Hawaii’s Woods come from the only Pacific tropical forests in the United States. Hawaii’s endemic trees grow nowhere else on earth. Most of these species are hardwoods; highly productive broad-leafed tropical trees. Many are very dense and require special skill to mill, season, and work efficiently. Hawaii’s woods in the hands of our fine craftsmen and women make some of the highest quality furniture and decorative wood objects in the world.
Bluegum (Eucalyptus globolus)
This introduced tree grows to a height of about 250 feet, and a diameter up to 6 feet. The tree has been an important stock for reforestation of damaged pasture lands in the early years of this century. The wood is extremely hard (specific gravity .8), and seasons with some difficulty. It is light to medium brown in color, with occasional gray figure. The tree is self-pruning, producing lower logs without branches or knots. Ellis, the famed British cabinet maker of the 1900s notes that the crush strength of Bluegum in many applications is over 3 tons per square inch. In the hands of a skilled craftsman, Bluegum makes exceptionally durable furniture.
Ironwood (Casuarina sp.)
The Hawaiian Ironwood is a common tree initially planted for windbreaks and in depleted soils or sandy areas requiring a salt-tolerant tree. The common name refers to any of a number of closely related species that have also been called “she-oak,” or “beefwood.” The tree reaches heights of 80 to 100 feet and diameters up to 18 inches. The wood is dark brown and very tough and dense (specific gravity varies with the exact species from about .58 to .81). Broad ways may form a pronounced ray fleck similar to oak on radial surfaces. Th wood is difficult to season and work but has been used for exceptionally durable furniture.
Kamani (Calophyllum inophyllum)
Kamani grows near the seashore, and reaches heights of 40 to 60 feet, diameters up to 36 inches. The heartwood is reddish brown, with a moderate density (specific gravity b.6). It was traditionally used for bowls. The wood is lustrous, and the interlocking grain shows a dramatic braided ribbon stripe on the quartersawn face. It is relatively difficult to work because of the interlocked grain, but very fine cabinetry has been made from it. The doors on the main floor of ‘Iolani Place have panels of Kamani veneer.
Lemon-gum Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora)
The Lemon-gum is an introduced tree which grows exceptionally well at low elevations in Hawai’i. It reaches 80 to 160 feet in height and up to 4 feet in diameter. The wood is light brown to gray brown and may be deeply marked with black veins in boards cut from the lowest log of the tree. The wood may have straight or wavy grain and is exceptionally hard and dense (specific gravity .85). In Hawai’i it has been used for heavy, high-stress applications, such as residential flooring, tools handles, trailer decking and boat framing. In more recent years, citriodora has been used in prize-winning furniture designs, where its strong grain stands out.
Koa (Acacia koa)
Koa is the largest endemic tree in Hawai’i-the species exists naturally nowhere else in the world. It is the fastest growing of Hawaii’s valuable hardwoods. It can grow as much as an inch in diameter per year, reaching 100 feet in height, attaining a trunk diameter of 5 feet or more. It was historically the material of choice for carved ocean-going canoes. Koa wood is the most prized cabinet and furniture wood in Hawai’i. Colors range from light brown to deep red/brown hues. Highly figured koa is sought after for use in fine furniture, musical instruments, crafts, gunstocks, and knife handles. Koa has weight and strength properties similar to black walnut. It is a moderately heavy wood (specific gravity .55). It is stable, works well, and takes an exceptionally rich, deeply reflective glow when finished with oils and modern varnish or laquer.
Mango (Mangifera indica)
Mango is a large tree often reaching 65 feet in height and 3 feet in diameter. The wood has been used in Hawai’i for carved and turned bowls and furniture. Mango is a relatively soft hardwood, moderately heavy, with specific gravity of 0.57. The color is lustrous blond, frequently showing mottled color variation acquired during drying. Some trees may have dark brown heartwood. The grain is often wavy and often has a pronounced curly or “fiddleback” figure. Though tough, mango wood is perishable and is therefore tricky to season without degrade.
Milo (Thespesia populnea)
Milo is a medium-sized lowland tree attaining 30 feet in height, with a trunk diameter of 8 to 20 inches. This slow-growing, taste-free and insect-resistant wood has been used historically by native Hawaiians in the making of food containers and boat building. It has light brown sapwood, clearly defined from the reddish/chocolate brown heartwood. The stable wood is moderately (specific gravity .6), is easy to work and takes a very high polish. Because of the high value of the beachside real estate milo thrives on, it is not currently planted in commercial quantities.
Norfolk Island Pine, Cook Pine (Arucaria heterophylla) (Arucaria columnaris)
The Norfolk Island Pine grows to 140 feet with a diameter of up to 3 feet. The wood is lightweight (specific gravity .44), has a decided “knotty pine” character, and strength characteristics of Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir. The trees are widely available in Hawai’i. The wood has a characteristic pine color. The most stunning modern use of these closely related species is for bowl turning. In finely turned bowls, the woods can take on a brilliant translucence very difficult to replicate with other woods.
‘Ohi’a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha)
The ‘Ohi’a is unique to Hawai’i. It is one of the trees initially used by native Hawaiians for critical construction applications such a s tools, and wear-strips along the gunwales of canoes. Its modern applications are typically in flooring, furniture and cabinetry. It is the most common endemic tree in the state, can be a major component of mixed forest stands, and is one of the very first trees able to take root on new lava fields. The tree is present in shapes ranging from shrubs to 100 feet in height. The wood ranges in color from pale brown to a dark reddish brown. It is fine grains, very hard, strong, and dense (specific gravity .70) In furniture and cabinetry applications, ‘Ohi’a is nearly indestructible. However, great care and experience must be brought to bear in the seasoning of this notoriously unstable wood.
