Zebrawood (Microberlinia brazzavillensis), also known as zebrano, is a West African tree, found mainly in Gabon
and Cameroon. The Latin species
name is derived from a city in the
The common name is certainly
derived from the fact that the wood
does indeed have stripes that look
like a zebra. Because of this striking
effect, the wood is expensive and so
is usually produced as veneer rather
than lumber. Uses include decorative
veneer banding and inlays for furniture and flooring. (In the 18th and
19th centuries, zebrawood referred to a
different striped species of wood from
the countries we now call Nicaragua
The tree itself can reach heights
of 150 feet and 4 feet in diameter, but
more typically is only 50 feet high and
several feet in diameter. The bark is
often 6 to 12 inches thick! The tree is
in the legume family so has long pods
Legume trees are important for
nitrogen fixation activities in the tropical soils that are continually leached by
high rainfall and have little natural nitrogen. Heavy harvesting has resulted
in listing this species as “threatened.” A
few plantations exist in Africa. ;
Striking figure gives wood its name.
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by Gene Wengert
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Density. This wood is tends to be
slightly heavier than hickory (although the
sample shown here is not that heavy).
The reported weight at 8 percent MC is
nearly 60 pounds per cubic foot, which
means that a board foot at 8 percent MC
will weigh about 5 pounds.
Drying. The wood is always quartersawn to highlight the striping. This means
that checking is not a problem, but the
wood will dry slowly. Some pieces are
prone to warping. This can cause buckling in veneer. Shrinkage in drying can be
rather large, with tangential shrinkage (the
width of a flatsawn piece of lumber) to 6
percent MC being over 9 percent. Radial
shrinkage (the width of a quartersawn
piece of lumber) is 5. 4 percent.
Gluing and Machining. Because
of the coarseness of the grain, the wood
does glue well. Machining, as with all
dense species, requires very sharp knives.
Interlocked grain means that smooth knife
finishes are hard to obtain, as part of
the surface is always machined “against
the grain.” Sanding is good, although
sandpaper needs to be fresh (that is, the
particles must be sharp). The wood does
polish well when rubbed.
Stability. This wood, in spite of high
shrinkage when drying, is almost always
quartersawn, which means that it is fairly
stable, once dry. Shrinkage in width is 1
percent for a 4 percent MC change; this
is the same as the flatsawn movement for
most North American hardwoods.
Strength. The ultimate strength (MOR)
is 22,800 psi; the bendability (MOE) is
2. 3 million psi. This is 50 percent stronger
than red oak and 25 percent stiffer.
Color and Grain. The wood color
is a pinkish brown with darker brown to
black stripes. The grain is course and
interlocked. Sanding with finer grits and
then waxing the surface provides a great
deal of luster and allows the stripped
grain to show very well.