Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa)

Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa)

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Common Name(s): Paulownia, Royal Paulownia, Princess Tree, Kiri

Scientific Name: Paulownia tomentosa

Distribution: Native to eastern Asia; also planted in eastern North America

Tree Size: 30-65 ft (10-20 m) tall, 2-4 ft (.6-1.2 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 18 lbs/ft3 (280 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .25, .28

Janka Hardness: 300 lbf (1,330 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 5,480 lbf/in2 (37.8 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 635,000 lbf/in2 (4.38 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 3,010 lbf/in2 (20.7 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 2.4%, Tangential: 3.9%, Volumetric: 6.4%, T/R Ratio: 1.6

Color/Appearance: Heartwood typically a pale grayish brown, sometimes with a reddish or purplish hue. Pale white sapwood not clearly demarcated from heartwood. Overall appearance (both the wood and the tree itself) is not too unlike Catalpa, another lightweight and porous hardwood.

Grain/Texture: Grain is generally straight, with a coarse, uneven texture. Very large pores give Paulownia a striped, porous look.

Endgrain: Ring-porous, occasionally semi-ring-porous; 3-5 rows of very large earlywood pores, large to small latewood pores; tyloses common; narrow to medium rays visible without lens, normal spacing; parenchyma winged, lozenge, confluent, and marginal.

Rot Resistance: Reported to be durable regarding decay resistance, with decent weathering characteristics, though susceptible to insect attack.

Workability: Given its straight grain and light weight, Paulownia is extremely easy to work. However, due to a high silica content in some trees, the wood can have a strong blunting effect on cutting edges. Takes a wide variety of glues, stains, and finishes well.

Odor: No characteristic odor.

Allergies/Toxicity: Besides the standard health risks associated with any type of wood dust, no further health reactions have been associated with Paulownia. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Paulownia is seldom offered for sale in the United States, though it’s actually grown on plantations and exported to Japan, where demand for the wood is much higher. Prices are likely to be high for a domestic species.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Common Uses: Plywood, veneer, furniture, boxes, millwork/siding, musical instruments (electric guitar bodies), clogs, carvings, and other small specialty items.

Comments: The other Balsa. Paulownia is used in applications where a lightweight (yet proportionately strong) wood is needed. It’s widely used in Japan for construction of the koto (a stringed musical instrument), as well as other household items, where the wood is referred to as Kiri. Paulownia is one of the fastest growing trees in the world, capable of growth rates of well over seven feet per year as a seedling! But while it’s highly appreciated and cultivated in Asia, Paulownia has come to be considered an invasive species in the United States.

Paulownia was named after Queen Anna Pavlovna of Russia (1795-1865), and is sometimes called Royal Paulownia or Princess Tree.

Related Species:

None available.

Related Articles:

Scans/Pictures: A special thanks to Mike Leigher for providing the wood sample of this wood species.

Paulownia (Paulownia tomentosa)

Paulownia (sanded)

Paulownia (sealed)

Paulownia (sealed)

Paulownia (endgrain)

Paulownia (endgrain)

Paulownia (endgrain 10x)

Paulownia (endgrain 10x)

  • Tai Fu

    Very soft wood, commonly sold in Taiwan for construction and decoration… not very useful as far as wood is concerned, too soft and not really strong like pine (another common construction wood). However this wood makes wonderful charcoal for making black powder!

  • Ulrich von Hollen

    Paulownia is used in construction and is an EXCELLENT wood for inside and OUTSIDE trim, siding and molding.
    Compared with the typically used Radiata Pine or Eastern White Pine it is naturally rot resistant, does not cup or bowl or shrink when drying, is more resistant to splitting when installed and has a much better R value then the pines. Last but not lease it much more difficult to light on fire.

