic wood, and for large applications like floors, professional preparation is recommended.

Tigerwood can be sealed for longer durability but weathers well naturally as well; no preservatives are needed. Depending on the amount of sunlight the wood will receive, the color will often gradually darken over time, accentuating its distinctive grain pattern and giving it a slightly more subtle striping and increased luster.

Moisture Content in Tigerwood

As with any other wood species, moisture content (MC) is crucial to protecting the longevity of any tigerwood end product.

Tigerwood can be processed locally to reduce import/export expenses, especially in hardwood flooring applications. As an example, most (if not all) tigerwood hardwood flooring is milled in South America because it is more cost-effective to ship finished materials than the raw lumber itself.

wagner-meters-MMC220.jpgIt is typically dried to lower MCs for flooring applications, but as with any wood or wood product, it is vital to allow the wood to come to a gradual, natural balance with the relative humidity (RH) and temperature of the environment it will be installed and used in. This balance is referred to as the equilibrium moisture content, or EMC, and is of critical importance to preventing moisture-related problems in any wood product, but particularly in exotic woods that grow in dramatically different natural environments.

Using a wood moisture meter is the best way to accurately measure and assess the wood’s MC and to monitor the process of equilibration to its surrounding environment. Meters like the Wagner Meters MMC220 Extended Range pinless moisture meter have programmable SG settings for exotic woods as well as standard domestic woods, and can quickly and accurately measure the MC in both unfinished raw lumber and on finished products.

With accurate wood moisture measurement at every stage of the project, tigerwood end products will give years of dramatic strength and beauty wherever the end product will be used.

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Larry Loffer

Larry Loffer is a senior technician at Wagner Meters, where he has over 30 years of experience in wood moisture measurement. With a degree in Computer Systems, Larry is involved in both hardware and software development of wood moisture measurement solutions.

11 Comments

  1. Judith Klein says:

    Hi Larry!

    I’m renovating an old kitchen in Sydney. And stripped the skirting boards to find a real tiger-like pattern on the wood. I looked it up and suspect it is Tasmanian Tiger Myrtle. But it could be anything – I realised after reading your info.Thanks.

  2. Bryan McCool says:

    How can you bleach this wood to lightin it. I have tried A B bleach but little to no color change

  3. Tony says:

    Can you match tiger wood, if half floor was damaged..??

    • Tony Morgan says:

      Since there are many wood species known as Tigerwood, without knowing the exact species and where it came from, it would be extremely difficult to match a pre-existing floor. You might try contacting a company that specializes in Tigerwood products to see if the flooring can be matched.

  4. Timmy says:

    Hi Larry,

    Thanks for your informative notes on Tiger wood. In the Philippines, woodworkers will call a type of tree Tiger wood, and I’ve always wondered what tree it really is. Recently I saw the inside of the Philippine Tiger wood. The colors of your samples seem to match the colors I’ve seen in the Tiger wood in the Philippines. My question is, do you know if Tiger wood grows in the Philippines?

    Thanks!

    • Tony Morgan says:

      I am unaware of any Tigerwood grown in the Philippines, the majority of commercial Tigerwood comes from South America (primarily Brazil).

  5. Linda Robson says:

    I find that my tiger wood floors are very prone to denting and yet I had it installed because of it’s hardness. I’m disappointed.

    • Tony Morgan says:

      The Janka hardness (a test that measures the resistance of a sample of wood to denting and wear) varies greatly for the different species known as Tigerwood. For example, Lovoa trichilioides measures about 940, while Goncalo Alves can have a hardness of up to 2160 (red oak is typically around 1120).

      Since Tigerwood is a generic name for multiple species, knowing which Tigerwood species you are having installed can make a world of difference when it comes to denting and wear resistance.

  6. Mark Lozito says:

    Hi,
    We are installing Tigerwood rainsiding in an atrium. The longest lengths being 12’. What precautions should we take when butting the the inside corners. We would like a seamless look but living in Phoenix wonder about the expansion and contraction. Installing in 60 degrees but can reach up to 120. Any suggestions?

    Thanks

    Mark

    • Larry Loffer says:

      Hi Mark,

      The answer depends on the relative humidity that may change, such as from season to season. If this is a controlled environment that can be kept at constant humidity, then you can get away with butting the pieces together.

      What concerns me is the wide swing in temperature. This usually means quite a change in humidity as well.

      I would leave space in this situation just in case.

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