What is Ceylon Satinwood? An In-Depth Look

When it comes to expensive hardwoods, there are a few wood species that are impossible to purchase locally and extremely expensive to buy. One of these is Ceylon Satinwood. Let’s find out what is Ceylon Satinwood and why it’s one of the most expensive woods on the planet in this in-depth guide.

What is Ceylon Satinwood?

Ceylon Satinwood is Chloroxylon swietenia. The lumber and the tree are also known as East Indian Satinwood. Ceylon Satinwood is the original satinwood. It is the only species of the Chloroxylon genus.

This wood has a special combination of features making it one of the most luxurious woods. It is hard, dense, smooth, and has a lovely lustrous grain. The only wood that’s accepted as equal to the quality of the Ceylon Satinwood is the West Indian Satinwood or Zanthoxylum flavum. This wood is related to the Rutaceae family.

Ceylon Satinwood is from the forests of southern India, Madagascar, and Sri Lanka. It is not included in the CITES Appendices list but is on the IUCN Red List which makes it a vulnerable species. This is because of an extreme reduction in the number of trees by more than 20% during the past three generations. This decline is due to a reduction of its natural range and because of the exploitation of expensive and luxurious lumber.

What Makes Ceylon Satinwood Special?

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If you’re lucky enough to get hold of a Ceylon Satinwood wood, you can immediately tell why it’s so special and why many woodworkers and collectors are willing to pay a high price for it. First, Ceylon Satinwood has a very fine texture with very tiny pores. The grain figure is impressive and has a similar texture and flawlessness as a satin cloth.

Ceylon Satinwood is an increasingly scarce wood available at extremely high prices. It is available only in veneer form but some boards are also available. These boards are usually unfigured. You can bet that figured Ceylon Satinwood which is solid lumber is the most expensive form.

Characteristics of Ceylon Satinwood

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  • Distribution: Ceylon Satinwood trees grow in central and southern India and Sri Lanka which is formerly known as Ceylon.
  • Tree Dimensions: 40 to 50 feet high and 1 to 1.5 feet wide
  • Average Dried Weight: 61 pounds per cubic feet
  • Specific Gravity: .80, .98
  • Janka Hardness: 2,620 pounds
  • Appearance: Ceylon Satinwood has a light to golden yellow heartwood which can become orange-brown. The sapwood is whitish-yellow and is usually paler compared to the sapwood. This wood may have molted grains that look like the imperfections on satin cloth. This quality is the reason behind the name satinwood.
  • Grain Texture: The grains are interlocked and thus, produce an attractive figure. You’ll also find striped patterns when the wood is quarter-sawn. The grain has a fine and even texture and a lovely natural shine. 
  • Endgrain: The end-grain has diffuse to porous pores with no exact arrangement. There are heartwood deposits on the end grain while growth rings are very distinct.
  • Resistance to Rotting: Ceylon Satinwood is durable to decay but may be affected by insect attacks especially burrowing insects.
  • Presence of Odor: This satinwood species has a slightly pleasing smell that’s observed when it is being worked.
  • Toxicity: There are reports of severe reactions when working with Ceylon Satinwood. This wood is known as a sensitizer and can cause reactions like eye irritation, skin irritation, and respiratory issues. Some people also report headaches and diarrhea. You must wear protective clothing such as a face mask, work gloves, goggles, and an apron when working with this wood.
  • Sustainability: As we mentioned above, Ceylon Satinwood is included in the IUCN Red List because it is a vulnerable wood species. The population of Ceylon Satinwood trees has severely diminished after many years and decades of exploitation.
  • Pricing: Ceylon Satinwood is very scarce and thus, it is very expensive. You’ll find this wood only in veneer form and are so expensive. This wood is available only from special dealers and retailers.

Uses of Ceylon Satinwood

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Ceylon satinwood is harvested for its luxurious yellow brown wood. This wood has a satiny luster which makes these great for making fine cabinets and frames. This wood is also used to make interior décor, veneers, and small turned objects. Most parts of the Ceylon Satinwood tree are used for traditional medicine.