  • Tom Price

    Paulownia is very soft, but tough. I have been working it on my lathe. A less-than-razor-sharp cutter tends to rip out chunks, leaving 1/16″x1/4″ divots which can be smoothed with 60 grit sandpaper. A sharp cutter leaves a better surface and I start with 100 grit. Lots of sanding gives a smooth, but bumpy, surface. The softer summer growth is removed faster than the tough winter growth, and this is obvious when the growth rings are an inch wide. A very sharp cutter and a light touch minimize this problem.

    The tree has a hole in its heart and resists rot, so I turned some flower pots (no need to drill a drain hole). One of them came loose from the lathe jaws and bounced off of my temple. The resulting black eye was impressive, but the pot was not damaged. I was curious, so I tried to break it by throwing it, hard, at the concrete floor. That made a ding. Six others have tried to throw it hard enough to break it. Dings, but no cracks.

    Some oil will bring out a warm brown color with some highlights. The logs do not check so they are good on a lathe. I am getting a lot of practice sharpening cutters because of the silica. This is fun!

    • PartyLikeSpock

      According to wiki, “Its low silica content reduces dulling of blades, making it a preferred wood for boxes to hold fine Japanese edge tools.”

      • _byron_

        Which is oddly the except opposite commentary in the article above. I wonder which is true, if either?

        • ejmeier

          This is an interesting observation. We have at least anecdote from the above commenter (frequently sharpening his lathe tools) that there is silica in the wood. I’ve not worked with the wood to such an extent that I would have noticed the silica one way or another. It’s noteworthy that some books state that the wood causes dullness of cutters because of silica content (such as James Flynn’s “Guide to Useful Woods of the World”), while other books state that it has a “low silica content.”

          Maybe it is a misunderstanding? To me, just about any presence of silica would be a bad thing. It’s like saying that drinking water has a low lead content.

        • PartyLikeSpock

          I would think that the Japanese are correct. They have been making boxes for sharp edged tools for a long time, I would guess. The above commenter notes that “A less-than-razor-sharp cutter tends to rip out chunks…” So it may just seem like the lathe tools get duller faster when cutting Paulownia.
          It does seem to me that there is something of a smear campaign against Paulownia trees – even more so than against invasives like stink trees (Ailanthus altissima). There doesn’t seem to be one good thing about Ailanthus altissima, while there are many positive attributes about Paulownia trees. Also, Paulownia trees are not NEARLY as invasive as stink trees are. Our property is getting over-run with stink trees, but not one Paulownia can be found for miles around, and they are easy to spot.

    • Lethe

      “One of them came loose from the lathe jaws and bounced off of my temple. The resulting black eye was impressive…I was curious, so I tried to break it by throwing it, hard, at the concrete floor.” Curious. uhHUH. LOL.

  • Eric

    Paulownia is also used to make surfboards. In particular, it is a popular choice for the Alaia; a traditional Hawaiian surfboard. The Alaia is thin, quite flat, and is made from a solid wood. Paulownia is stronger than balsa (another common surfboard wood), while still being light enough for the Alaia and other types of surfboards. It is said that Paulownia surfboards can be finished with tung or linseed oil while balsa surfboards must be sealed with resin or varnish.

  • seve

    Looking for a paulownia reman plant. Im looking to buy cutstock. Can anyone steer me in the right direction?

  • limeychiney

    I owned a tansu which was made in Japan ~1910’s. It was made from Paulownia as were most of the others in the shop where I bought it. Very lightweight but impressively well-built – mostly tight joints and some wooden pins to secure the back panel. It was actually two separated pieces: the lower chest of two long drawers and and upper of one long and three shorties on top. Simple but elegant hand-hammered hardware with working locks on each drawer. Unfortunately I sold it when I had to move and downsize, much to my regret.

    Similar in finish and proportion to this image.

  • robert

    soon I will be planting 200 seedlings excited new farm of paulownia’s hope to have many more growing soon.

    • tnycman

      Were you able to plant it and how is it growing ??

    • PartyLikeSpock

      Yes, how are they growing? Pics would be cool.

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  • Marco