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Working with Iroko Wood: Tips for Cutting, Sanding, and Finishing

Tips & Guides Timber Knowledge
18 July 2023 min read

Working with Iroko Wood: Tips for Cutting, Sanding, and Finishing

When creating beautiful, durable, and unique wooden projects, choosing the right type of wood is of utmost importance. 

One such wood that has gained significant popularity in recent years is iroko wood

Known for its attractive grains and impressive characteristics, iroko is a versatile wood used in various applications. 

This article will explore the different aspects of working with iroko wood, providing valuable tips for cutting, sanding, and finishing, allowing you to create stunning woodworking projects.


Understanding Iroko Wood

Iroko wood, scientifically known as Milicia excelsa, is native to West Africa. It’s a hardwood species that belongs to the family Meliaceae. 

Moreover, iroko wood is highly valued for its durability, stability, and natural resistance to decay, making it an excellent choice for indoor and outdoor projects.


Cutting Iroko Wood

When cutting iroko wood, it’s essential to use sharp tools and take your time to ensure clean and precise cuts. To avoid tear-out and splintering, always cut with the grain. This will help maintain the natural beauty of the wood. It’s also worth noting that iroko wood can be quite dense, so using a band or table saw with a sharp carbide-tipped blade is recommended.


Sanding Iroko Wood

Sanding is an essential step in woodworking, and iroko wood requires some special attention in this regard. 

Before you start sanding, it’s advisable to seal the end grains of the wood with a sanding sealer or by applying a coat of diluted adhesive. This helps prevent moisture absorption and reduces the risk of splitting. 

When sanding iroko, start with coarse grit sandpaper (around 100-120 grit) and gradually work up to finer grit (such as 220 grit). Always sand with the grain to achieve a smooth and even finish. Don't forget to wear protective gear, including a dust mask, to safeguard your health while working with wood.


Finishing Iroko Wood

Applying the right finish can further enhance the beauty of iroko. One of the significant advantages of iroko wood is its natural resistance to decay and insect infestation. However, a suitable finish is essential to protect it from weathering and maintain its appearance. 

For outdoor projects, consider using an oil-based finish or a marine-grade varnish designed explicitly for hardwoods. These finishes will help protect the wood from moisture, UV rays, and other environmental factors. You can opt for a clear polyurethane or a penetrating oil finish for indoor projects. Again, these finishes will protect the wood and enhance its natural beauty.


Maintaining Iroko Wood

Regular maintenance is crucial to keep your iroko wood projects looking their best. Cleaning the wood using mild soap and water twice a year is recommended for outdoor projects. 

After cleaning, consider reapplying a thin coat of the appropriate finish to maintain its protection. Simple dusting and occasional cleaning with a damp cloth should suffice for indoor projects. Also, avoid exposing iroko to excessive moisture or drastic changes in humidity levels, which can lead to warping or cracking.


Working with Iroko Wood: Safety Measures, Joinery, and Craftsmanship

Beyond cutting, sanding, and finishing, it’s equally crucial to consider the safety measures, the art of joinery, and the craftsmanship aspects while working with iroko wood. 

Ultimately, with its remarkable properties, iroko promises great potential, but it also requires a careful approach and considerable finesse to achieve excellent results.


Safety Measures with Iroko Wood

Safety is paramount in any woodworking project; iroko wood is no exception. 

Iroko wood dust has been reported to cause respiratory problems and allergic reactions in some woodworkers. To protect yourself, always wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including a high-quality dust mask or respirator, safety glasses, and gloves when cutting, sanding, or performing other operations that create dust.

Further, maintain proper ventilation in your workspace to ensure the dust doesn't linger in the air. Consider investing in a dust extraction system if you frequently work with iroko or other woods that produce harmful dust. 

Your health and safety are top priority, so taking these precautions will help you enjoy your woodworking projects without risk.


Joinery Techniques with Iroko Wood

Joinery, the art of connecting pieces of wood, is a vital aspect of working with iroko. The wood's density can be challenging but also rewarding when constructing joints. 

Because of its hardness, iroko is excellent for mortise and tenon joints, dovetails, or other joints requiring precise cuts and tight fits. When cutting joints in iroko, ensure your tools are sharp and your measurements accurate.

For outdoor projects, consider using stainless steel or brass fasteners, as the natural oils in iroko wood can react with iron, causing staining and corrosion. Additionally, use a high-quality waterproof adhesive to withstand weathering and the wood's natural oils for glue joints.


The Craftsmanship of Iroko Wood

Iroko's exceptional properties allow for detailed work and intricate designs. The wood's high stability and resistance to warping make it ideal for precision work. 

Carving and turning iroko can yield stunning results, with the wood's golden to dark brown colour providing a beautiful canvas. Similarly, iroko's interlocking grain patterns can be emphasised with the right design, making it an attractive choice for decorative elements or feature pieces.

Beyond that, iroko's aesthetic appeal and durability make it a choice material for high-quality furniture, boat building, and decking. The wood's natural resistance to decay and insect infestation suits it for outdoor projects. 

Moreover, despite its durability, iroko also responds well to fine detailing and can be used for delicate indoor pieces, such as inlay work or intricate carvings.


Top-Grade Timber Available at Woodshop Direct

Iroko wood offers a world of opportunities for both novice and experienced woodworkers. You can create functional and artistic pieces with this remarkable wood by respecting the wood's properties, prioritising safety, mastering joinery, and honing craftsmanship. 

Working with iroko wood can be a rewarding experience, as its unique properties allow for creating stunning and long-lasting woodworking projects. 

By following the tips for cutting, sanding, and finishing discussed in this article, you can unleash the full potential of iroko wood and create works of art that are sure to impress. To explore our wide range of iroko wood products, browse Woodshop Direct today and take the first step towards creating exceptional woodworking projects.