What Is Okoume Wood?

By Kelvin O'Donahue

Okoume is the wood of the Okoume tree (Aucoumea klaineana), a species native to west-central Africa, in particular Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo. The lumber of this tree is known by many names, among them Acoume, Gaboon wood, Uume and Zouga. Within its native range, Okoume is considered widespread and relatively common. Okoume is widely used for veneers and is often processed into plywood.

paddler with wooden sea kayak
credit: Marek Uliasz/Hemera/Getty Images
A paddler is pulling a wooden sea kayak out of the water.

Description

Okoume heartwood is typically a lustrous pinkish-brown to light red with a fine, uniform texture. The grain is straight to slightly wavy and may be slightly interlocking. The sapwood is pale and grayish, clearly demarcated from the heartwood. Fresh-cut Okoume heartwood darkens with age and exposure to light and air. The cut wood is not resinous, and lacks any pronounced odor.

Properties

Okoume has a low density, with a mean weight of 25 pounds per cubic foot. It is considered very soft, rendering it unsuitable for use in situations requiring durability, such as flooring. On the Janka scale, a standard measure of wood hardness, Okoume's rating is only 380. This is similar to the hardness of basswood (367) and redwood (402). Wood used for hardwood flooring is generally from much harder species such as red oak, which has a hardness of 1290. Okoume lumber has little resistance to insect and fungal attack.

Working

Okoume accepts stain and glue very well but, even though soft, is only moderately easy to work by turning, carving, cutting or planing. The wood has a high silica content, which tends to blunt cutting tools more than might be expected of so soft a species. The wood nails well but is average or worse for holding screws. It is not suitable for steam bending. Okoume peels and slices easily and evenly, and this combines with its good acceptance of glue to give it wide use as veneer and in plywood.

Uses

Outside of its native range, most Okoume is sold as veneer or plywood. Solid lumber is used in furniture and joinery where it grows locally. Imports to the United States are mainly in the form of veneer and plywood, especially for use in decorative paneling, hollow-core doors and furniture. Okoume is one of the tropical hardwoods used for exterior plywood manufactured to BS (British Standard) 1088 specifications for use in marine applications.