Wood Species

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    There are actually two different types of wood which are known as Pau Ferro: the most common one is also known as Bolivian Rosewood, and Morado; the other one is significantly more dense (generally around 50% more), and is known also as Brazilian Ironwood and Brazilwood. The vast majority of what os made available in the US is former of the two — the less dense variety. The wood earned its “… Rosewood” nicknames (by which it is commonly known) because its colors and density are similar, which its medium brown base typically augmented by black streaks or grain lines, and sometimes even purple, tan and golden secondary hues, and sometimes a purplish tint, overall. Although it can have varying grains, straight-grained pieces are generally very easy to work, and the wood turns smoothly and finishes well. It is considered quite durable, although it can be subject to insect attack.

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    Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    Common Uses: Veneer, musical instruments (in particular, guitars — both electric and acoustic), furniture, cabinetry, flooring, interior trim, turnings, and other small specialty wood objects.

    Comments: Pau Ferro is a popular Brazilian Rosewood substitute and is thought to be about as similar in properties to rosewood as any non-Dalbergia-genus species possibly could be. Its grains are tighter than a typical rosewood specimen, and it is thought to have a more distinctly percussive taptone than that of Brazilian. It’s tonal response is said to have tight lows, present mids and a clear, singing high end response.

    Despite the comparisons, it should be noted that the (much more prevalent) Machaerium-genus species of Pau Ferro has less density, hardness and weight than an average rosewood.

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    Nicaraguan Rosewood — also known as Yucatan Rosewood, or Panama Rosewood — is the least dense, hard and heavy of all the Dalbergia species. Its heartwood can vary from a pale yellow-brown, to tan, to varying shades of brown (both light and dark); sapwood is pale yellow and clearly demarcated. Grains are generally straight, but can be wavy or interlocked; its texture ranges from fine to medium, with large, open pores. Its moderate luster is in keeping with its reputation of being aesthetically bland, although darker accents and occasional figuring are sometimes present.

    Despite being significantly less stout than all of its true rosewood cousins, the wood is surprisingly durable. It is less oily, also, which adds up to some generally very cooperative working, turning, gluing and finishing properties.

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    Sustainability: This species is listed in CITES Appendix II, but is not listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; part of the Dalbergia -genus worldwide exportation ban.

    Common Uses: Turned objects, musical instruments, furniture, and small specialty wood objects.

    Comments: The density, hardness and weight of this species can vary greatly, depending on the specific region and conditions of its growth.

    There has been some confusion and controversy surrounding its scientific name, as it is commonly referred to as “Dalbergia Yucatensis.”

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    Madagascar Rosewood is a very popular wood with both acoustic and electric guitar luthiers (especially the former), as well as furniture craftsmen, despite being a wood that has been difficult to acquire in the US for the bulk of this new millennium. Depending on the specific species, heartwood colors can range anywhere from a pale yellowish-brown to orangish-red to deep burgundy to a chocolate brown, typically highlighted by bold black ink lines and secondary hues. Its straight grains and medium texture generally make for excellent working properties, despite its considerable hardness and density; its cuts, turns and finishes beautifully, with a nice natural luster.

    The wood typically has a high natural oil content, which can make gluing challenging.

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    Sustainability: Listed in CITES Appendix II, and reported as “Vulnerable” to “Near Threatened” (depending on specific species) by the IUCN; part of the Dalbergia -genus worldwide exportation ban.

    Common Uses: Veneer, musical instruments, boats and shipbuilding, furniture, cabinetry, trim work, flooring, inlays, carving, turned objects, and other small specialty wood items.

    Comments: There are four distinctly different Dalbergia species which are all commonly called “Madagascar Rosewood.” Back in the 1990’s, wood poaching on the African island of Madagascar reached epidemic proportions. Logging and exportation of the wood was banned, in response, in 2000, but was lifted in 2012, in the aftermath of major political upheaval in 2009. Madagascar Rosewood’s exportation was once again banned in 2015, but between an unwaivering demand for the lumber and continuing poverty throughout the region, the illegal logging trade has continued (despite bans).

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    East Indian Rosewood can vary greatly in color, although its base color is most always brown; the shades can range from golden brown, to purplish or dark reddish brown. Secondary colors are often present. The wood’s colors will darken with continued UV exposure. EI Rw is generally less dense than most other rosewoods. Its grains are typically interlocked (although they can be irregular or straight), which can make it difficult to work. Care must be taken when finishing the wood, as it is not uncommon for the wood’s natural resins to impose if it is not first sealed. It has a medium texture.

