Lignum Vitae

Common Name(s): Lignum vitae, palo santo, guayacan, holywood, genuine lignum vitae

Scientific Name: Guaiacum officinale and G. sanctum

Distribution: Central America and northern South America

Tree Size: 20-30 ft (6-10 m) tall,

                      1-2 ft (.3-.6 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 79 lbs/ft3 (1,260 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): 1.05, 1.26

Janka Hardness: 4,390 lbf (19,510 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 17,970 lbf/in2 (123.9 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 2,481,000 lbf/in2 (17.11 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 12,380 lbf/in2 (85.4 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 5.3%, Tangential: 8.7%,

                             Volumetric: 14.0%, T/R Ratio: 1.6

Color/Appearance: Heartwood color can range from olive to dark green/brown to nearly black, sometimes with a reddish hue. The color tends to darken with age, especially upon exposure to light. On average, the heartwood color of genuine lignum vitae tends to be darker than that of Argentine lignum vitae or verawood in the Bulnesia genus.

Grain/Texture: Grain is interlocked, sometimes severely so. Has a very fine texture and can be polished to a high luster due to its high natural oil content. Raw wood surfaces can feel greasy or oily to the touch.

Rot Resistance: Lignum vitae is reported to be very durable for outdoor use and is also very resistant to insect attack.

Workability: Lignum vitae has a tendency to skip over-top jointer cutters on account of its extremely high density, and very light passes are recommended. Lignum vitae will also dull cutters, and overall the wood is considered quite difficult to work. Also, due to its high oil content, it’s very difficult to get strong and reliable glue joints. Finishing can also be problematic as well. However, lignum vitae turns well on a lathe.

Odor: Lignum vitae has a mild, perfume-like fragrance. (Though its scent isn’t quite as pungent nor as lingering as the closely related woods in the Bulnesia genus.)

Allergies/Toxicity: Lignum vitae has been reported to cause skin irritation. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Trade of lignum vitae is restricted in CITES Appendix II, and prices for genuine lignum vitae are accordingly very high—and usually from questionable sources. Irregular chunks and turning blocks are sometimes sold by the pound instead of the more common board-foot measurement.

Sustainability: This wood species is in CITES Appendix II, and is on the IUCN Red List. It is listed as endangered because populations are severely reduced and exploitation for both its wood and resin extracts have continued for hundreds of years.

Common Uses: Tool handles, mallet heads, bearings, bushings, pulley wheels, and turned objects.

2 products