The Ultimate Reclaimed Tropical Timber Guide

Reclaimed tropical timber is recognised as the sustainable and eco-friendly material of choice for various landscape and marine construction and garden design projects. Reclaimed timber offers a unique blend of character, history, and environmental responsibility. One aspect that greatly influences the quality and aesthetics of reclaimed timber is the choice of wood species. In this blog we share a helpful guide to the different tropical species available as reclaimed timber sections in the UK, and outline the distinct features and benefits, making them suitable for diverse applications. 

 

A potted history: Tropical timber in the UK

During colonial times, tropical hardwoods such as Greenheart, Jarrah, and Ekki were imported into the UK from West Africa, Australia and South America, for use primarily in marine construction and sea defences 

For over 30 years, Ashwells has been reclaiming these precious timbers and repurposing for future use in an FSC certified circular economy process that prevents further deforestation, saves energy and mineral resources, and protects architectural history.   

 

Reclaimed timber: Unmatched features and benefits

Due to the climate tropical hardwoods grow in, the grain is extremely dense giving it unmatched durability and stability. When cut and re sawn, reclaimed tropical timber displays red, yellow and vibrant oranges; all the colours of the tropics.   

 

Reclaimed tropical timber: species guide

1. Greenheart

South America – Guyana

Greenheart is one of the strongest and most durable timbers in the world. The tree grows tall and slow, ensuring the grain is straight. The timber was formerly listed on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable (due to a population reduction of over 20% in the past three generations) but this listing has been disputed by Guyana Forestry Commission.  

Ideal usage: Marine construction, decking and posts. 

 

2. Balau 

South East Asia

Balau’s colour can vary from straw to darker reddish brown, hence it is sometimes referred to as ‘Philippine Mahogany’. The timber is not listed in the CITES Appendices*, but many species in the Shorea genus are on the IUCN Red List (critically endangered).* A population reduction of over 80% has been recorded in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range, and exploitation.  

Ideal usage: Includes vehicle/container flooring; boxes and crates; planking/decking and internal stairs. 

 

3. Jarrah 

Australia

Jarrah can vary from light red to brown because of the way the fibers react with natural light. Straight to interlocked grain. You can encounter resin pockets when machining due to the tree being in a fire whilst growing and the resin crystallises. Now only available from commercially grown stock. This timber is not in the CITES Appendices* but is on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable*.  

Ideal usage: A favourite with wood turners, the colour and high density also make it ideal for flooring, decking, exterior cladding, sleepers, bridges and cabinet work. 

 

4. Opepe

West Africa

Opepe has a distinctive colour range from golden yellow to dark honey and contains very few knots. The timber is not in the CITES Appendices* but is on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable*. 

Ideal usage: Marine construction, decking and cladding, timber flooring, and boat building. 

 

5. Ekki 

Africa

With a very high breaking strength, Ekki is often known as the Red Ironwood, and displays mineral deposits as discreet streaks throughout the grain. This timber is not in the CITES Appendices* but is on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable*. 

Ideal usage: Hydraulic works; bridges in contact with water; heavy carpentry; timber framed houses; sleepers, and stakes.

 

6. Purpleheart

Central and South America

When first cut it is greyish brown, but when exposed to light it becomes deep purple. It contains a straight grain and has a striking contrast to its sapwood. This timber is not in the CITES Appendices* or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species*. 

Ideal usage: Cabinetwork, sculpture, ship building (ribs); musical instruments; flooring; turned goods; and heavy carpentry.

 

7. Massaranduba 

Brazil

With a very high breaking strength, Massaranduba is often compared to Ekki and has similar features and benefits. Grows in Brazil commonly known as ‘Bullet Wood’. This timber is not listed on the CITES Appendices or the IUCN but it’s a great alternative timber sourced due to the depletion of the other timbers.

Ideal usage: Hydraulic works; bridges in contact with water; heavy carpentry; timber framed houses; sleepers, and stakes. 

 

Why you should choose FSC: Ensure forests are forever

The Forest Stewardship Council® is a global certification system that promotes responsible timber reclamation and procurement best practice. 

As an FSC certified reclaimed tropical timber supplier provide a transparent and traceable chain of custody for all our reclaimed timber, whatever its source. 

Here’s why you should only source reclaimed tropical timber from a credible supplier with the FSC stamp of certification – 

  • By choosing an FSC certified materials partner, such as Ashwells, you show that your project procurement policies comply with the highest social and environmental standards  
  • Choosing to specify FSC reclaimed tropical timber provides you with a credible solution to complex environmental and social issues 
  • FSC certification is an effective way to gain public and consumer recognition of your responsible procurement practices and can also help you to make and meet Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) targets 
  • FSC certification allows you to access more environmentally sensitive markets, as governments and businesses are increasingly specifying FSC certified products in their procurement programmes 

Feeling inspired?  Walk through our step-by-step guide to help you include reclaimed timber in sustainable design projects. Download out Guide, click here.