Question about working with jatoba

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Forum topic by Devin posted 01-01-2009 11:13 PM 19487 views 4 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Devin's profile


166 posts in 4327 days

01-01-2009 11:13 PM

Topic tags/keywords: jatoba

Hi there, I’ve got a few nice pieces of jatoba (bargain bin from flooring company) and I’m thinking of using them in a small wall hung cabinet. I can find very little information online about working with it. I’ve seen a only handful of projects here that have used jatoba (boxes, lamps, outdoor furniture).
I’m curious what you all think of it for furniture construction.
Is it hard to work, dull your tools quickly, finish nicely, any surprises to look out for?
Thanks everyone, any and all thoughts appreciated.

Happy New Year!

-- If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

19 replies so far

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 4621 days

#1 posted 01-01-2009 11:59 PM

Jatoba, or brazillian cherry, works easily enough but it is a very hard wood. It is about twice as hard as oak and will dull your saw blades much quicker than oak. But other than that it works pretty much like cherry. It doesn’t need any stain because, like cherry, it is gorgeous enough on its own. Like cherry it will darken with exposure to light.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View John Ormsby's profile

John Ormsby

1288 posts in 4536 days

#2 posted 01-02-2009 12:56 AM

Jatoba can twist and move quite a bit. It is OK to use for furniture and cabinets. However, I recommend you plan your projects so as to be able to glue the pieces as soon as possible after milling. This will give you the best results.

-- Oldworld, Fair Oaks, Ca

View TheCaver's profile


288 posts in 4639 days

#3 posted 01-02-2009 01:16 AM

+1 on the moving and twisting…...


-- Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan

View pat's profile


123 posts in 4515 days

#4 posted 01-02-2009 02:37 AM

i don’t like jatoba much. i don’t really like the grain of it. its really really hard though. dulls tools very fast and when crosscutting chiping is very common.

-- check out my amazing woodburning , Pat

View Devin's profile


166 posts in 4327 days

#5 posted 01-02-2009 08:35 AM

Thanks for all the tips guys. Much appreciated…moving and twisting, chipping…all good to know ahead of time. I do like the look of it, and will likely just use a clear finish.
thanks again, Devin

-- If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

View sharad's profile


1119 posts in 4604 days

#6 posted 01-02-2009 08:49 AM

Devin, your question about using Jatoba was so useful for everyone. I thank you and all the expert and experienced LJs for providing such valuable information about the wood. More expert comments are awaited.

-- “If someone feels that they had never made a mistake in their life, then it means they have never tried a new thing in their life”.-Albert Einstein

View MarcInAylmerQC's profile


16 posts in 4428 days

#7 posted 01-02-2009 03:40 PM

Drilling is also tough in jatoba: it can burn a drill bit fast. If you’re using a forstner bit, take “small bites” at a time, pulling the bit out to clear the chips often or it will burn. Make sure to lubricate any screws with soap or wax or they will break for sure. I put up some pictures of a sofa base I built: see my projects if you’re interested.

Marc in Aylmer, Qc


View Devin's profile


166 posts in 4327 days

#8 posted 01-02-2009 07:35 PM

Sharad, I agree, LJ’s is truly an amazing resource for us woodworkers. The information that experts are willing to provide is incredible and such a valuable learning experience for me.
Thanks for the tips Marc, and thanks for loading the pictures of your sofa base. Looks very nice, and it really shows me what the wood looks like all finished.

-- If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

View woodbutcher's profile


592 posts in 4965 days

#9 posted 01-02-2009 08:12 PM

Jatoba is extremely hard and does dull cutting toold quickly. Crosscuts will inevitably incurr chipping.All of this has already been stated along with the tight grained charecteristic. What has not been said and I’ve experienced is that it has open pores also, which when finished initially with tung oil alone will cause spotting. I believe that it is the woods propensity to absorb too much oil at first and then try to dry from the surface first and underneath the finish later? This has been my observation when using 2parts tung oil and 1part mineral spirits.Possibly pure undiluted oil finishes would not exhibit this same result? I’m still planning to use a lot of Jatoba in other projects however! I just have to overcome the finishing nuances of this particular wood.Good luck and keep those cutting tools sharp!
Ken McGinnis