Ceylon Satinwood Workability

Ceylon Satinwood wood is one of the most difficult woods to work with. This is due to its very dense and highly interlocked wood grain. If you use a plane to cut the surface, you’ll mostly get a tear out because it’s very hard. This is a very common occurrence on quartersawn satinwood surfaces.

There are also very pronounced dulling or blunting effects on blades, cutters, and saws. The best way to process satinwood is to turn the piece. This is why it’s common to find small turned objects made from Ceylon Satinwood.

One thing that this wood is good at is that it accepts glues and finishes very well. It has a high natural shine; some woodworkers prefer not to apply varnish or stains over the surface to preserve its natural finish.

Other Similar Species

According to The Wood Database, there are only one wood species that can be considered at par with Ceylon Satinwood and this is the West Indian Satinwood or Zanthoxylum flavum. Here are the characteristics of this wood species.

The West Indian Satinwood tree is also known as Jamaican Satinwood, Yellow Sanders, and San Domingo Satinwood. This tree has been recognized as satinwood.

  • Distribution: West Indian Satinwood trees are native to the Caribbean
  • Tree Dimensions: 30 to 40 feet high and 1 to 1.5 feet wide
  • Average Dried Weight: 56 pounds per cubic feet
  • Specific Gravity: .71, .91
  • Janka Hardness: 1,820 pounds-feet
  • Appearance: West Indian Satinwoods come with a light to golden yellow or an orange-brown heartwood. The sapwood is lighter than the heartwood but does not have a clear boundary. The color of the wood grain will become darker as the wood becomes older.
  • West Indian Satinwood has a rippled grain pattern that looks like the ripples found on the satin fabric. These characteristics have earned it the term satinwood.
  • Grain Texture: This wood has an interlocked grain. It has an attractive surface described as “mottled” or “roey.” This is very evident on quartersawn wood. This wood has a fine texture and possesses a high natural shine. 
  • Endgrain: The end-grain of the West Indian Satinwood is diffuse-porous and the pores have no specific arrangement. There are very numerous pores while heartwood deposits are also found across the grain. There are distinct growth rings.
  • Resistance to Rotting: West Indian Satinwoods are very durable to decay and have a moderate resistance to insect attacks.
  • Workability: Just like the Ceylon Satinwood, the West Indian Satinwood is very difficult to work with due to its very high density and highly-interlocked grains. Almost all planing and surfacing treatments will always lead to tearouts. This is also evident in quartersawn West Indian Satinwood.
  • This wood can lead to extreme blunting of cutters, blades, and knives. However, this wood turns well. It accepts glues and all kinds of finishes, stains, and varnishes well.
  • Presence of Odor: West Indian Satinwood has a slight coconut-like smell that’s evident when it is worked.
  • Toxicity: This wood is a sensitizer and can cause different reactions such as skin irritation, rashes, blisters, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • Availability: West Indian Satinwood has been used for a variety of purposes for many years which has made it very difficult to find in the wild. It is commercially unavailable. A substitute for this wood is still available which is the Ceylon Satinwood but as we said before, this satinwood has been rated Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List and thus, is also extremely hard to find.
  • Sustainability: West Indian Satinwood is not a part of the CITES Appendices but is listed on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable because of the population reduction of more than 20% of its number in the previous three generations.
  • Uses: This wood is extremely hard to find which is why the remaining supplies are used as veneers, inlays, turned objects, fine furniture, and small specialty decorative items.

A Closer Look at Satinwood

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Many luxurious woods have been trying to rank as satinwoods. Being called one of the satinwoods can raise the value of the wood making it profitable for the grower, dealer, and retailer.

This is the reason why there is so much confusion in determining which woods are part of the satinwoods family. The origin of the term “satinwood” is possibly from the general appearance of satin fabric. This material has a smooth surface with “loose and flowing folds.”

With this characteristic of satin, let’s get to know woods that have been referred to as satinwood starting from the general attributes of this wood classification.

