A hardwood pinch hitter from Down Under

Sir Joseph Banks, the naturalist who accompanied seafaring discoverer Captain James Cook, spotted a rather unique tree species when he arrived in the state of Queensland, Australia, in 1770. The species that was eventually named Grevillea robusta exhibited colorful, toothbrush-shaped blooms.

It was about a century later that the tree seen by Sir Banks was found to offer finely figured wood. Its dazzling pattern and hue proved perfect for doors, paneling, rails, and other features of prominent residences and buildings. In fact, the wood's softness to the touch and oak-like appearance prompted the name silky oak. And as such, the wood became exceedingly popular in its homeland and Europe. In North American, however, it came to be called lacewood. But, Grevillea robusta's popularity eventually spelled its demise.

By the early 1900s, the lacewood supply in southern Queensland was gone. There was, however, Cardwellia sublimis, a species similar to the original lacewood tree. It grew in northern Queensland and was adopted quickly. The substitute tree was christened as lacewood.

Today, you might see this species in art furniture, or as a jewelry box. Its ray-flecked figure will remind you of quartersawn oak or sycamore. And you can be assured of obtaining some.

That's because Australia now has some of the world's best forestry practices. And with the planting of the "new lacewood" tree in tea and coffee plantations for shade all the way to Africa, woodworkers will always have this pinch-hitting hardwood.