Totara heartwood is useful as sleepers and outdoor landscaping timber. Second-growth stands less than 100 years old have a high proportion of sapwood. Although heartwood has superior wood qualities, sapwood can be used for furniture, joinery, and also for exterior woodwork, as long as it is not in contact with the ground.
Totara grows throughout the North and South island of New Zealand, and is most abundant in the central North Island. The heartwood of totara is an even reddish brown and the sapwood a pale brown. The growth rings are distinctive and even, and the wood has very straight grain, allowing it to be easily split along the grain. Totara wood has fine, even texture and finishes well.
Totara is a medium to large tree which grows slowly to 40-100 feet high; it’s a forest tree noted for its longevity and great girth of trunk. Totara is prized for its carving properties, and was the primary wood used in Māori carving and hollowed out logs for waka (canoes).
Due to its durability Totara was often used for fence posts, floor pilings and railway sleepers. Totara carries a strong resinous quality that has a tendency to clog up sand paper. Drying is also a problem when an oil varnish is used. It is, however, OK with a lacquer finish.
In guitars, as with furniture, Totara is a very solid wood for use with solid body electric guitars. Because of the straight grain, Totara is suitable for guitar necks as long as the density is suitable enough. In acoustic guitars, Totara makes good sides, backs and necks. It has a very decorative grain, resulting in some beautiful book-matching. The sapwood is a cream colour, darkening to rich red heartwood.