Color

Satinwoods come with a yellow surface which is the initial characteristic of satinwood. However, there is satinwood called Bloodwood which is referred to as red satinwood. Bloodwood has a bright and striking red heartwood which can grow darker to a brownish red color when exposed to direct sunlight.

Shine

Satinwoods are quite similar to the satin fabric as these have a natural shine and a chatoyant surface. Furniture with satinwood veneer has a unique appearance and depth which could be very hard to repair or update as it’s mostly difficult to find similar species with the same amount of shine.

Grain

The grain of satinwoods has some degree of depth and figure, especially along the grain’s natural luster. This gives satinwoods a three-dimensional look. You’ll find quartersawn satinwoods with a distinct ribbon-stripe appearance.

Texture

Satinwoods have a fine texture. These are the characteristics that most aspiring satinwoods fail to pass. Most of these candidates come with large pores which lead to a coarser and rougher overall texture. Wood has to have a very fine texture combined with exquisite luster to be called satinwood.

Density or hardness

This characteristic may not be important when classifying satinwoods as real satinwoods are mostly used as veneers. The original satinwood species are very hard and heavy and are comparable to the heaviness of tough hardwoods such as oak and maple.

Comparing Ceylon Satinwood and West Indian Satinwood

Let’s focus on the two satinwood species and their similarities before we go and check aspiring satinwoods.

  • Both satinwoods are heavy at 56 to 61 pounds per cubic feet weight. Ceylon Satinwood may be slightly heavier but as we said, weight is not a distinguishing factor when describing satinwoods.
  • Both satinwoods are from the Rutaceae or citrus family but from different genera.
  • Both satinwoods possess a very fine texture with small pores. Having very fine pores means that you don’t need to use wood filler when finishing these woods.
  • Both kinds of wood come with a faint but very pleasant smell when they are worked or processed.
  • Both kinds of wood are hard to work with. You’ll experience a pronounced blunting on cutters, blades, and knives when working with these satinwoods.

Wannabe Satinwoods

  • Pyrinma – Lagerstroemia spp – this is known as Asian satinwood or Cambodian satinwood. It is lighter than genuine satinwoods and has a coarser texture because of its large pores. The color is darker than true satinwood species. Pyinma has a lovely curl and almost all piece of this wood sold has a unique curl. It may be called the curliest wood in the world.
  • Movingui – Distemonanthus benthamianus – this aspiring satinwood is from West Africa and is also known as Nigerian satinwood, and African satinwood. Like Pyinma, it is lighter compared to genuine satinwoods and has larger pores which make it coarser. Movingui is sold in veneers but there are also solid lumber products which are the most expensive but not as expensive as genuine satinwoods
  • Yellowheart – Euxylophora paraensis – this wood is also known as Brazilian satinwood or pau amarello. Yellowheart does not possess the tight grain that’s in genuine satinwoods. It comes with wide curls that are not present in real satinwood species. It has a coarse and porous texture with splitting hairs.
  •  Avodine – Turraeanthus africanus – this aspiring satinwood species is also known as white mahogany or African satinwood. This wood is softer and much lighter compared to genuine satinwoods. The grain is coarser with visible large pores. Avodine is available in figured veneer however, solid pieces of this wood are also available. It is also very expensive as the real thing.
  • Afrormosia – Pericopsis elata – this wood is also known as Benin satinwood or African teak. It is lighter compared to genuine satinwoods and has open and large pores. The color is darker leading to an orange-brown hue but some pieces tend to have golden grains.  Afromosia is a good substitute for teak than satinwood.
  • Obeche – Triplochiton scleroxylon – this wood is also known as soft satinwood. This is a soft and very light wood, the lightest of all aspiring satinwoods. It does not possess any figures or designs on the grain and has large open pores creating a very grainy and coarse texture.

How to Care for Ceylon Satinwood Pieces?

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Ceylon Satinwood is useful as a veneer for luxury wooden furniture. Caring for this type of furniture is almost similar to traditional wooden furniture but with a few differences.

