Jelutong is a Hardwood tree that grows in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Southeast Asia. Scientifically known as Dyera costulata, Jelutong is a specie of tree in the family Apocynaceae, and it naturally grows in low elevation tropical green forest.
It grows up to 200 feet (60 meters) tall and 6 feet (2 meters) in diameter. Jelutong is grown commercially because of its timber. In many parts, because it has been overharvested, it is now a threatened species.
Jelutong wood is cream to yellowish, and it turns brown with age. It has a straight grain, fine texture and natural lustre. There is no clear distinction between the heartwood and sapwood as they are of the same colour. Apart from being a source of wood, Jelutong is also known for its product latex.
Before you begin to carve a Jelutong wood, you should know some of its basic properties. This article discusses all the details you need to know about Jelutong wood, so keep reading.
Is Jelutong Easy to Carve?
Although Jelutong is classified as a hardwood, it does not necessarily mean that it is hard and difficult to carve. It is called hardwood because the wood is gotten from a dicotyledonous tree. Other examples of hardwoods from dicot trees are; Oak, Mahogany, Balsa, Maple, etc. Because Jelutong grows faster, its timber is soft compared to other hardwood trees, with Balsa as an exception.
Because of its low density, Jelutong wood is easy to carve and cut. Any tools, including hand tools like knife, gouge, chisel, can be used on the wood. Power carving tools also work well on the wood. Jelutong wood is easy to peel and slice, although it sometimes has a slight blunting effect on tools.
Before working with Jelutong, it is advised that you keep your tools sharp to overcome the blunting effect it has on tools. When working with Jelutong, the latex from the tree can sometimes cause a gum buildup. This buildup of gum can clog the saw teeth of the tool being used.
How Good is Jelutong for Carving?
Generally, trees that produce fruits or nuts (including non-edible ones) are ideal for carving. Jelutong falls under this category as it produces a resinous fruit often used for medicinal purposes. Jelutong has a consistent grain density and good dimensional stability that allows for detailed carving. The finished product of Jelutong wood looks smooth and well defined in contrast to other woods that may appear rough.
Jelutong wood is very versatile, and it is one of the finest woods for carving. It is a wood that is easy to carve, hence it is most popular for relief carving but is also often used with other styles of wood carving.
Apart from carving, Jelutong sculpts, designs architectural models, patterns, interior panelling, furniture components, drawing boards, pencils, wooden toys, etc.
It is very popular among pattern makers because it produces detailed, smooth and intricate patterns in foundry work. It has a natural lustre that gives it a very beautiful finished look. Generally, planning, turning, mortising and sanding the wood gives a good result. However, boring and shaping the wood only gives a moderate result. Jelutong wood can be easily glued, polished, stained, varnished, nailed and screwed.
Because Jelutong has a very low density, it is easy to carve. However, the wood is not as durable as other woods as it is susceptible to pinhole borers, powder-post beetle and termite attacks. It is also susceptible to blue stain and wood-rotting fungi. However, the wood can be treated with preservatives both by cold soaking and vacuum-pressure process.
Beginner’s Tips for Carving Jelutong
Before you carve Jelutong for the first time, you should know that a wood’s basic characteristics affect how easily it carves. For example, Oakwood is hard, and it has a grain pattern that is very distinctive and rough. These qualities make Oakwood very difficult to carve, and beginners may find carving extremely frustrating. Even after carving, the surface will still look rough and lack definition.
Although softwoods are generally easy to carve and more suited for beginners, hardwoods like Jelutong are good for a start because they have almost no grain, and it is homogeneous in hardness. Jelutong is soft enough to carve easily, and it is hard enough not to compress under the force of a knife or chisel.
Here are some important points to note about Jelutong wood:
- Moisture: Don’t get the wood wet. A little moisture won’t hurt most woods, but Jelutong does not fare well when wet. Like other woods, it becomes brittle and may even split.
- Beginner Friendly: Begin carving with any tool you have available. Jelutong can be carved with a knife, gouge or power.
- Keep Tools Sharp: Jelutong has a slight blunting effect on some tools. Therefore, you should always keep your tools sharp.
- Chip and Dust: When you are hand carving with knives or chisels, little chips are created. However, sanding and power carving generate plenty of chips and dust. It is imperative you always to wear a quality dust mask to avoid inhaling the dust.
- Latex Pockets: Always be on the lookout for latex pockets when carving to avoid gum buildup.
- Allergens: Some allergic reactions have been reported where the latex and dust from Jelutong wood were the culprits. As a first-timer working with the wood, protect yourself by wearing a mask and a latex glove.
- Odour: Jelutong possesses a strong, distinctive sour odour when the wood is in use.
- Treatment: Jelutong needs to be treated before staining or finishing due to the finish’s splotchy appearance. There will be no need for this if it has been sealed with clear varnish or lacquer.
- Rot: The heartwood of Jelutong has a low resistance to rot, and it suffers from sap stain. However, since the wood is porous, the stain can be treated with preservatives.
Disadvantages of Carving Jelutong
As easy as Jelutong is for beginners, there are some disadvantages to working with it. Some of them are;
- Allergies: Jelutong causes allergic reactions and skin irritation in some users. It may not be an ideal choice for people who react to it.
- Availability: Jelutong is an exotic wood and a threatened species because it has been overharvested in some areas. Therefore, it is not readily available as other woods are.
- Durability: Jelutong is not resistant to rot and insect attack. It is also not as durable because it can easily break. It is advised that Jelutong should not be used for furniture, especially outdoor ones, because the wood may not withstand all the stress a piece of normal furniture would handle.
- Water absorption: Like other hardwoods, Jelutong absorbs water easily; therefore, its use should be limited to indoor variety. It is not suitable for outdoor pieces.
- Price: Because Jelutong is an exotic species, it may be slightly expensive than other common wood. Although it can be shipped, one would have to consider the wood’s price and the shipping expenses.
Other uses of Jelutong Tree
Apart from being a great source of wood, Jelutong has other parts that as well useful.
Latex: Jelutong yields white latex, which can be seen on wounded parts of the tree. The latex can also be obtained by tapping the trunk of the tree. Natural latex tapped from Jelutong was used in the production of chewing gums in the last century. Back then, latex was also used for blowpipes and as a rubber substitute. Today, latex is used in the production of insulation electric cables, celluloid and linoleum. The latex is also used as an admixture in paints for priming of concrete and sizing paper.
Fruit: As earlier said, Jelutong produces non-edible resinous fruits that are burnt to repel mosquitoes. They also serve as torches.
Root: The root of Jelutong plant can also be used as a cork substitute.
Jelutong tree is a versatile and multipurpose tree. Its wood is no doubt one of the finest and best carving woods available. It is Its unique properties and softness make it a go-to wood for expert carvers, and also an ideal choice for beginners.