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Bubinga tree in Cameroon

Bubinga tree in Cameroon

Let’s just say you and I are walking in a forest in Cameroon, a smallish country in Central Africa that’s roughly the size of California.

Walking in the forest of Cameroon is no ordinary experience. It’s home to several endangered primates, and a mind-blowing number of tropical birds. The air here is thick and humid because it rains some 400 inches per year.

The trees here tower 100 feet or more into the air.

One such tree is the bubinga.  You and I are woodworkers, so naturally we’re looking at some of these trees and wondering what they look like on the inside; wondering what fantastic things the wood can make.

The bubinga tree can be up to 8 feet in diameter.  Can you imagine that? 8 feet roundish and 100 feet long.  A tree that big weighs not one, not two, not 10, but over 56 tons.

You’re not just going to fell one with the 56 cc Stihl you have in your pickup truck back home.

So that’s the tree.  I could tell you all about the wood, but a browse through the lumberjocks.com projects presents all the evidence needed to argue about the beauty and popularity of bubinga. Here are eight excellent examples that really stuck out to me (by the way, click any of these pictures to go to the discussion and commentary from the builder of each one):

1. Bubinga and Lacewood Box:

Click for details: Jewelry BoxNice contrast, don’t you think?

Bubinga makes a good accent wood because it can take shape and fine details without any fuss.

Pair it up with a lighter colored wood, and you get a surprising result.

2. Bubinga with Quilted Maple Hall Table:

Click for details: Quilted Maple and Bubinga Hall TableIn addition to small parts, bubinga is well suited for furniture pieces.  It’s hard, stable, and extremely durable.

Since the wood takes a finish so easily, furniture makers like it.  As always, an elegant design and a contrasting wood makes a bubinga project a real head-turner.

3. Bubinga Wet Bar:

Click for details: My bartopRemember what I said about the size of the bubinga tree?  Big trees often mean big boards.  And because bubinga is a rock solidly stable wood, big boards mean big projects.

A clear bartop finish is all this needs to look incredible.

I’d sure like the opportunity to belly up to this bar at the end of the day. 

4. Bubinga (with Wenge) Music Stand:

Click for details: Wenge & Bubinga Music StandI love hand made wood music stands.  It’s art supporting art.

Brian here says he used a tung oil and a hand applied polyurethane, which is a great combo.  The oil sinks in and visually pushes the figure outward while the poly gives the entire piece protection.

Notice how the dark inlay reflects a staff of music?

5. Bubinga Bandsaw Box:

Click for details: "Smells Fishy"Once again, a figured maple and bubinga contrast.  This time with birds eye maple.

He too used an applied oil (this time boiled linseed oil) and a varnish topcoat for surface protection.

Just spend a minute or two gazing at this project.

6. Bubinga Business Card Holder:

Click for details: Park bench business card holder.Bubinga excels when it comes to making small parts with detail. And you can still make out the rosewood-esque grain pattern in the bench sides.

7. Bubinga Cabinet (with cherry, bloodwood, and maple):

Click for details: A Small Scale James Krenov CabinetYou’re going to want to click over and see the details on this one.

Just the curved drawer fronts are made of bubinga, and they’re joined to the maple sides with half-blind dovetails.

8. But Wait!  There’s More!

When the only wood you have to work with is bubinga, it’ll also make a fine project all by itself:

Bubinga Lumber and Wood

Vice President of Operations – Woodworkers Source
We’re a family-owned lumber & woodworking supply retailer with 3 delightful stores in Arizona, and 35 friendly employees.
Mark oversees the company and creates tutorials on wood finishing and woodworking tips for hardwood lumber.

Discussion, Questions & Answers

  • Benjamin Van de Putte

    I trying to chisel a mortise for a hinge. I have a tough time, the wood is so hard. Any tips?

  • Pingback: Woodworking Information : Different Types of Wood :Wood Working()

  • Sandxssun

    Great subject for a post, Mark. Bubinga IS my favorite wood, bar none. And I have several literal reasons: It smells wonderful when sawn, to me like baked cinnamon rolls. It cuts and routers easily. Like you have mentioned, bubinga is available in nice big boards leaving opens lots of possibilities. Bubinga is also available in a myriad of figures: to name a few, curly, quilted, pomelle, and my favorite waterfall. Lastly, bubinga is my favorite because of its color: reddish orange with honey brown highlights with purple black grain lines.
    My current project is a massively heavy dining table – from an original 15 ft flitch sawn 8/4 board(two live edges) that measured 41 inches across. Cut in 3 equal pieces, two became the dining table in a trestle table design. I used 8/4 wenge for the breadboard ends. the legs are from 12/4 Bubinga. And of coarse the board is cloud figured with no straight grain in the whole board- even the yellow sapwood is figured.
    Below is a picture of another bubinga project using curly bubinga from Woodworkers. Thanks for the good wood!

  • Alf

    Great post, Mark, but it would seem that your math needs a brushup.
    “A tree that big weighs not one, not two, but over three tons.”
    And over four, and five, and six…
    Assuming the shape of the trunk is more or less conical, and substituting the size you gave into the formula for a cone’s volume (V = 1/3 pi*(r squared)*h), we get around 1674 cubic feet. Multiply that by a density of 55 lbs per cubic foot, and you get around 46 tons.

    • You’re right, Alf. Messed up the math. I’m impressed people are actually reading this stuff 🙂

    • Another correction. I show that the *wet* weight is actually 65 lbs per cubic foot (dry is 55, and a downed tree is not dry), making this thing actually over 108,000 lbs. — 56 tons! YIKES. Anyway, I fixed my numbers thanks to you pointing it out.

  • Jim D.

    One of my favorite woods to work with, all the projects are very nice really like number nine.

  • Here’s a 9th, a bass made by Tom Garden. Absolutely stunning:

    • RCS

      Nice Bass. Here is my 5 string Cirrus Bass made from Bubinga Body with purple heart stringers and a Rosewood Neck.

  • p. lowell

    used it many times and i do like it.

  • Bob

    I like that bartop

  • SBJ

    I made that exact jewelry box with bubinga and zebrawood last year. It is a really pretty combination.