The African heavyweight with remarkable figure
Bubinga, once thought to be a rosewood, yields huge, heavy logs much sought after for vender.

In the swamps and along the jungle waterways of Gabon in Equatorial Africa, there grows a giant of a tree. Towering at 130' or more, it yields mostly defect-free logs 6' in diameter and up to 70' long. Such a log can weigh as much as 10 tons, so loggers must await the seasonal rains to float the wood to port.

European woodworkers probably know little of the rugged origins of one of their favorite veneers. What they do know, though, is that the rotary-cut veneer that they call kevazingo has a wonderful swirling figure that's equally eye-catching as paneling or cabinetry. Even their predecessors recognized the classy qualities of this wood. It regularly appeared in French Renaissance furniture of the 1700s, when this rich reddish wood was named bois de roe d'Afrique (African rosewood) because it was thought to be a type of rosewood.

Across the Atlantic, American woodworkers scratch their heads at the word kevazingo. They recognize the strikingly colored wood from Africa's steamy jungles as bubinga (Guibourtia demeausei). Woodturners especially like its even texture and delicate veins of dark red and often purple. And luthiers, always seeking new stock, have fashioned bubinga into guitar sides and backs as a substitute for their favored rosewood. But they'll never see much bubinga in board form at any one time. That's because it weighs nearly 60 pounds per cubic foot, making shipping expensive. Turned into rotary-cut veneer at African mills, though, massive bubinga logs become kevazingo and reach more markets at far lesser cost.

Illustration: Jim Stevenson