Snakewood comes from a smallish, relatively rare tree found in the forests of Central and South America and is somewhat brittle and difficult to work, but worth the effort. It is very rare in general and fully figured pieces are even rarer and very expensive. There is generally a problem with pith checking (that is, the center of the logs tends to have long voids and splits after drying). Typically only 25% of a log will have the famous snakeskin figure. Both figured and unfigured sections are prone to extremely thin cracks that sometimes cannot be seen until after the wood is fully worked and a finish is applied. Called "snakewood" because of the fairly obvious snakeskin look of the figured portions. In England it's called "letterwood" because the figure was interpreted as looking somewhat like hieroglyphics.