What Is Obeche Wood?
Obeche, also known as African maple and Abachi, is the wood of the obeche tree (Triplochiton scleroxylon). This hardwood species is native to west-central Africa, especially Gabon, Ghana, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo. Within its native range, the obeche tree is widespread and relatively common.
Where native, the wood is used for a variety of applications. All obeche used in the United States is imported.
Obeche wood is light in color, ranging from creamy white to a pale yellow; the narrow range of colors tends to create a uniform, featureless appearance with moderate luster. The texture is medium to coarse, with grain that is typically interlocking to straight. Sapwood and heartwood are highly similar in appearance and difficult to differentiate. When freshly cut, the wood is said to have an unpleasant odor, which disappears as the wood seasons. Green sapwood may develop a faint blue tint.
Obeche is light for a hardwood species, with a mean dried weight of 24 lbs. per cubic foot, and is soft to medium-soft and relatively easy to dent. Obeche's resistance to decay and insect attack are both low to medium. The wood has a tendency to react with iron, which may necessitate use of aluminum, stainless steel or other non-ferrous fasteners.
Obeche works easily, because it is both soft and light, although the presence of interlocking grain makes it a poor candidate for turning. The wood accepts both nails and screws easily and without splitting, although screws and nails may pull out easily. Obeche sands and glues well, and accepts both paint and stain, although its indistinct appearance is little enhanced by staining.
Within its native range, Obeche is widely used for lightweight items such as boxes and millwork, though the wood is too soft and light for construction and lacks durability and resistance to decay. The wood's light weight is well-suited for use in particleboard and as the core of plywood; some is used for veneer as well.
Obeche's most unusual use may be as a stock for artificial limbs, perhaps because of the wood's nondescript appearance. It is also one of the wood species used by some makers to construct classic surfboards.
Kelvin O'Donahue has been writing since 1979, with work published in the "Arizona Geological Society Digest" and "Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists," as well as online. O'Donahue holds a Master of Science in geology from the University of Arizona, and has worked in the oil industry since 1982.