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Canarywood grows across South America from Panama¬† to Southern Brazil.¬† Its heartwood can range from pale yellow to pink, orange and dark reddish -brown.¬† Some of the prettiest pieces can have all the color variations in one piece.¬† Other pieces, more consistent in color, tend at times¬† to resemble Cherry.¬† Being both durable and relatively hard, but still fairly easy to work, it gives woodworkers a good opportunity to work with a color-variable, but less expensive exotic hardwood from South America.
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Brown Ebony is not a true Ebony and it is slightly odd that this species derives its name from a genus generally known for its black coloring.¬† Like true ebonies though, Brown Ebony is very dense and hard to work.
This South American species is popular for turning, musical instruments and decorative pieces.
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Amazon Rosewood has been considered a good substitute for Brazilian Rosewood though its beautiful appearance and desirability as a tonewood should allow it to stand out in its own right. Color tends to a darker reddish brown than its counterpart. Though slightly lower on the Janka scale, Amazon Rosewood is significantly heavier than Brazilian Rosewood. Its density contributes to challenging workability, while the oil content makes for difficult gluing. The effort is rewarded by its fine lustrous polish and superior tonal qualities.
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Our Thuya Burl comes from Morocco.¬† Reddish brown in color, its figure can vary in density from block to block.¬† It has a distinct odor similar to that of Western Red Cedar.¬† The figure makes the species prone to tear-out.¬† It must be worked carefully with only the sharpest of tools.¬† Highly figured pieces look simply stunning as knife handles or other accent pieces.
East Indian (or Ceylon) Satinwood is a truly exquisite tropical hardwood. Its heartwood ranges from light to medium golden yellow, typically. Sapwood generally is white/off white and paler than the heartwood, though not always clearly demarcated. Premium-grade examples can be seen with a mottled or rippled grain pattern — resembling ripples in satin fabric, and, thus, lending to its name “Satinwood;” such examples may possess a chatoyance ranging from subtle to the dramatic.
Grains can be straight, but are more typically interlocked. Although — due to its density, hardness and generally interlocked grains — it can be difficult to work, it turns, glues and finishes superbly; featuring a smooth, luxurious texture and a shimmering natural luster.
In comparison with other exotic woods, Ceylon Satinwood has remained in short supply to the US market. Its exportation from the region remains restricted. That said, this is actually of little concern to the tree farmers of East India, as the wood is highly coveted throughout the Indian Plate portion of Southern Asia.
Finding long boards of it can be quite difficult and pieces of craft-sized dimensions are more commonly found in the US. Other than the supply issue, a root cause for this is the fact that trees reach full maturity at a height of only 40 to 50 feet, with miniscule trunk diameters of just 1 to 1-1/2 feet. Long boards are always in short supply and sell at a premium, when found.
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Tulipwood is one of the most coveted and seldom-seen of all (Dalbergia genus) rosewood species. The trees are very small in stature, thus, obtaining long, wide boards is quite rare — and, when found undefective, sell at a premium. It is much more commonly found in smaller, craft-sized pieces. Finding any available boards in widths of 5″ or more is uncommon.
Its heartwood is cream to salmon colored, highlighted by striping which can be any combination of red, violet, purple, pink and rose hues. The sapwood is pale yellow to a very pale yellowish white. Heartwood color gradually fades with continued UV ray exposure.
Tulipwood is typically straight-grained, although grains can also be wavy or (infrequently) irregular. The wood has a high natural oil content and is quite dense, which makes working it an often-difficult prospect. Despite being rather grainy and pourous, it sands very smooth, revealing a pleasing natural luster.
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Yellowheart is a neo-satine wood whose color can range from pale yellow to bright yellow to varying shades of gold. Sapwood is lighter and pale, but not always easily discerned from pale-colored heartwood. Its grains are typically straight, but can also by wavy and/or interlocked. Its typically fine (sometimes medium or in between), consistent texture takes on a luxurious look, revealing a deep natural luster, when sanded.
As far as working characteristics are concerned, Yellowheart is generally very cooperative for a fairly dense and durable wood. (Although sharp blades may be necessary with some interlocked-grain boards.) It glues and finishes very well. The wood holds its color well: slowly darkening, to a degree, as it ages, often giving it an even more striking appearance.
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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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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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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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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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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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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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Pod Mahogany is a light reddish-brown wood, indigenous to the southeastern region of Africa. (Sapwood is easily distinguishable, with its pale yellow coloration.) It is a very hard wood — considerably more dense, stable and durable than any other ‘mahogany substitute’ wood. More dense specimens have been used for a number of demanding outdoor applications in Africa, yet premium-grade pieces can hold their own, aesthetically, with the finest exotic woods in the world — often boasting a high degree of chatoyance, and a remarkably deep, 3D-like figure.
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Holly is an interesting domestic wood. Those who know of it prize it for its consistent pale white color which typically slows little to no discernible grain patterns. Although it has traditionally been used as an ornamental or accent wood, it has enjoyed a recent surge of popularity among turners for its fine aesthetic and turning properties. In certain applications, it has been dyed black and used as an ebony substitute — although it lacks the requisite density for most musical applications.
Holly needs to begin the drying process almost immediately after it’s cut, as, otherwise, fungal discoloration can occur. For this reason, it is generally harvested during the winter months and not left to air dry for very long before making it into a kiln.
The wood is non-durable, so its use is exclusively confined to indoor applications. Products and items produced with this wood do best when a hardening protective finish is applied, and the wood is very good at maintaining its original color when such a clear finish is administered.
