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Hardwood Species You’ve Never Heard Of, But Should: Kempas

Mazama Hardwood - Kempas Collection

Mazama Hardwood – Kempas Collection “Natural” from BuildDirect.

Kempas is an exotic woodHere’s why you should consider kempas as an option for your next hardwood floor, interior design or home improvement project.


There are a few wood species that really stand out from the crowd, but are virtually unrecognizable because their value has just been discovered recently. The fact of the matter is that we keep going back to the same old reliable forests. We know what’s great about oak, mahogany, and pine, but many regions where these trees have flourished in the past are no longer viable options for widespread logging.

Luckily, we have some new options, especially when it comes to woods used for hardwood flooring. Despite logging concerns, there are actually many areas of the world where trees are growing fast and furiously, and where forests have adapted well to climate changes. These trees are not only as durable and well-suited to building as traditional hardwoods, but they are also just as beautiful. Sometimes, they are even more stunning than those woods we have grown to know and love.

Mazama Hardwood - Kempas Collection Royal Mahogany

Mazama Hardwood – Kempas Collection “Royal Mahogany” from BuildDirect.

Kempas is one of those trees. Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, Koompassia malaccensis are tall deciduous trees that produce some of the most lovely and unique hardwoods in the world. Here’s why you should consider kempas as an option for your next interior design or home improvement project.

Kempas stats

Latin name: Koompassia malaccensis
Janka Hardness rating: 1750
Common color spectrum: Orangish-brown
Stability: less stable than red oak

natural kempas hardwood flooring grain pattern

More mahogany-like than mahogany

The wonderful thing about kempas wood is its color. Yes, on the surface the color tends to be an orangish-brown, which, to some, may sound perfectly awful, but trust me, it has such a beautiful and original grain that the colors in the wood mesh to a perfect finish. In the same vein as woods like mahogany, sanded and sealed kempas is an elegant and sophisticated choice.

Not unlike mahogany, as well, kempas is a wood with a very tight grain. What this means for its look and feel is that it presents as a smooth and unmarked wood, with very little variation in tone. It doesn’t have the striations and knots that you’ll find in a typical hardwood such as oak or cherry. On a floor, therefore, kempas looks like one single gorgeous color. Kempas would look equally perfect in a modern home and one with more traditional décor.

Hard as granite, despite the Janka rating

The reason that kempas hasn’t been popular in the past for construction is because of its difficulty to manipulate in production. It may have a moderate Janka hardness rating, but kempas has some secrets beneath its attractive surface.

There are two reasons why kempas hasn’t been logged extensively in the past. First, the tightness of the grain makes this a very challenging wood to cut; it is a very dense species. But, second, what’s even more difficult to contend with is the fact that kempas petrifies very easily. Although it can grow for hundreds of years and to a height of well over a hundred feet tall, parts of the kempas tree will petrify at a very young age, and will continue to petrify throughout the growing process. This means that there are hidden veins of petrified wood in its phloem, all of which are as hard as granite. Try making wood planks out of granite: it’s not something you’d want to try without some really specialized tools.

Versatile, fast-growing, and tough kempas

Given these challenges, it wasn’t until very recently that technology has been able to keep up with the kempas tree. Now, we have the ability to both log and cut kempas to contemporary specifications.

Because it grows quickly and in a variety of settings, and is currently being managed and conserved in its native environment, kempas is a great option for building modern homes. Because of its relative strength it can also be used in heavy construction and for other business applications such as railroad ties and pallets, where strength and durability are needed attributes.

Kempas really is one of the best hardwood species that we never seem to hear about. It’s a new wood for the next generation of floors, and, in my opinion, one worth seeking out. If you’re looking for a mahogany substitute with a smooth and elegant look and feel for your home, this is the hardwood floor of choice.

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