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Wood Used In Chinese Antique Furniture
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The Chinese term huanghuali literally means "yellow flowering pear" wood. It is a member of the rosewood family and is botanically classified as Dalbergia odorifera. In premodern times the wood was know as huali or hualu. The modifier huang (yellowish-brown) was added in the early twentieth century to describe old huali wood whose surfaces had mellowed to a yellowish tone due to long exposure to light. The sweet fragrance of huali distinguishes it from the similar appearing but pungent-odored hongmu.

The finest huanghuali has a translucent shimmering surface with abstractly figured patterns that delight the eye--those appearing like ghost faces were highly prized. The color can range from reddish-brown to golden-yellow. Historical references point to Hainan Island as the main source of huali. However, variations in the color, figure, and density suggest similar species sourced throughout North Vietnam, Guangxi, Indochina and the other isles of the South China Sea.


Nanmu and nanmu burl (douban nan) were frequently mentioned as materials par excellence in Ming literati writings. The former was often used for cabinet construction; the latter, for decorative cabinet door and table top panels as well as smaller scholar's objects.

Nanmu is a large, slow growing tree of the evergreen laurel family that develops with a long straight trunk ranging from 10-40 meters in height, and 50 to 100 cm in diameter. While sharing some characteristics with the coniferous cedar, it bears no botanical relationship. More than thirty varieties are found south of the Yangzi River with concentrations in the southwest; varieties are also indigenous to Hainan Island and Vietnam.

Zhennan (True Nanmu) from Sichuan and Guizhou, zinan (Purple Nanmu) from the southeastern and south-central regions, and hongmaoshan nan (Hongmao Mountain Nanmu) from Hainan Island are generally considered to produce the finest timber. These wood ranges in color from a warm olive-brown color to a reddish-brown color. Other species of nanmu with a coarse, loosely structured grain and lighter color are considered inferior.

Because it is highly resistant to decay, nanmu was frequently used for architectural woodworking and boat-building. The wood dries well with minimal warping or splitting after which it is dimensionally stable and of medium density (zhennan .61 g/cm3). Nanmu also emits a pungent fragrance when freshly worked. And because it polishes to a shimmering surface and has fine smooth texture, it was also prized as furniture-making wood. Shimmering characteristics also qualify that which is termed 'jinsi' (golden-thread) nanmu. The burl of nanmu (douban nan) was also commonly featured in table and cabinet door.

Also named redwood or hongmu. A dense, hard and comparatively stable material for furniture, which produces a color absorption result over others. Frequently called Suen Dzee (or Suan Zhi in mandarin) by the southern craftsmen, its wood grain percentage is higher than most comparables. It can be stained to a rich and dark brown lustre, enhanced even more through maturing. Availability is firm, though price is escalating. There are three different colors for blackwood : the pale, the red and the black. Within them, pale blackwood displays a grain very similar to Huang-Huali. Wood sample depicted here is pale blackwood, which is the one we use most.

Just to be cautious, some people regard hongmu as a broad range of wood types, including even rosewood, while certain retailers say that hongmu is a type of wood inferior to rosewood and blackwood, so always ask for the specific meaning when they use the term "hongmu".

Mahogany is also called Hongmu in China which is one of the most popular wood types for furniture making and panelling in the US for its color and grain, and is also used in Chinese cabinets and desks for it's beauty and durability.


Both tree and roots contain a yellow aromatic oil, called sandalwood oil, the odor of which persists for years in such articles as ornamental boxes, furniture, and fans made of the white sapwood.

Sandalwood trees have been cultivated since antiquity for their yellowish heartwood, which plays a major role in many Oriental funeral ceremonies and religious rites.

The trees are slow growing, usually taking about 30 years for the heartwood to reach an economically useful thickness.

Zitan is an extremely dense wood which sinks in water. It is a member of the rosewood family and is botanically classified in the Pterocarpus genus. The wood is blackish-purple to blackish-red in color, and its fibers are laden with deep red pigments which have been used for dye since ancient times. The fine texture of the wood grain is especially suitable for intricate carving.

Early records indicate that zitan was sourced in tropical forests of southern China, throughout Indochina, and from Hainan Island. The tree grows quite slowly. Few pieces are known to be greater than one foot in width. While the tree has been considered to be extinct, new sources have been discovered in Indo-China as well as Southeast Asia over the recent years.

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