    Since the exportation ban on Brazilian Rosewood, more than twenty years ago, it has become a popular substitute with corporate guitar manufacturers (electric and acoustic, alike) — due in large part to its historically steady supply and relatively low cost (compared with other Dalbergia’s). By comparison to Braz Rw, its pores are smaller; but it is also a very durable wood, that’s not overly susceptible to bug damage / infestation and is considered stable after drying.

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    Sustainability: Listed in CITES Appendix II — part of the Dalbergia -genus worldwide exportation ban — and is classified as “Vulenerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    Common Uses: Musical instruments (in particular, acoustic & electric guitars), furniture, cabinetry, veneer, structural paneling, turnings and specialty wood objects.

    Comments: Most relevant, from our perspective, is the fact the many people refer to this wood as “Indian Rosewood,” which is inaccurate; Sissoo (Dalbergia Sissoo) is also known through its natural region as “Indian Rosewood.”

    Also worth mentioning is Sonokeling: a true Dalbergia indigenous to Indonesia — where it is also known as “Jacaranda.” Many sources consider this wood and East Indian Rosewood to be of the same species (Dalbergia Latifolia), however tree farmers in Indonesia are not in agreement with this assessment. Our research into Indonesia and the cultivation of rosewood trees there revealed that back in the 1700’s, while the Indonesian islands were considered a colony of Holland, Dutch merchant colonists transplanted two major Dalbergia’s to Indonesia: Dalbergia Nigra (Brazilian Rosewood), from Brazil, and; Dalbergia Sissoo (Indian Rosewood), from India.

    We view Indonesian Rosewood as a completely different species of Dalbergia, and see the topic as certainly worthy of further botanical investigation.

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    Denser than East Indian Rosewood, Honduran Rosewood is well known for being the preferred wood for Marimba bars, with its ringing, well-rounded tonal properties. It compares well to Brazilian Rosewood (many claim it actually superior), producing a well-balanced acoustic guitar, with great projection and strong lows and highs. (In fact, during the ’50?s and ’60?s, the great flamenco guitar crafters considered it to be the only acceptable substitute to Brazilian Rosewood.)

    Honduran Rosewood’s grain lines are unusually tight and straight (though sometimes wavy or interlocked). The color ranges from a medium tan to a brownish brick red color, medium brown (sometimes with a purplish tint) or even a medium to dark burgundy, with occasional dark brown or black ink lines. Due to the wood’s density and high oil content, it can be difficult to cut, machine and glue. Its texture can range from fine to medium; (not unlike Braz Rw) it is porous, and those pores are usually medium- to large-sized. As would be expected — given its oily nature — the wood has a rich natural luster.

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    Sustainability: Listed in CITES Appendix II, but not on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species; part of the Dalbergia -genus worldwide exportation ban.

    Common Uses: Furniture, cabinetry, veneer, musical instruments (fingerboards for banjos, guitars, mandolins,etc., percussion bars for xylophones, marimbas, etc.), harp bodies, moldings, picture frames, turnings and small specialty objects.

    Comments: Honduran Rosewood has grown difficult to obtain in recent years, due to a poaching epidemic in Belize which victimized the species in 2011 and 2012. Despite a wane in its supply lines, demand for the wood remains constant.

    Every major source we could find were unanimous in listing “2200 lbf” as the Janka Hardness rating for this wood, but we consider this figure to be very suspect. Most knowledgeable sources compare its weight and density to Brazilian Rosewood. The same sources list Bocote’s Janka Hardness at 2200 lbf, also, and the Hon Rw examples we have handled are far more dense than any Bocote. (Some darker examples were more along the lines of a Cocobolo-type density.)

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    African Rosewood is a species from the same genus as Bubinga (Guibourtia), which has led to Bubinga often mistakenly being referred to as “African Rosewood.” Though obviously not a true rosewood, it does often bear aesthetic similarities. The grain is generally straight but can be interlocked; its texture is moderately fine. The heartwood color ranges from pink to reddish-brown, with purple or red streaks / lines / highlights.

    African Rosewood works well, although it can have a moderate blunting effect on tools. It glues and finishes well. It needs to be dried slowly and carefully, to prevent warping and cracking. It’s a durable wood and is considered stable, once dried.

