The Down-Under Paving Wood

Australian craftsmen use jarrah, a eucalyptus that resembles mahogany and teak, for fine furniture, cabinets, and wall paneling. But since the Aussies started exporting jarrah in the 1800s, the rest of the world has found it more suitable for docks, bridges, and decking. In fact, jarrah was used to pave a Hastings, England, street in 1897.

Recently, the Down-Under hardwood replaced treated pine in the oceanfront boardwalks of some New Jersey cities—most notably famed Atlantic City. There, 50,000 board feet of jarrah was installed last year as the first step in an extensive renovation.

Jarrah isn't the heaviest wood known, nor the strongest, but it happens to be 15 percent more dense than oak, and highly resistant to wear, splintering, dampness, dryrot, and insect attack. And it won't burn unless exposed to a constant flame, an attribute that gives jarrah a Class B fire rating. As a hardwood, jarrah also can bear a load. A jarrah 1x4 is as strong as a redwood 2x4.

All these qualities make jarrah a construction standout. Yet in Australia, it's the size of the trees that prompts the name "king" jarrah. Where jarrah grows in the coastal forests south of Perth, trees reach hearty size-up to 4' across at the stump, 40' to the lowest branch, and 150' tall.

Because hardwoods grow so slowly, demand for a species, such as American red oak, often threatens it with extinction. Not so in Australia, where the government supervises the only hardwood reforestation program known in the world. Only a small part of the jarrah forest may be harvested annually, thus assuring the future of this remarkable timber.

Photograph: Hopkins Associates
Illustration: Jim Stevenson