Understand the nature and physical properties of the wood

This is sound, practical advice. Consider deep research on the wood used to make your furniture. Check the natural properties of expensive wood panels like Ceylon Satinwood and other satinwoods before maintenance and cleaning. Most expensive wood panels come with specific maintenance techniques while some may need basic maintenance.

Regular dusting is important

Remove dust over and around your furniture. Use a duster or a damp cloth to go over the surface. Don’t let dust accumulate as some may bring permanent damage to your luxury wood furniture. Also, make dusting a habit, at least weekly, so you can inspect your furniture surfaces especially those placed in high-traffic areas.

Avoid direct heat and sunlight

Direct sunlight can severely damage the surface of satinwoods causing the color to change from light to dark. Satinwood surfaces will develop a darker surface as the wood ages but direct sunlight can trigger the process.

Also, direct heat such as heat from a kitchen appliance or home heater can produce the same effect. Therefore, place your expensive wooden furniture in a place where there is no direct sunlight and heat source.

Always keep the wood dry

Keep the surface of your wood furniture dry. Avoid wet rags, splashes from drinks and food, and rain. If you accidentally splash water on your furniture, have a clean and dry rag to remove the water at once. This is a very important tip, especially when spilling sticky liquids over your furniture. Use a damp rag to clean the spill and follow up with a dry one to remove moisture.

Reduce Humidity in Your Home

High humidity can destroy luxurious wooden furniture. You can do this by using a de-humidifier, a machine that will keep your humidity levels low. Just place the machine in the room, set it up, and leave it. You can also reduce humidity by placing some charcoal bits in the corner of the room. Charcoal will absorb moisture and odor in the room to keep your wood furniture in great shape and smell.

Apply Furniture Wax

Keep the surface of your wooden furniture protected from scruffs, marks, and scratches with furniture wax. A good furniture wax made from beeswax and paraffin will keep the wood looking luxurious and shiny.

You may say that this is not needed on satinwood veneered furniture as the wood panels already have a natural shine. However, wax can preserve the surface of the wood and keep it free from scratches and marks. You may ask your furniture dealer for the best wax to go with your luxurious furniture purchase.

Use Glass Coasters to Avoid Moisture Rings

This is very practical yet overlooked advice. Glass coasters will not just protect your furniture from spills and messes but will avoid moisture rings as a result of very hot or very cold beverages. Moisture rings are very hard to remove, oftentimes you need a furniture restorer to remove these from your expensive furniture pieces. So, use coasters or placemats to avoid these issues at all costs.

Place Furniture Away from Windows

Windows will bring in natural light and will make the room bigger and brighter but, it is not good for luxurious wooden furniture. UV rays from the sun can damage this furniture. You can either move the furniture away from the window or use blinds or curtains to shield the wood.

Avoid Using All-Purpose Cleaning Products

Cleaning products contain very harsh chemicals that will only cause damage to the surface of luxurious wooden furniture. It would be best to use a damp piece of cloth to clean the wood. Dusting with an old towel would do.

Use Pesticides

Although most satinwoods are resistant to insects, especially boring insects, it would still be best to use pesticides to keep pests away. This is because satinwood veneers are just on the surface of the furniture. The core wood may still be vulnerable to pests. A natural, spray pesticide would be the best and most healthy solution.

Apply Varnish

Just like wax, varnish can help seal the wood and protect the surface from scratches, marks, and dents. Also, varnish can prevent moisture attacks which can damage the wood. Apply varnish as indicated on the product label and follow the drying and curing times as much as possible.

Final Words

Ceylon Satinwood is a rare, very lovely, and durable satinwood. It is the only species of true satinwoods however, West Indian Satinwood or Jamaican Satinwood has been regarded as an equal. Ceylon Satinwood has been classified as rare and vulnerable as trees have been cut down to make expensive veneers, furniture, and turned objects.

Understanding the characteristics of satinwoods can help you identify which are genuine satinwood and which ones are not. This knowledge may be applied when buying expensive luxurious furniture and avoid being scammed into buying fake satinwood veneers and furniture pieces. 

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