Wood Profile: Padauk


Wood Profile: Padauk

This exotic wood changes from bright orange to deep crimson over time

By Janette Square

The species that woodworkers refer to as padauk is properly called African padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii), or sometimes vermillion. It grows in tropical climates in India, the South Pacific, and even South Florida. Most commercially available padauk lumber comes from Africa, and is quite reasonably priced compared to other exotic woods. The pronunciation varies depending on who you ask, but the general consensus seems to be “Pa-Dook.”

This hardwood’s defining characteristic is its striking appearance. Freshly milled padauk has a nice, straight grain and varies in color from pale pinkish-orange to deep brownish-red. When quartersawn, it boasts beautiful grain figuring, such as ribbons and freckles.

Along with its rich color, woodworkers value padauk for its strength and stability. Popular applications include flooring, turning, musical instruments, and furniture. Because it is resistant to insects, padauk is also a good choice for outdoor projects. Despite its durability, it has a tendency to be somewhat brittle, so take care when cutting padauk for delicate fretwork pieces.


The Janka rating of padauk is 1970 (considerably harder than most domestic hardwoods), making it somewhat difficult to cut on a scroll saw. Still, it is easier to work with than some exotic wood varieties, such as bloodwood (Janka rating 2900). Depending on the thickness of the piece you are cutting, I suggest selecting a more aggressive blade, such as a #7 or a #9. Clear packing tape applied to the wood surface will also help to prevent burning.

Dust collection and proper breathing protection are a must when cutting and sanding padauk; although its scent is lovely, the wood produces a very fine dust that can irritate the lungs. The dust will add an orange stain to everything it touches (including clothing), so remove as much of it as possible prior to finishing; I use a mop sander. If you pair padauk with lightly colored, porous wood (such as aspen), I recommend finishing the pieces separately prior to gluing.


While padauk finishes beautifully, keep in mind that, no matter the finish, it will not retain its vibrant color forever; over time, it will darken to a crimson or reddish-brown. Tung oil or varnish will darken the wood right away. (Personally, I like this look!) Polyurethane will maintain the color initially but may produce a brownish tint over time. To slow the discoloration process, some woodworkers suggest applying tung oil followed by dewaxed shellac, and then adding several coats of outdoor finish with UV protection, such as spar urethane.


Even after it matures, padauk is a rich wood that accepts finishes beautifully. Give it a try! Take the time to cut and finish it properly and you’ll have a handsome piece to cherish for years to come.


About the Author

Janette Square lives in Yachats, on the Oregon coast. For more of Janette’s work, visit her website at square-designs.com.

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