Snake Wood

Common Name(s): Snakewood, letterwood, amourette

Scientific Name: Brosimum guianense

Distribution: Coastal regions of northeast South America

Tree Size: 65-80 ft (20-25 m) tall,

                     6-12 in (15-30 cm) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 76 lbs/ft3 (1,210 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): 0.96, 1.21

Janka Hardness: 3,800 lbf (16,900 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 28,270 lbf/in2 (195 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 3,364,000 lbf/in2 (23.2 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 17,260 lbf/in2 (119 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 4.7%, Tangential: 6%,

                          Volumetric: 10.7%, T/R Ratio: 1.3

Color/Appearance: Snakewood is so called for its characteristic snakeskin patterns. Wood is typically a reddish brown, with contrasting darker brown or black patches. Color tends to darken and homogenize with age and exposure; see the article on Preventing Color Changes in Exotic Woods for more information.

Grain/Texture: Grain is straight, with a fine even texture. High natural luster.

Rot Resistance: Snakewood is reported to be very durable and also resistant to insect attack, though it’s seldom used in  exterior applications where durability would be an issue.

Workability: Being closely related to bloodwood, snakewood shares many of the same working properties; namely, the wood is extremely dense, and has a pronounced blunting effect on cutters. Snakewood also tends to be quite brittle and can splinter easily while being worked. Despite the difficulties of working it, snakewood turns well and finishes to a high polish.

Odor: Has a mild scent when being worked that is similar to bloodwood.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, snakewood has been reported as a skin and respiratory irritant. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: As a rare and small tree, prices for surfaced and milled snakewood that display the characteristic snakeskin pattern are perhaps the most expensive of any exotic lumber worldwide in terms of per boardfoot cost. Less figured sections of the wood are usually sold for much lower prices (under the name amourette). Snakewood is also commonly sold in full and half log forms, which typically include significant pith checking and areas of both figured and non-figured wood, which can result in high wastage.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices, and is reported by the IUCN as being a species of least concern.

Common Uses: Inlay, veneer, violin bows, tool handles, and other small turned or specialty objects.

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