Wenge | Tonewood Profile | “Millettia laurentii”
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Wenge is found in swampy areas in East Africa namely Cameroon and the Congo. It reaches heights of 20 metres and a trunk diameter of 1 metre with clear boles. It has been used traditionally for ceremonial masks and statues and is often mistaken and sold interchangeably with it’s close cousin, Panga Panga- Milletteia stuhlmannii. The main difference is that Panga Panga grows in open forests in Mozambique and Tanzania where as Wenge is found more commonly in swampy land in Cameroon and Congo.
General: Wenge is reported to be resistant to termite attack and has variable weight and strength. It is resistance to compression along the grain.
Appearance: The heartwood of Wenge is a dark chocolate brown with even black veins.
Working: The grain is straight and tight but coarse and with large pores. It has a blunting effect on tools and requires filler before finishing.
Values: The Janka of Wenge is approximate 1600 and the specific gravity is 0.7.
As a tonewood…
It is used for back and sides for guitars, where it compares favourably to the true rosewoods.
Dana Bourgeois, in his excellent article, Tapping Tonewoods says: “Wenge, a dense, dark-colored African hardwood unrelated to the rosewoods, has tonal properties remarkably similar to those of Brazilian rosewood.” Reference: here
Lewis Santer is also a fan and says: “Wenge is a very evenly-spaced, tight-grained chocolate brown wood with a wonderful tap tone and very good stiffness. It is (so far) easy to find guitar-sized pieces with ruler-straight grain. It has a few issues for the luthier:
-It is brittle and crack prone
-It often has prominent white mineral deposits
-It is easy to give yourself a nasty splinter when handling raw pieces
-It is so porous that once plates are worked down to guitar thickness, water-thin liquids (like cyanoacrylate or water) poured on one face will exit on the other. In other words, great care has to be taken during pore filling prior to finishing.”
I would broadly characterise the tone of Wenge as falling between Indian and Honduran Rosewood- it is more metallic and bell like than Indian but has better midrange than Honduran.
Stocks of Wenge are fair at present but expect shortages due to it’s IUCN listing.
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