Botanical Name: Millettia laurentii
Color: The heartwood of wenge begins as a yellowish brown when it is first cut and then slowly turns a darker brown or black. The sapwood tends to be a yellowish white and the thin layers are clearly seen between the heartwood.
Grain: The grain of wenge is usually straight if quartersawn.
Variations within Species and Grades: There are some variations in color in flooring produced from wenge.
Hardness/Janka: The Janka rating for wenge is 1,630.
Dimensional Stability: The dimensional stability for wenge is excellent at 5.8.
Sawing/Machining: Wenge is very difficult to saw.
Sanding: Sawing wenge is moderately difficult.
Nailing: There are no known problems associated with nailing wenge.
Finishing: Staining wenge can be difficult.
Availability: Staining wenge can be difficult.
Wenge is an exotic hardwood that originates in Central Africa, primarily in the southern regions of Mozambique and Tanzania in the open forest areas. It can also be found in the swampy forest areas of the Congo. The trees can grow up to 90 feet in height and may have a diameter of up to four feet.
In addition to being a popular choice in the flooring industry, wenge wood is also used in the production of various musical instruments as well as some archery bows. Because of its high dimensional stability and rich color, it is also a popular choice for some of the higher quality cane makers. Historically, the dust of ground wenge timber has been used to numb fish prior to harvesting. Interestingly, the color wenge derived its name because the grey-brown hue with copper highlights looks much like the color of the processed wenge lumber.
Within the flooring industry durability is often determined by the Janka scale rating of the wood. The Janka scale ranges from a low of zero to a high of 4,000. A score of, or near, zero indicates a very soft wood that is not suitable for the heavy use flooring receives. A score of or near 4,000 indicates the wood is extremely hard. Lumbar with a very high score is not usually suitable for hardwood flooring because it is too difficult to process profitably. The Janka scale rating of Wenge is 1,630, which is a bit higher than that of red oak. This rating shows that wenge is a good choice for hardwood flooring, although there may be a bit more wear than some of the harder wood flooring options.
Wenge can be difficult to work for a variety of reasons. The wood rapidly dulls average tools, which is why carbide tooling is highly recommended. Sanding can also cause a problem if scratches from previous sanding attempts are not dealt with immediately. Staining may be difficult in anything but a neutral finish. Wenge is easily seasoned with little degradation. Finally, the dust from wenge has been known to cause both respiratory and dermatological allergic reactions. Because of the possibility of severe reactions when processing the wood, it is extremely important that a collection system for the dust be in place. Additionally, any splinters of the wood must be removed as soon as possible, because the toxic nature of the wood makes it likely to fester.
Where to use
The very dark color of wenge has made it quite popular. However, because it is so dark, it should be used in areas that are open, as the dark color can make the room feel smaller. Based on its durability, it can be used in any area that has light to moderate foot traffic, but is not as well suited for areas that will receive heavy use. As with most hardwood flooring options it is not recommended that wenge flooring be installed in areas that will be frequently exposed to moisture or standing water.
Care and Maintenance
While wenge is fairly resistant to damage, it is important that preventative maintenance and routine care be given in order to protect and maintain the beauty of the flooring. The first step in hardwood floor care should be preventative maintenance. Areas that will receive heavier foot traffic, such as entryways and hallways, should be protected with a rug or runner to minimize damage. Another important step is to place pads underneath the feet of all furniture that will be on top of the flooring. This helps to prevent the furniture from settling and causing indentions in the flooring. This is especially important if the furniture will be moved, has sharp feet, or is heavy. Once preventative measures have been taken it is time to think about routine cleaning. Each day, people entering the home will track in small amounts of sand and other gritty particles. If these are left on the floor, they will eventually be moved about and scour the finish of the flooring, possibly damaging the wood as well. Regular sweeping or vacuuming, if the vacuum has a hardwood setting, can remove the grit and reduce or prevent the scouring. It is also important to clean any spills as soon as possible to prevent damage or staining. Additional cleaning and care instructions are customized to the type of finish chosen for the floor and should also be carefully followed.
Because of the past and present popularity of wenge it has been heavily harvested. This has caused many to worry about the sustainability of the wood and led to its current limited availability.