Woodcraft Magazine|February - March 2021
When seeing red isn’t a bad thing
Ken Burton

The many shades of red. Freshly cut padauk can range a lot in color. The board at the left exhibits a more subdued red hue reminiscent of bubinga, while those to the right are more in the orange-red spectrum.

There’s redwood, which grows in California, and then there’s RED wood. If it’s the color you’re after, definitely consider padauk. Much of this imported lumber has such a bright red/orange hue that it is commonly called vermillion. Although the spectacular color does darken and lose some of its vibrancy over time, padauk is a lovely wood that’s reasonably pleasant to work.

Where the wood comes from

While as many as seven species yield lumber marketed as padauk worldwide, the wood we see in the US is almost all African padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxi). It comes from the tropical forests of central and western Africa. Size-wise, the trees are similar to many mature hardwoods in the eastern U.S., growing 100' or so tall and 2-4' in in diameter with wide, spreading crowns similar to those of elms. The trees are not designated on either the CITES list or the IUCN Red List as being endangered, and their harvest offers economic opportunity to their home countries.

History in woodworking

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