Cengal belongs to the tropical hardwood, species, Neobalanocarpus heimii. It is also commonly known as chengal, chi-ngamat, takian chan, takian chantamaeo and chan ta khien. It is the number one hardwood in Malaysia and because of its scarcity, the export of this valuable timber is prohibited. The cengal is good for the outdoors because this wood is hardy and does not rot easily when exposed to wet and dry weather conditions with the temperatures fluctuating. The cengal or the Malaysian Teak is therefore in great demand in the construction industry.
Peninsula Malaysia and Southern Thailand are the known homes of the Cengal but today this wood is classified as a threatened species. It is already extinct in the island of Singapore and is generally absent in parts of Taman Negara. The wood thrives best on undulating land with light porous well drained sandy soils.
Characteristics of Cengal
This heartwood takes on a light yellowish–brown hue but has a greenish tinge that darkens to rust-red or even purplish brown when exposed and the wood will naturally weather to a silver-grey colour similar to the colour of Teak.
The wood grain texture is fine and interlocked; the wood is sturdy, durable and workable or pliable; it is also resistant to fungal, mildew infestation and to termite attacks; and it has a low shrinkage ratio and is able to undergo changes in moisture content. A distinct characteristic of the cengal is the appearance of many small pin-holes which are caused by the boring action of the ambrosia beetle into the living trees but the beetles will be exterminated once the timber is seasoned. Another characteristic is its oily nature which requires special care in the preparation of the wood before gluing process. The Cengal may be given a coating of lacquer or varnish but it does not need to be "finished".
Durability of Cengal Material
Malaysia’s weather alternates between wet and dry, thus under such climatic conditions how durable is the cengal wood when exposed to such outdoor conditions?
The durability of Cengal wood is largely dependent on the maturity of the tree at the time it is logged. The mature Cengal wood has a very long lifespan under outdoor conditions whereas the young cengal contains a larger amount of sapwood are therefore not as durable and so they are not recommended for use.
The young Cengal wood is much softer compared to the mature wood and is hence, less resistant to wear and tear. The young wood is also more prone to bacterial growth because of its high natural sugar content, accelerating the rotting and decaying process of the natural wood.
Application of Cengal
Cengal, like Teak are excellent structural timber for framing and planking and at the same time the wood are easily worked and finished.
The wood is good for boat building or plank bending and the building of traditional houses. It is also used in many forms of heavy construction like bridges, marine construction and railway sleepers; heavy duty furniture and laboratory benches; telegraphic and power transmission poles; vehicle body parts and fender supports; heavy traffic flooring and decking; hand rails and staircase balustrades; heavy duty columns and beams; roofs and door; window frames and sills; tool handles and carving instruments.