-- woodbutcher north carolina

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2824 posts in 4389 days

#10 posted 01-02-2009 08:22 PM

Commercial Names: Locust (west Indies); West Indian locust (UK, USA).
Other Names: jutaby, jatoba, jatai amerelo, jatai vermelho (Brazil); locust (Surinam); copal (Equador); marbre (Guataloupe); guapinal (Mexico); agarrobo (Puerto Rico)
Distribution: Central and South America and West Indies
General Description: The heartwood is salmon red to orange-brown marked with dark brown and russet brown streaks. The wood has a golden lustre. The grain is commonly interlocked with a medium to coarse texture. Weight 910kg/m3 (56lb/ft3); specific gravity .91.
Mechanical properties: Very strong, hard and tough with very good bending classification
Seasoning: Rather difficult to dry, tends to be rapid with moderate surface checking and warping and a liability to case harden. Slow drying will overcome these tendencies. There is small movement in service.
Working properties: Moderately difficult to work because of its high density. It nails badly but has good screw holding; glues well. It has a moderate blunting effect on tools which must be kept sharp, and a reduced cutting angle of 20 degrees will provide a smooth finish on the interlocked grain. The wood stains well but does not take a high polish.
Durability: Moderately durable, but non-durable when a high proportion of sapwood is present. It is very resistant to termites and extremely resistant to preservative treatment.
Uses: Furniture, cabinetmaking, joinery, and turnery. Its high shock resistance makes it ideal for tool handles and sports goods; excellent for flooring, stair treads, ships planking, gear cogs, wheel rims, looms, general building construction. Used for steam bent boat parts in place of oak. Lock gates in waters free from marine borers. Second growth timber has a wide sapwood of greyish-pink colour, and is sliced for decorative veneers for panelling and furniture.
Note: Hymenaea davisii, Sandw., grows in Guyana and is similar in all other respects.

Source: World Woods in Color (William A. Lincoln) 1986

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View Ampeater's profile


441 posts in 4547 days

#11 posted 01-03-2009 05:15 PM

I have used quite a bit of jatoba with good results. You really should not have much problem with the wood twisting and moving since you are using flooring. If it is straight now, it will probably stay straight. It does dull your tools as everyone else has said. Don’t use a stain since the wood itself has a nice color and will change a lot (to a nice dark burgundy color) in a year or so. I like a wipe on varnish or a clear shellac.

-- "A goal without a plan is a wish."

View FrankoManini's profile


40 posts in 4314 days

#12 posted 01-04-2009 03:35 AM


The only thing I have really heard about jatoba is that is splinters easily. Make sure you’re working with the grain while planing and jointing and that will help.

My two cents, for what it’s worth… actually, it’s worth 2 cents.

-- - If my wife asks, I got ALL of my tools on sale.

View grandpoobbaugh's profile


3 posts in 4056 days

#13 posted 06-26-2009 01:57 AM

I have a wonderful jatoba counter that, alas, needs refinishing – - including some sanding. Even a little sanding brings out the significantly lighter wood underneath. I was wondering if the color change could be speeded up if I illuminated the wood with a heat lamp or a UV or conventional light. I have tested the refinish in a relatively dark area and it is getting its color back slowly if at all. There will be hell to pay if it takes a year or more to get back to the original coloring.

View newTim's profile


622 posts in 4406 days

#14 posted 06-26-2009 10:10 PM

For what its worth, here’s some nightstands with Jatoba tops. I sanded to 220 and finished with GF Seal-A-Cell and a couple of top coats with GF Gel Stain. I really like the Jatoba. It finishes up real nicely. I also made a mantle with it.

-- tim hill

View gravity1000's profile


1 post in 4027 days

#15 posted 07-25-2009 08:14 PM

Hi… was doing some research about something else and came across this thread.

I live in Brazil and work with Jatoba a lot, and have some experience as a result.

As most have seen, it’s incredibly hard. If you try to nail it be prepared for heartache from splits unless you predrill the holes to almost perfect nail diameter. The older and more cured the wood the worse it is. On the flip side, it handles a close thread screw extremely well, though you can forget about driving a screw into the wood without splitting the wood or stripping the screw-head, unless you drill the hole sufficiently deep and sufficiently wide.

As far as cross-cut chipping goes, this is not a problem if you use a new, sharp and very high speed blade, and the wood is guided correctly.

To finish, I usually sand to 180/220 and then due to the darkening, just finish using a clear finishing sealer (the best one here is made by Bona, and is called Clear Nitro 5200) and then sand each coat to a finish with 360 grade. The finish after 3-4 coats is incredible, and very durable. Never seen a bug have a chance on this wood. To my mind it is one of the most beautiful furniture woods in existence.

I think in general using stains (it is virtually never stained down here), may cause heartache due to the color changes in the wood over time – you may end up with something darker and different to what you expect.

I never use a gloss finish on this wood, but that is a personal preference.

Down here it is the rolls royce of cabinet making wood. There are of course other more exotic woods but not nearly as popular or as available. Jatoba is relatively a very expensive wood here, though what we pay for it and what you pay for it is quite funny, when you do a comparison to the USA. Obviously much cheaper here.

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