Duck! Here Comes the Greenheart

Explosive as well as poisonous, greenheart does have some good qualities—like durability that rivals teak's. Sawyers in Guyana, Surinam, and Venezuela have nasty enough work in the tropical heat day in and day out without worrying about exploding logs on top of it all. But when a load of greenheart comes to the mill, they treat the logs like a truckload of ticking time bombs.

The species Ocotea rodiei, it seems, has an usual tendency to split apart so quickly and with such force that pieces of the log can fly when air hits the saw kerf. In at least one instance, sections of a greenheart log actually pierced a mill roof. To prevent such mishaps, mill hands secure the section of the log that has already passed through the saw with a stout chain.

As if controlling greenheart's explosive tendency isn't a scary enough situation, all who work the wood also must avoid getting splinters. That's because greenheart, while nontoxic and nonirritating to the touch, somehow causes severe infection when splinters of it penetrate the skin.

"Why do these lumberman even bother with the wood?" For several reasons. Besides being a pretty wood, greenheart ranks second only to teak in its natural resistance to marine borers and other insects attacks.

It also has high shock resistance, great crushing strength, a high density, and takes a polish with little effort. Such attributes attract ship and boat builders. Before man-made materials, fishing rod makers liked greenheart because it bent without breaking.

Illustration: Jim Stevenson