The Dramatic Beauty and Strength of Tigerwood
What Is Tigerwood?
Tigerwood is a durable and dramatic exotic wood species known for its dark vein stripes and beautiful deep reddish-orange background.
It’s known by a variety of names including Brazilian koa, Congo wood, African walnut, courbaril, bototo, zorrowood, and muiracatiara. When someone uses the term “tigerwood’’ they may be referring to Coula edulis, a tree species from tropical western Africa, Lovoa trichilioides (also African in origin), or Goncalo alves from South America (primarily Brazil). These are all evergreen varieties that prefer tropical or subtropical growing conditions. Although the color may vary from region to region, these tigerwood trees all feature the same dramatic grain pattern.
Because tigerwood trees can reach heights of more than 80 feet, they’re often found in the top forest canopy. However, they can also be found on lower canopies as well. They have no special soil requirements and their growing popularity has led some countries to restrict exports in order to limit over-cutting.
Tigerwood is very dense and heavy and can have a Janka rating (which measures the hardness and durability of wood) of up to 2160 depending on the growing region. This is 67% harder than red oak which only has a Janka rating of 1210. Because tigerwood is naturally resistant to rot and decay and doesn’t attract mold or fungus growth, it’s popular not only for exterior use but also for furniture, veneers, flooring, and other wood projects as well. It’s dramatic look lends a certain flair to finished products.
Tigerwood responds well to air-drying even though warping and checking can occur under extreme conditions. After it has dried, it’s resistant to both shrinkage and movement. Projects made from tigerwood are dimensionally stable and hold up well.
Tigerwood is known for its beautiful colors — ranging from light orange all the way down to a deep reddish-brown — and striping, which varies from fine lines to bold strokes. It’s highly lustrous surface makes it look almost oily.
Because tigerwood is highly durable and resists denting, it’s often used for flooring. Its dramatic coloring means it’s often graded differently from other hardwood species when used for flooring applications. Tigerwood that has small defects and less striking variations in color is graded as “common.” Tigerwood graded as “clear” has deep black or brown stripes and a deep orange base color with a hint of pink in it.
The Janka hardness test measures a wood’s durability using a small steel ball to determine the amount of force necessary to dent the surface of the wood. Species that can withstand more pressure before denting have a higher Janka rating while softer woods have a lower rating.
Tigerwood’s Janka hardness scale rating of 2160 makes it harder than many other durable wood species. It’s twice as hard as Peruvian Walnut which has a Janka rating of 1080 but just slightly softer than Brazilian Cherry with a hardness scale rating of 2350.
This means tigerwood is highly durable. Its density makes it resistant to water, bugs, and rot. Provided it’s properly maintained, it can last for over 50 years if used in interior locations and over 25 years if used outside. This makes it a great wood for both interior flooring and outside decks.
What is Tigerwood Used For?
Tigerwood is often used for interior flooring, musical instruments, and fine furniture. It’s durability and water-resistant qualities also make it perfect for anything used outdoors including outdoor deck boards, shutters, deck furniture, and boats. You’ll also see it used for decorative items because of its beautiful grain patterns.
Working with Tigerwood
Despite its hardness, tigerwood is considered only moderately difficult to work with, if you have professional hand tools. Because cutting edges may wear down more quickly than with other wood species, carbide tips or bits are recommended. We also recommend drilling prior to using screws or nails on tigerwood.
Because it can be a challenge to sand this hard, exotic wood, we recommend professional preparation when using tigerwood for large applications such as flooring.
Tigerwood can be sealed for increased durability, but it also weathers well naturally, without preservatives. Sunlight changes the color of the wood. Some people have observed the wood getting darker. Others report that it gets lighter.
Moisture Content in Tigerwood
As with all wood species, managing the moisture content of tigerwood is crucial if we want to protect our projects…
Tigerwood is typically dried down to a relatively low moisture content when it’s used for flooring applications. However, as with any species of wood or wood product, it’s essential for the wood to have already reached its equilibrium moisture content (EMC) before it’s used in construction in order to avoid moisture-related problems. This is especially true with exotic species of wood that grow in natural environments very different from where they’ll eventually be used.
