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VERAWOOD

Bulnesia arborea and Bulnesia sarmientoi

Bulnesia arborea and Bulnesia sarmientoi of the family Zygophyllaceae

NOTE: Some vendors like to keep the two species separate, identifying one as verawood and the other as Argentine lignum vitae, BUT ... both species use both names and the characteristics are so similar that I cannot tell them apart, so I treat them as a single wood.

These species are NOT closely related to lignum vitae (Guaiacum spp.) although they are in the same family and do have somewhat similar characteristics. Lignum vitae is more rare, more dense, and more expensive wood, so dealers will sometimes sell these woods as lignum vitae, so caveat emptor. They are easy to tell apart via the end grain.

Bill Fink reports on working with verawood: "As I recall, when the piece was in the lathe, all of the fresh cuts were green. If I took a break and went inside for a while it would have turned brown in just an hour or so. It had a slightly sweet, pleasant smell while it was being worked. I made a night stick with this specimen for a policeman friend. It was so heavy that they had him go Federal guidelines. They were certain that it had been bored and spiked with lead, so part of the process was an xray! He's no longer a cop, but still has the stick. After being carried for years, it still looks like it did the day it came off of the lathe."


LIGNUM VITAE vs VERAWOOD




verawood / Bulnesia arborea and Bulnesia sarmientoi


2.5" x 2.5" flat cut, 2.5" x 2.5" quartersawn, 1" x 1" end grain, and a 1/4" x 1/4" end grain closeup. The end grain closeup shows that it is diffuse porous with with moderate pore size and density and pores arranged in dendritic groups. Rays are not visible. The face grain generally, as in these samples, clearly shows the "feathering" / "herringbone" characteristic of interlocked grain. The wood is very hard and dense (it sinks in water) and is so waxy that is clogs sandpaper pretty quickly and can be hard to glue. I have found it very pleasant to turn on the lathe and most reports agree that it is easy to turn but say it is otherwise hard to work.

Color change is a bit weird in that it sometimes starts off brown and then turns green and other times starts off green and turns reddish brown. Both of those are exhibited on this page. I have no explanation for this radical difference in color change except that perhaps it is the difference between Bulnesia arborea and Bulnesia sarmientoi.


my samples:


both sides of a sample plank of verawood / Bulnesia spp. --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was sent to me for identification. It was sliced off a fence post found in Argentina. I have freshly sanded the face.


after a week an exposed to direct sunlight for part of each day, the side on the left has turned a deeper, richer green (the side on the right was covered up). This is not what I expected. I expected it to turn brown. I note that the covered side has also turned somewhat more green so clearly the effect is not just UV but also oxygen. Another surprize was that the color change hardly budged after the second week, as you can see on the full exposure series


end grain and HIGH GRIT END GRAIN CLOSEUP of the piece directly above


face grain closeup. This is perhaps the best shot I've ever gotten of interlocked grain on a flat cut surface. The first enlargement is the best pic for the overall effect (but of course the 2nd enlargement shows the grain detail the best)


both sides of a sample plank of verawood / Bulnesia sarmientii [INCORRECT spelling of sarmientoi] --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by David Clark whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site. The labeled side is raw but the 2nd side has been sanded to 240 grit


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above, sanded down enought to show the red/brown of a freshly sanded piece.


BOTH FACES OF THIS SAMPLE HAVE A LIGHT COAT OF CLEAR PASTE WAX
both sides of a sample plank of verawood / Bulnesia arborea --- HUGE enlargements are present. This sample was loaned to me by Mark Peet whom I thank for this and other contributions to the site.


end grain and end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above


this composite pic shows two views of a verawood turning, and each view has 2 pics, taken 9 years apart. Details are shown at the bottom of this page along with enlargements of all views. I just put this here to show color change with ageing.