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    Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    Common Uses: Furniture, flooring, decking, architectural paneling & woodwork, veneer, interior trim, musical instruments, boatbuilding, turnings, small decorative and specialty items.

    Comments: This wood has been used for a huge variety of roles in its native Africa. The tree, itself, and its budding flowers have been used for everything from cooking oils, to nutrional / healing drinks and even for producing a red dye which African craftsmen use for staining furniture.

    The wood is considered very durable, thus seeing it used in a host of exterior as well as interior applications. It is relatively easy to work, although it can be very difficult to dry.

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    Redheart is a unique Central / South American hardwood characterized by a reddish base color — ranging from dull to bright pink, pinkish-red or red — with streaks and highlights diverse in color, from darker red tones, to yellows, oranges and even occasional purples. Grains range from irregular to wild (although sometimes straight, also), and can often be multi-dimensional or overlapping — often to very dramatic effect, especially when vibrant secondary colors are present.

    Its texture is fine and smooth, although it does not possess much natural luster. It works, turns, glues and finishes well, as would be expected with a wood of its moderate density.

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    Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    Common Uses: Turned objects, inlays, veneer, fine furniture, musical instruments and small specialty wood items

    Comments: Despite Redheart’s rather moderate weight, hardness and density, the wood can burn easily when resawn, if blades and cutting tools are not sharp. Such burning produces a black tar-like resin which adheres to the wood’s surface and requires patient sanding.

    With its sometimes stunning aesthetic qualities, Redheart has been a popular turning wood; it is starting to appear more frequently in custom electric guitar building (necks, fretboards, etc.), also.

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    While renowned for its often deep, rich purple hues, Purpleheart is actually one of the toughest woods in the world. It is considered one of the stiffest, hardest woods — boasting an impressive strength-to-weight ratio. It is also extremely water resistant, which, combined with its toughness, has seen it frequently used in outdoor decking and even as truckbed flooring. The wood is typically straight or wavy grained (though sometimes irregular). Its texture ranges from fine to medium, and it has a nice natural luster that emerges when fine sanded. The wood works and turns well, although sharp tools and blades are a necessity. It glues and finishes well, also.

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    Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    Common Uses: Veneer, flooring, parquee flooring, decking, paneling, musical instruments, furniture, cabinetry, inlay, boatbuilding, carvings, turnings, decorative items and small specialty objects.

    Comments: When freshly cut, Purpleheart is actually more a dull brown with feint purple overtones. Within minutes, these colors quickly change into a variety of different purple hues (depending upon species, growth environment, etc.), but generally mutate back towards a darker brown with purple tint with continued exposure to UV rays. This process can be slowed and minimized by using a finishing product with UV-inhibitor additives.

    While the wood is generally very cooperative when worked, given its hard, dense nature, dull tools and blades can be an issue. When resawing a board with a dull saw blade, it hardness can cause the wood and blade to overheat, producing a black, tar-like resin which requires some very patient sanding to completely remove.

    Despite its large natural range and 23 different species, recent surges in popularity in this new millennium have led to some isolated cases of “near extinction” levels of tree population reduction in several Central American regions where it grows.

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    The Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron Tulipifera) tree is the tallest of all Eastern US hardwoods; the wood it yields is some of the least dense. Yellow Poplar is characterized by a light muted cream color, often with mineral-stained streaks typically of gray and/or green. (Sapwood is ivory- to white-colored, easily distinguished from the heartwood.) Although, traditionally, Poplar has been long considered a “utility” type of lumber, the wood’s straight, uniform grains and medium texture affords it very cooperative working properties, and it glues and finishes well when finely sanded.

    Yellow Poplar is moderately durable, in spite of its inherent light weight and low density, which has seen it commonly used for crates and pallets throughout the US.

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    Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    Common Uses: Veneer, paneling, musical instruments (specifically, electric guitar bodies), plywood, pulp (for paper production), crates, pallets, and other utility applications.

    Comments: The aesthetically desirable of Yellow Poplar boards is often referred to as “Rainbow Poplar;” so named for its muted mineral-stained color streaks, which truly span the rainbow. (… with red, orange, yellow, green, indigo, purple and black hues all possibly present and not uncommon.)

    It is interesting to note that the tree is not actually a true Poplar (of the Populus genus), is a member of the Liriodendron genus. Liriodendron is Latin for ?lily tree.? After the tree buds, its flowers have a simlar hourglass shape to that of tulips — earning it the other common name by which its known of “Tulip Poplar.”