A quality wood moisture meter is the best way to accurately measure the moisture content of wood and monitor its equilibration to the surrounding environment. Our Orion® 930 Dual Depth Pinless Moisture Meter has programmable specific gravity (SG) settings for both standard domestic woods and exotic woods. It can quickly and accurately measure the moisture content in both unfinished raw lumber and finished wood projects.
It can be summed up in just one sentence…
Accurately measuring wood moisture content at every stage during the construction of a project helps you ensure its success.
How to Care for and Maintain Tigerwood
Caring for Tigerwood Flooring
Caring for tigerwood flooring is relatively easy. There are just a few things you should keep in mind…
- Keep it clean. Be sure to vacuum or sweep up any visible dust or dirt.
- Clean up liquid spills immediately.
- Use rugs in areas that get a lot of foot traffic.
- Use felt pads under furniture legs.
- Keep your pet’s nails short.
- Avoid rugs with a rubber backing as they can cause the area underneath them to fade.
- Try to avoid having the sun beat down on the same area of the floor every day.
- Rearrange your furniture periodically so the floor can change color (i.e., age) consistently.
Caring for Tigerwood Decks
Left on its own, tigerwood will naturally age and take on a beautiful, rustic gray color. Clear sealers will protect your deck boards from dirt and rain. However, they can’t stop the color from fading. If that’s OK with you, then just use a simple, clear sealer.
Select a lighter stain if you want some of the wood’s natural color to show through. Your decking’s location and how much use it gets will determine how often you’ll need to apply a new coat. Obviously, if you start to see fading, it’s time for another application of stain.
Clean your decking regularly with mild soap and water or just water for a quick rinse. Dirt acts as an abrasive and can damage the surface of the wood. Pollen is also a problem because it can lead to mold growth which can then lead to rot. It only takes a few minutes of TLC to preserve your investment.
Tigerwood’s Pros and Cons
1. Tigerwood is durable
Tigerwood, with a Janka rating of 2160, is harder than many other woods. That makes it good for flooring and decking that gets a lot of heavy use. For example, families with children and dogs.
2. Tigerwood is beautiful and unique
Tigerwood gets its name from the dark, pretty “tiger” stripes of varying thicknesses and its rich reddish-orange base.
3. Tigerwood is water-resistant
Tigerwood’s density and natural oils make it resistant to water. Therefore, it’s a good choice for damp environments like decks and outdoor furniture.
4. Tigerwood is exotic, but not too pricey
Exotic hardwoods can be very expensive. Tigerwood is exotic, durable, and resists moisture, but won’t break your budget.
5. Tigerwood is easy to maintain
Tigerwood is an easy wood to maintain. All you need is a dust mop or vacuum cleaner. For deeper cleaning, mix ¼ cup of mild soap in 2 gallons of water and you’ll be able to wash away dirt without harming the finish. Whatever you do, don’t use a cleaner that’s not designed for exotic hardwoods.
1. The color of tigerwood will change over time
Tigerwood starts out with high contrast between the various colors. However, over time the lighter colors will slowly darken and this contrast will become less noticeable. You can slow this down by limiting the amount of sunlight the floor gets.
2. Tigerwood grows in rainforests
While tigerwood is not an endangered species there are concerns about over-logging. Some tigerwood-growing countries — including Brazil where most US tigerwood comes from — have placed export restrictions on it to prevent over-cutting.
3. Don’t try this yourself
Tigerwood is hard. Therefore, it’s not going to be a DIY project for many people. You’ll need professional tools such as saws with carbon-tipped blades and carbide bit drills for creating the necessary pre-drilled holes for nails and screws. Tigerwood also isn’t easy to glue because of the natural oils in the wood.
Tigerwood is definitely a show-stealer. It’s warm, striking coloring has the ability to turn any floor into a centerpiece and it’s hard, durable nature makes it perfect for a wide variety of uses including, but not limited to, flooring, decks, and fine furniture.
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.