The first few samples below were in the "mystery wood" section for a while because I bought one piece about 25 years ago and forgot what the wood was. Several correspondents (Carla Kelly, Bill Fink, and Steve Bartocci) and I all came to the conclusion about the same time that it is verawood.

It is a very dusty green when freshly cut but deepens quickly to a more brownish green. It exudes a waxy substance that can take it to an extremely high natural polish.


All of these samples are from the same verawood plank. It is a greenish wood with an attractive interlocked grain and an amazing amount of internal wax. The "waxed" shine you see on the last picture is the result of spinning it on a lathe with a paper towel pressed tightly against the wood. The internal wax heats up and puts a natural wax finish on the wood. That's right, I did not add ANY finishing agent to this piece, although when you see it up close, and particularly when you feel it, you recognize that it is unmistakably waxed. When cut or sanded it gives off a bright green dust. It is quite dense.


end grain closeup of the left-most sample directly above. This side of this piece has been fine sanded and has a waxy exudation on the surface.


end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE of one of the pieces directly above --- color on the closeup is slightly too dark but the update color is good.


side grain closeup showing herringbone interlocked grain


this is the two halves of a little turning that I ran across. It's been in a box in my garage for well about 25 years and is from the same batch of vera wood as the little pieces above. I wanted to see what effect the time had had on it so I dug it out and cut it in half. The box had been water damaged at some point, so the surface is a bit messed up but when I originally turned it, I just pressure buffed it on the lathe with sawdust and did not put any finish on. When it came off the lathe it had the polished look of the cylinder above and was not this dark.


The end grain and face grain surfaces of the two halves. The left half in each case has been rough sanded and the right half has been fine sanded, causing a darker look because of the way the light reflects off of a buffed surface in wood. The face grain shows the expected color for verawood but maybe a little darker.

The main thing I learned from this was the that darkening with time does not go farther than the surface, as you can see in the first pic


end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE of the fine sanded side of the piece directly above


a set of small cut-offs. The first pic shows the unsanded side of each and the second pic shows each piece after I sanded it down to 100-grit. The piece in the lower left is cut from one of the pieces that looked exactly like the top piece, but this is a side grain (flat cut) and freshly cut and sanded. The other edges that are sanded were not fresh-cut prior to sanding so still retain much of the patina. These pieces were sold to me as lignum vitae and they were on that page for a while. It was only when I realized that verawood and lignum vitae can be distinguished by the end grain characteristics that I knew they were mis-identified and moved them to this page.


the two lower pieces from the set above, but this time face-on and up close. The one on the left is a flat cut face freshly cut and sanded and the one on the right is a butt-end face freshly sanded but not freshly cut. As I was rough sanding the butt-end face, there was a fairly bright green dust and the piece was more green than it became as I sanded it down with a 100-grit belt.


side grain closeups of the same pieces. The one on the left shows a closeup of the top edge of the one that is show face-on directly above and the one on the right shows a side grain face of the one that is show butt-end-on directly above.


end grain closeups of the same pieces. The one on the left is the end grain of the piece that is shown face-on in the first set of pics and the one on the right is the end grain (the same butt-on view) of the one that is shown butt-on in the first set of pics.


END GRAIN UPDATE of the piece on the left directly above


a set of verawood turning sticks, raw with patina (see directly below for sanded surfaces). These pieces were sold to me as lignum vitae and they were on that page for a while. It was only when I realized that verawood and lignum vitae can be distinguished by the end grain characteristics that I knew they were mis-identified and moved them to this page.


the same set of turning sticks as directly above, but with one surface sanded down on each piece (these are the same sticks in exactly the same order)


some face grain closeups from the sticks directly above --- these were chosen to show the interlocked grain


an end grain closeup from a couple of the sticks directly above


both sides of a turning stick


a couple of face grain closeups of the piece directly above


end grain closeup and END GRAIN UPDATE of the piece directly above


a small, thin, verawood sheet and a tiny slab, both contributed by Terrence O'Hearn, whom I thank for the donation. I'm going to sand down one side of The small slab and take a pic while it's raw (it will be a moderately light brown) and then again after it ages for a few months, at which point it will be back to looking like what you see here. He sent it with one side sanded but I waited so long to take the pics that it aged enough that I'm no longer content to consider it "raw" and need to sand it again.


