Woods to Know: Ziricote

Woods to Know: Ziricote

Ziricote(Cordia dodecandra)

by Peter MacSween

There is no shortage of beautiful woods available to the craftsmen, but, there is one species which has a flare for the dramatic and that species is Ziricote. Its brown to grey heartwood is overlaid with black lines giving it the appearance of a busy spider web. Other pieces will have a 'landscape' figure, with images of mountains, valleys, clouds and marble like patterns. Add in a contrasting creamy yellow sapwood and you have a wood that captures the eye and the imagination. 
Ziricote is found from Florida south through the Caribbean islands to Brazil. Most of the harvesting occurs in Central America, specifically Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. It is a small, slow-growing tree, typically 30 to 60 feet high with diameters of up to 3 feet. The trunk is straight but short. Consequently, Ziricote lumber is dimensionally small. Lengths are under 8 feet and widths rarely exceed 10 inches. It is sliced into veneer, cut into turning stock and manufactured into acoustic guitar backs and sides. 

It is a dense, heavy hardwood. Occasionally, it is brittle and can be difficult to dry, leading to end and surface checks. Once dry though, it is stable. Air dried Ziricote is an excellent candidate for steam bending. The grain is usually straight, sometimes interlocked with a medium to fine texture. It has a high natural luster.
Despite being hard and heavy it is surprisingly easy to work. Of course, tooling and blades should be sharp and it yields well to hand tools. It cuts and machines without burning. Nails and screws will require pre-drilling with the appropriate sized drill bit. Take your time when sanding as the woods density can leave to swirl marks. Move slowly through grit sizes to avoid this problem. It glues well and you can use your choice of finishing techniques. 
Given the small size of available lumber, plus the high waste factor, Ziricote excels in small projects such as boxes and turned objects. Larger scale pieces can be overwhelmed by its dramatic and active appearance. Most woodworkers will incorporate the sapwood in order to add a contrasting effect. It is also a highly regarded tonewood for guitars with musical characteristics similar to the Rosewood family. 

Ziricote can produce an allergic reaction due to the many chemicals and pigments which produce its colourful appearance. This reaction is more likely if you have been exposed and sensitized by other species such as Pau Ferro and the rosewoods. I recommend using a dust mask and keeping your work space clean until you can determine your reaction to this wood.
Ziricote is considered a rare wood, so it is expensive. It is not endangered, but there are problems with illegal harvesting and fake documentation. Choose your wood dealer wisely as they will be importing this species legally with an eye towards conserving this species. Don't let the price deter you. Its suitability for smaller projects means you don't have to break the bank by purchasing large quantities of this beautiful wood. The alluring appearance of Ziricote will never disappoint, and it will give years of visual pleasure to your woodworking projects. 

Average Dried Weight50 lbs/ft³A measure of its weight at 12% moisture and an ambient temperature of 70°F.
Specific Gravity.81A measure of the ratio of its density compared to water (at 12% MC)
ShrinkageRadial: 3.5
Tangential: 6.7
Volumetric: 9.8
Radial (the amount of crosswise shrinkage);
Tangential (the amount of lengthwise shrinkage);
Volumetric (the total amount of shrinkage.)
T/R Ratio1:9A measure of the uniformity of tangential to radial shrinkage.
Janka Hardness1,970 lbfA measure of resistance to denting and abrasion.
Crushing Strength9,270 lbf/in²A measure of compression strength parallel to the grain.
Color ranges from medium to dark brown, sometimes with either a green or purple hue, with darker bands of black growth rings intermixed. Ziricote has a very unique appearance, which is sometimes referred to as “spider-webbing” or “landscape” grain figure. Quartersawn surfaces can also have ray flakes similar in appearance to those found on quartersawn Hard Maple.
GrainStraight to slightly interlocked.
TextureMedium to fine.
Ziricote is fairly easy to work considering its high density. The wood tends to develop end and surface checks during drying, which can be problematic: though the wood is stable once dry. Also, pieces are usually available in narrow boards or turning squares, with sapwood being very common. Ziricote turns and finishes well, and in most instances, it can also be glued with no problems. (On rare occasions, the wood’s natural oils can interfere with the gluing process.)
Furniture, veneer, cabinetry, gunstocks, musical instruments (acoustic and electric guitars), turned objects, and other small specialty wood items.
Price$70.00 4/4
$78.00 8/4

Photos and Specifications Courtesy of: The Wood Database