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What is Koa?

Prior to moving to Hawaii 5 years ago, I had no idea what Koa was. Having purchased a Hawaiian property, known to have Koa trees on it, I eventually learned that Koa is a species of tree with a high monetary value and unique color and grain pattern.

This isn’t just any tree, but rather a special, highly unique, rare and sought after tree that produces incredible lumber. Historically, Koa is one of Hawaii’s most honored heritage. It is highly revered and sacred to the people of Hawaii and woodworkers around the world.

The botanical name of this tree is Acacia Koa. It is a beautiful and rare tree, endemic to Hawaii; it doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world. It’s natural life cycle is about 80 to 150 years. It can reach heights of up to 100 feet with diameters as large as 5 and 6 feet wide. Its canopy can spread to 40 feet or more and bloom light yellow, cream or white round powder puff flowers. Hawaiian elevations that best suit the Koa trees’ growth are between 2000 and 6000 feet above sea level.

Koa wood is known for the deep rich colors and varied grain patterns. Old growth trees contain the most figured lumber. The grain is interlocked, which often causes curly figuring.

Koa, is a hard wood and has high crush resistance and shock absorbance. It is often compared to walnut, however, it weighs about 25% more and its interlocking grain makes for an exceptional figure. It’s thin, light-colored sapwood surrounds the hardwood that woodworkers describe as lustrous, swirled marble. The wood is predominately reddish brown to dark brown, but the wood occasionally carries colorful blends of gold and black.

In addition to its desirable grain, woodworking masters appreciate Koa’s interlocking grain because it builds greater bending strength and stiffness than walnut. Koa works quite easily with both hand and power tools, making it an ideal for craftsmen.

Koa ranks as a wood of exceptional beauty and quality. You can work it into fine furniture, sculpture, turnings, and musical instruments. Because of its shock resistance, it makes exceptional gunstocks. Due to its decay resistance, Koa also performs well as boat trim. As veneer, especially with fiddleback figure, Koa can be used for architectural paneling.

Koa is arguably the most spectacular hardwood in the world. There is no other wood that posses the level of chatoyancy as Koa wood. Chatoyant means “varying in color when seen in different lights of from different angles.”

Chatoyancy is a property that is usually attributed to certain gems, it shimmers which gives a sense of depth in the gem. It’s almost holographic in appearance. It gives the wood a three dimensional quality.

Koa is often considered second to none because of its spectacular appearance. Curly Koa is unmatched in price, with highly figured material for priced as high as $150/bf. Koa lumber with a premium curl can drain your wallet. Some say that Koa is worth it’s weight in gold.

Koa’s high price is also a results of being endemic to Hawaii; it doesn’t grow anywhere else in the world and it is predominantly harvested only from dead or decaying trees, making it even more rare.

Having been witness to beauty of the Koa tree and the honor working with the lumber it produces, I feel privileged to act as a steward and keep the species alive and thriving through the efforts of our conservation program at the Koawood Ranch.

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