OK, here it is sanded (brown) and then again after being in indirect sunlight for 2 weeks (it didn't take the full 2 weeks to turn green again, I just didn't get around to taking a picture for 2 weeks). I don't know what I was thinking in the paragraph above when I said I'd wait for months. I know it doesn't take long for this wood to change color.


sample plank and end grain sold to me as verawood / Bulnesia arborea --- this piece is freshly sanded, but was not sanded deeply enough to totally remove the green surface, so it's a cross between the normal brown of a freshly surfaced piece and the green of an aged piece.


end grain closeup of the piece directly above


END GRAIN UPDATE from directly above, sanded down far enough to show the red/brown of a freshly sanded piece.


small plank and end grain, freshly sanded. This piece was green before sanding. Piece contributed by Joe Melton, whom I thank for this and numerous other contributions. Joe had this marked as "blue verawood", but I cannot find that designation in any reference.


end grain closeup of the piece directly above



web pics:


web pic of the set from which several of my own samples above came


lumber yard pic of numerous verawood planks showing only some of the color variation that one can find in this wood


planks listed as verawood


verawood plank and closeup --- I had this in my files as verawood and then again as Argentine lignum vitae, so I'm not sure which one it should be listed as


verawood plank and closeup


planks and turning stock listed as Argentine lignum vitae / Bulnesia sarmientoi


planks listed as Argentine lignum vitae


plank and closeup listed as Argentine lignum vitae


bowl blank listed as Argentine lignum vitae


bowl blanks listed as Argentine lignum vitae / Bulnesia sarmientoi


verawood planks and a closeup


both sides of a verawood plank and a closeup


both sides of a verawood plank and a closeup --- I'm not sure whether this is sapwood or just an extraordinarily light colored plank (my guess is that it is sapwood)


verawood scales


turning stock listed as verawood


veneer listed as verawood / Bulnesia arborea




all of these were listed as verawood and are from the BogusColorVendor, so I have no idea which, if any, of the colors are true to the wood, but certainly the extreme green colors seem unlikely (although I have now been informed by a correspondent that verawood CAN get this green, especially if left out in sunlight)


both sides of a plank and a closeup


both sides and a closeup of a plank


both sides of a plank and a closeup


both sides of a plank and two closeups


plank and closeup


plank and closeup --- I assume the distance picture bears some resemblance to the true color of the wood and the closeup is the standard BogusColorVendor dishonesty; pretty obviously they can't BOTH be correct colors and the green seems very unlikely to me (although I have now been informed by a correspondent that verawood CAN get this green, especially if left out in sunlight).


planks


two planks and a closeup


both sides of a plank


both sides of a plank


both sides of a plank and a closeup


both sides of a plank and a closeup


bowl blank, waxed


turning stock


turning stock end grain







8" bowl by Steve Earis who had it listed as "Argentine lignum vitae"


verawood sections in one of my bowls. Click for enlargement, or go here to see the full bowl. This is a TERRIFIC pic of interlocked grain, which is why I chose this little section to go in the bowl.


top and side views of a small turning that nicely shows the grain of this wood. This piece had a green tint when it came off the lathe but it sat around for a few days (at least) before I got the pics so it turned to the light brown you see here. I took this piece out just now, 9 years after it was turned. It had not been exposed much to indirect sunlight (and no direct sunlight) over the years (spend many of them inside a box) and the natually waxy finish protects the surface from oxidization but it still turned quite a bit darker as you can see directly below


same turning as above but 9 years later. The finish has degraded slightly because the box that this piece spent most of those years in developed some water damage and subsequent mildew.