Painted Gum (Eucalyptus deglupta)
The Deglupta has a beautifully colored, striped bark, and grows in Hawai’i to 150 feet, with a diameter up to 3 feet. The wood relatively light (specific gravity .45), stable, and works very easily. It has been used for cabinet work in the past and has recently found its way into the furniture and carved work. It is one of the world’s fastest growing trees and is found in plantings of various ages in Hawai’i forest reserves. Wood color runs through a range of pale browns to pinkish browns, often in pronounced stripes, lending furniture pieces a sense of liveliness.
Pheasantwood, kolohala (Cassia siamea)
This introduced Southeast Asian tree has been planted as a flowering street tree. It grows to 60 feet high with a diameter of about two feet. The wood is relatively heavy, (specific gravity .75) and hard. It has a beautiful figure on flat-sawn faces that mimics the tail feathers of the pheasant. The wood is not commonly available from plantation sources but is frequently found by arborists in the care of landscaping and street trees. It is used for ornamentation or trim on decorative and furniture products.
Primavera, goldtree (Rosodendron donnel-smithii)
Primavera is a flowering tree growing to 60 feet in height and 3 feet in diameter. The wood, similar to satinwood, is light yellow, fairly strong, and lightweight (specific gravity .45). The grain may be wavy. It was initially introduced as a street tree and is available in limited quantities from forest reserve stocks. When available it has been used in furniture and flooring.
Robusta eucalyptus (Eucalyptus robusta)
Robusta is the most commonly planted of over 100 eucalyptus species introduced to Hawai’i. It is moderately large tree, 50 to 160 feet in height and up to 4 feet in diameter. The wood is light red in younger specimens, and runs to a deep, dark mahogany red in older trees. The mature wood is very hard, and typically very heavy (specific gravity .8). It compared to white oak in most strength properties. As with many of the eucalyptus, successful processing of E. robusta is achieved by eliminating the brittle wood near the pith. In fine furniture applications Robusta is extremely durable, typically finishes with a deeply reflected glow, and ages over time to a rich mahogany color. The fanciest grade of quartersawn E. robusta lumber has dramatic “block mottle” figure resembling a checkerboard of parallelograms.
Saligna eucalyptus, Flooded-gum (Eucalyptus saligna)
This tree grows to 200 feet in height with a trunk diameter up to 4 feet. Since 1880, it has been widely used for forestation in Hawai’i. The wood is moderately heavy (specific gravity .61, with mature wood over 50 years old approaching .75), and runs from pale brown through pink in color, and tends to darken when finished. The wood is fine grained, and resembles cherry in many applications. The grain tends to be straight to strongly interlocked and may show distinct ribbon-striped figures on quarter-sawn faces.
Silk-oak (Grevillea robusta)
Silk-oak, commonly called “silky oak”, was introduced for shade, ornament and reforestation. It may reach 70 feet in height with a diameter of up to 3 feet. The wood was traditionally referred to as “lacewood” in its native Australia and is now scarce there. It is moderately dense (specific gravity .57). The heartwood is initially pale pinkish brown, with strong medullary rays on the quartersawn face resembling those characteristics to oak. Flat-sawing of the lumber produces a less dramatic but attractive “fish-scale” figure. In time, the wood seasons to a lustrous golden color, this open-grained wood finishes well. The tree grows up to an elevation of 4,000 feet and is naturalized on diverse private and state forest lands.
Sugi, Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica)
Sugi, often called Sugi pine, is an aromatic softwood native in Japan. The sapwood is white or yellow, with reddish brown heartwood. The wood is light (specific gravity .41). It has strength properties similar to western red cedar and is suitable for aromatic drawer linings. It has traditionally been one of the most important timber of Japan and was planted by the Hawai’i Division of Forestry between 1910 and 1960. Use of Sugi in decorative items is growing.
Toon (Toona ciliate)
Toon was introduced in 1918 for plantation use. It grows to 50 feet tails and reaches over two feet in diameter. The wood is very lightweight (specific gravity .35) and is reddish brown. The tree is also called “Australian red cedar”, because of the strong aromatic cedar scent of the wood. It carves and turns particularly well. There are several stands in Hawai’i forest plantations.
Tropical ash (Fraxinus uhdei)
Tropical ash was originally introduced in 1880 as a shade tree, but has been planted in Hawai’i as a forest and watershed cover tree since the 1920’s. It grows to about 80 feet in height and three feet in diameter. The wood is white and similar to whitewash but is moderately hard and light weight (specific gravity .47). It has applications in furniture for its especially light coloring and fine grain. More of the wood is expected to be available from state plantings in coming years.
West Indies mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni)
West Indies mahogany is the first discovered species of mahogany. It was introduced to Hawai’i in the early 1900’s and is widely planted in both public and private forest stands. It has been used in various locations as a stately street tree. The tree grows to 60 feet in height and 4 feet in diameter. The heartwood is reddish, pinkish, or yellowish when cut, gradually turning a dark red brown. It is moderately hard, heavy (specific gravity .7-.8) and strong. Roots and stumps of large trees are prized for their strong figure.