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    Pink Ivory remains one of the most elusive, coveted and highly desirable of all the world’s many exotic woods. Despite being indigenous to Southern Africa, the wood is rare throughout its home continent. What isn’t exported abroad is said to be hoarded by rich, hierarchical families throughout Africa, as the wood is considered to be on the same level of value as diamonds and emeralds.

    Its reputation in the US is that of being one of the most elusive, difficult-to-source of all exotic woods, and one of the “holy grail” exotic tonewoods in the eyes of many guitar builders.

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    Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    Common Uses: Instruments, decorative items, veneer, inlay / decorative, knife & gun handles, billiard cues, chessmen, and other turned objects.

    Comments: In addition to its dazzling colors, texture and overall supremely regal appearance, Pink Ivory possesses great density (3230 lbf, on the Janka Hardness scale), making it well suited for a variety of applications. It is very popular with wood carvers and turners, alike, although it can be difficult to work and has reputation for dulling saw blades.

    The Wood Database lists trees as growing to maturity at heights ranging from 100 – 130 feet, and trunk diameters of 3 to 5 feet. This, however, is inaccurate as trees rarely grow past 35 feet in height with trunks around one foot in diameter. The tree is protected and sustainably maintained in South Africa, only felled after the issuance of very limited permitting by respective state government environmental authorities. Given this, it’s little wonder that finding any Pink or Red Ivory beyond small craft-sized pieces has proven a very difficult task in the US.

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    Pernambuco is renown for its use in the making of violin bows. But after being first discovered in 1500 by Portugese explorers, the trees and its wood become highly coveted and traded throughout Europe for the red dye it produced. Considered a valuable commodity, it was the preferred red dye of luxury textile manufacturers. Its heartwood varies from a muted yellow-orange to orange to red or reddish-brown, and it slowly darkens with age. Grains are generally straight, though sometimes interlocked. Despite its great density, it has excellent working properties and, with its fine texture, finishes nicely, boasting an impressive natural luster.

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    Sustainability: Listed in CITES Appendix II, and listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

    Common Uses: Orchestral stringed instrument bows, veneers, inlay, carvings, and turned objects.

    Comments: When many people think of the wood synonymous with Brazilian, they immediately think of Brazilian Rosewood. But, Pernambuco — or “Brazilwood,” as it is just as commonly known — is responsible for the naming of the country, itself!:

    “When Portuguese ships discovered the trees on the coast of South America, they found that the wood yielded a red dye?which made for a very valuable and lucrative trading commodity. They named the tree pau brasil, the term pau meaning wood, and brasil meaning red/ember-like. Such a vigourous trade resulted from this wood that early sailors and merchants referred to the land itself as Terra do Brasil, or simply, the ?Land of Brazil??and the name stuck.” — The Wood Database (http://www.wood-database.com/brazilwood/)

    When considered in an historical context, it is surprising that the wood has never been transplanted in a similar climate or has sprung up in regional plantations. Since its discovery more than 500 years ago, it has remained a highly sought-after woood. It was pushed close to the brink of extinction back in the 18th century, thus its current “endangered” status and very limited availability come as no surprise.

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    Historically, an important domestic hardwood throughout Europe, Swiss Pear is known for its fine, straight grains and smooth, consistent texture, as well as its pink coloration (which naturally ranges from pale to light to medium). Once cut, the wood’s hues intensify as it oxidizes. Swiss Pear is commonly steamed, to provide a more smooth, consistent pink color, and to relieve stress within the wood, so it dries flat.

    Its easy, cooperative working properties combined with its consistent texture and color make it loved by craftsmen, carvers and turners, alike. It is highly regarded all over Europe, and considered by many to be the region’s finest hardwood, boasting properties similar to rosewood.

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    Sustainability: Not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

    Common Uses: Veneer, architectural millwork, marquetry, furniture, cabinetry, inlay, carving, musical instruments (flutes, violins), and turned objects.

    Comments: The wood is considered a premium hardwood in Europe, and one of economic importance. Its steady demand there equates to very little of it making it to the US. (Species of the Pyrus Communis tree have been transplanted all over the United States, primarily for its fruit production — the “Bartlett Pear.”) European furniture and cabinet makers utilize it in much the same way as American craftsman do Black Cherry.

    Pear is decidedly non-durable; all of its applications are thus confined to interior. The wood has a tendency to dull cutters, so sharp blades are recommended for resawing.