Wood carving species can be classified into 3 main categories, i.e. major, minor and alternative species. The major species are those that are the most popular and are found in almost all wood carving centres. These are Mpingo [Dalbergia melanoxylon] , African brown olive [Olea europaea], Muhuhu [Brachylaena huillensis] and Mugurure [Combretum schumannii]. The minor species are those occasionally used as alternatives to the most popular ones. Most of these are historically linked to the origin of wood carving in Ukambani. These include: Mwangati [Terminalia spinosa], Muhutu [Terminalia brownii], Mbambaro [Terminalia kilimandscharica], Mutoo [Terminalia prunioides], Mjafari [Zanthoxylum chalybeum], Muthea [Cordia sinensis] and Mukau [Melia volkensii]. The alternative species are those that have not been widely used for wood carving but have potential.
The eleven main species for wood carving in order of preference are Dalbergia melanoxylon, Olea europaea, Combretum schumanii, Terminalia spinosa, Brachylaena huillensis, Terminalia brownii, Terminalia kilimandscharica, Zanthoxylum chalybeum, Cordia sinensis, Terminalia prunoides and Melia volkensii (Obunga, 1995). The criteria for preference are based on multiple attributes which include durability where the wood should not change physically under any weather condition, with particular reference to European weather; resistance to wood borers; workability where the wood should be easy to work on; and aesthetic values derived from grain texture, colour and patterns. These factors dictate the price of the product. The most popular species is Mpingo, which is marketed under the trade name Ebony, combines all the above attributes.
This bulletin gives the macroscopic features of 52 wood carving species and classifies them into three categories based on Dalbergia melanoxylon features as the reference point. The species are categorised into major and alternative wood carving species