Selecting Intarsia Wood

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Selecting Intarsia Wood

Preserve the beauty of your work by understanding the effects of time

by Mike Mathieu


For me, the best part of an intarsia project is picking out the wood to use. I spend hours matching up different colors and figures of wood. Often, woodworkers don’t realize the vibrant wood they use in their project will change over time. Careful wood selection and a knowledge of how aging affects the color of specific woods will help your intarsia project stand the test of time.

I have been very fortunate to be able to use many different types of woods in my intarsia. I have learned a lot about the color changes wood goes through as it ages. When I created my first rose box, I used pink ivory for the rose. It was the most beautiful wood I had ever seen and it made the perfect rose. Unfortunately, pink ivory turns brown. I did some research and found bloodwood. As the name implies, the wood is red, and best of all, it stays red.

To save you the expense of choosing wood through trial and error, I’m sharing what I have learned from experience. Please note this is not a complete list, but it does provide a range of colors to help you make the most of your intarsia projects.


A table: species, color and figure, intarsia users, effects of time African padauk - reddish orange - orange background wood - darkens with age American walnut - nice brown color - good general dark wood - no change Apple - tan - general wood - darkens with age Ash - wide open grain, light with tan stripes - landscape - no change Bird's-eye maple - light tan - great accent wood - slight darkening with age Bloodwood - red - anything red - no change Bubinga - brick red with wild grain - good general wood - no change

A table: species, color and figure, intarsia uses, effects of time Canarywood - yellow with orange streaks - great accent wood - darkens with age Cherry - reddish tan - frames and boxes - darkens with age Cocobolo - wild grain, variety of color and shades - good background wood - darkens with age Ebony - black - anything black - no change Fishtail oak - reddish brown, unique grain - tree trunks, bird feathers - no change Holly - almost pure white, tight grain - anything white - no change Honduran mahogany - nice grain, reddish brown - frames, boxes - darkens with age Ipe - greenish brown - background - darkens with age Jatoba - nice grain, reddish brown - background - darkens with age Kingwood - purple with black stripes, wild grain - background - darkens with age Lacewood - light brown to silver, unique grain - water, bird feathers - no change Hard maple - light tan - good general wood - darkens slightly

A table: species, color and figure, intarsia uses, effects of time Osage orange - bright yellow - not recommended due to change - turns dark brown Pau amarillo - yellow - fall leaves, anything yellow - no change Pear - peach color - flesh tone - darkens with age Pernumbuco - bright orange with black stripes, rare - anything orange, fall leaves - no change Persimmon - light tan with tight grain - cloudy skies - no change Peruvian walnut - uniform chocolate color, nice grain - anything brown - no change Poplar (green) - variety of shades available - anything green, trees - may darken to brown with age Purpleheart - purple - mountain tops, anything purple - darkens with age Sycamore - tan, light unique grain - feathers on birds - holds color well Tulipwood - red on creamy background, beautiful grain - sunset, sunrise, flower petals - no change Wenge - black with brown stripes, coarse - good dark wood - no change Zebrawood - black lines against tan background - good background wood - darkens slightly

Click here to download a printable PDF: PAGE 1; PAGE 2.

About the Author

Mike Mathieu lives in Midlothian, Va., and runs Woodworking Plus. Mike specializes in designing and creating custom intarsia. Visit his website at






This article was first published in of Scroll Saw Woodworking & Crafts Spring 2009 (Issue 34).





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