#93: Mansonia

Bird number: 126
Date: December 4, 2012
Wood: Mansonia (Mansonia altissima)
Source: Gift from a fellow carver

A few months back Ed showed me some things that he’d carved from Mansonia, but said that he didn’t have any of that left. But when I was at his place a couple weeks ago he handed me a piece, saying that he found it while digging for something else in his wood stash. The piece he gave me is large enough to make two birds and have a little wood left over.

Mansonia comes from tropical Africa, where it’s apparently quite abundant. It’s been called African Walnut, although it’s not at all related to the Walnut tree. The wood has some of the same characteristics of Walnut, although it’s considerably lighter in color. At least, it’s lighter than any Walnut I’ve ever seen. Working it with a knife is pretty tough, but possible. I didn’t want to work that hard, so I used the Foredom on this one. There were no surprises in carving or sanding, and it finished up just beautifully.

There is less contrast in the grain than in many woods, and from a distance the bird looks rather plain. Up close, the grain really “pops out,” and one gains a whole new appreciation for the subtle beauty in this wood.

Mansonia has good outdoor weathering properties, and is resistant to decay and termite and insect attack. The wood is most commonly used for veneer, but also for cabinetry, boat building, furniture, and turned objects. I know that it’s available as turning blocks, because I saw some at Woodcraft. It’s more rarely available in board form from exotic lumber suppliers. Price will probably be in the mid range for a tropical exotic wood.

According to several sources, Mansonia is one of the worst woods in terms of toxicity and frequency of adverse reactions. The most common reaction is simple skin and eye irritation, but the dust reportedly can cause nausea, giddiness, sneezing, headaches, nosebleeds, infected splinters, and asthma. The bark, and possibly the heartwood, contains a cardiac poison called¬†mansonin, which is similar to digitalis. Granted, it’s not there in high concentration, but I wouldn’t want to be working this wood without wearing a dust mask of some sort.

Extended contact with the wood dust or shavings is not good. Animals who have Mansonia shavings as litter do not fare well. See, for example, this report about pigs kept on Mansonia litter.

In other words, be very cautious when working with this wood.

All that said, I didn’t notice any particular effects. I did wear my breather while carving and power sanding, but not while hand sanding. Had I read about the potential effects of the wood before working with it, I would have been more careful.

Despite the potential dangers of working with it, I look forward to carving the other piece that I have.

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