Tasmanian Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) is one of Australia’s most recognisable timbers. When freshly milled the heartwood is a rich reddish brown; over time it turns a darker, more chocolate brown. The sapwood (the outside bit of the tree) is very light and there is a clear demarcation between that and the dark heartwood which can yield some spectacular patterns.
It is highly prized by furniture makers in particular as it is not only nice to look at but strong and stable. Generally it is not too bad to work with although it can be a real pain when you get wavy grain or knots – the tear out you can get when planing can be quite spectacular all on it’s own (not in a good way).
One unfortunate side effect of using Blackwood is it’s potential for lung problems when sanding if precautions are not taken. I guess it can be likened to asbestos although not as severe. My father is a cabinet maker and has used Blackwood all his life; he has lung problems (including asthma) as a result. In all fairness there was little known about the effects of exposure to Blackwood in ‘the old days’ and it has been only recently fully studied. A good dust extraction system and simple dust masks are all that’s needed and, really, they should be used when working in any dusty environment anyway.
Unlike some other iconic Tasmanian timbers Blackwood is still readily available; we still don’t waste any but it is not uncommon to come across good stashes in sheds and workshops.
Identifying Blackwood is not difficult as there are few other timbers (locally anyway) that come close to it in appearance. We use it quite a bit and it is great to use as a contrast to some of the lighter pines and, even, Tasmanian Oak.
We, like just about everyone else on the planet, love it.