The wood glues, stains and finishes well, however it can be difficult to work on account of its sometimes interlocked grains and the numerous knots that are commonly present.
Granadillo is known throughout Central America as “the wood that sings.” It has long been considered a quite viable “rosewood alternative,” receiving greater attention and steadily growing in popularity since the exportation ban on Brazilian Rosewood, almost 25 years ago. Its density falls slightly under the mark of a typical rosewood, while not being near as oily. Granadillo is a quite beautiful wood. It has a base of brown-toned hues, highlighted by a variety of colors which can range from muted purples to reds, oranges and golds, Its pleasing aesthetics and great working and finishing properties make it a popular choice with guitar and furniture builders, alike. It has a natural luster and a high degree of chatoyance often emerges after finish sanding.
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Although not a true Diospyros ebony species, Katalox earned its “Royal Mexican Ebony” nickname due to its great density (which actually supersedes all true ebonies, in that regard) and the fact that, as it ages, it turns considerably darker than when its initially cut and dried. It is known to be generally very durable, making the wood ideal for a variety of applications — although it can be very difficult difficult to re-saw (density) and glue, due to its typically high natural oil content. The grains can be straight, irregular or interlocked; it’s texture ranges from fine to medium, with a nice natural luster.
Despite its somewhat uncooperative working characteristics, Katalox’s stability and handsome appearance make the wood a popular choice with guitar luthiers and fine furniture craftsmen, alike. Its heartwood is among the most durable of all the exotics in the world, but the sapwood can be susceptible to bug holes.
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Brazilian Kingwood is the second most-dense of the Dalbergia species (with African Blackwood being first). As is the case with many such woods of exceeding density, logs have a tendency to split from the center, outward, after being cut. Because of this, it is rare to find boards of any substantial size without defects; cracks and internal checks and tear-out are not uncommon. Grains are typically straight, though they can occasionally be wavy or interlocked. It has a fine, even texture and a high natural luster.
Its heartwood can vary from a muted orange- to reddish-brown, with dark brown or black thin stripes. Sapwood typically has a yellow tint and is commonly seen in boards.
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According to the only sources we could find willing to step up to the plate on this wood, Amara Ebony and Macassar Ebony are of the exact same species (Diospyros Celebica), with the difference put forth being that Amara is exclusive to Indonesia. Amara is known for its deep chocolate browns with pink striping; the difference in its coloration and that of typical Macassar Ebony being attributed to the soil conditions in Indonesia. Its grains are more likely to be wavy or irregular than straight, with a fine texture and nice natural luster.
Our experience yields a broader perspective, as we have found the wood sometimes with greens and reds, more similar to Malaysian Blackwood, at times with darker and more muted hues¬† and devoid of any pink shades. Pieces which more resemble Macassar have also contained gold – orange hues, in addition to pinks. It’s sap content is tan in color and, despite its density, it has good working properties.
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More commonly known as “Pale Moon Ebony” to US guitar luthiers and aficionados, this Southeast Asian true Diospyros ebony is, without question, the world’s most difficult, perplexing exotic wood and at times, one of its most visually stunning. (It’s also one of its most sought-after.) The wood is known for the bold jet black ink lines which adorn its creamy, pale yellow base. Both the volume and pattern of its lines are unpredictable, varying greatly from piece to piece. Grains can be straight, wavy or irregular; its texture is fine, with a nice natural luster. Its hardness and density are quite moderate for an ebony.
After being harvested or re-sawn, the wood exhibits a strong tendency to self-destruct — often changing shape, cracking and checking — if not quickly coated in wax. Although it’s not currently viewed as endangered, the wood has always been in short supply in the US, despite an unquenchable demand from custom guitar builders and wood enthusiasts, alike. Other than the difficulties in drying, it has good working properties; it machines, turns, glues and finishes well.
Because of its noted self-destructive tendencies, the wood is coated in wax almost immediately after being harvested. Given this, what little makes it to the US market arrives with very high moisture levels, necessitating further drying. (This is where it gets tricky.) Experience has shown that the best drying results are obtained by leaving the wood coated in wax and just patiently allowing it to air dry. Any attempts to speed up this process are very risky as the wood usually winds up punishing the impatient! Even when dried very slowly, the wood can still change shape. It’s not unusual, at all, to find pieces with major surface checks and cracks that occur even while under wax. For this reason, you see significantly more craft-sized pieces than larger, resawable boards (which typically command a premium price). Recutting boards will speed up the drying process, but attentive care must be taken to prevent warpage of the cut pieces. Importation to the US has been through very limited, select channels on an irregular basis for a number of years.
This wood is most always in short supply, while the demand remains constant. Rare Woods USA is very pleased to be able to offer a limited amount of larger boards and billets of this spectacular exotic wood. Lumber orders to Southeast Asia can sometimes take 12 to 18 months or more to fill, ship and receive. With the recent banning of rosewood and ebony exportation by the Laotian government, we’re not sure how soon we’ll be able to restock (if at all). For the last several years, US importation of Black & White Ebony has been exclusively from Laos.
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Indian Ebony is a true ebony which has been commonly used as a substitute for Gabon Ebony, due to its similar aesthetics. With a jet black base, occasional brown to muted orange striping (from mineral deposits) and a sap which can range from pale yellow to tan, one could certainly be forgiven for mistaking one for the other. That said, Indian Ebony is an exotic wood in very short supply — more so even than Gabon. Its grains are generally straight or irregular, and its texture is fine. It has a high natural oil content, which yields a high degree of luster.
It also is a less dense and hard ebony, having a Janka Hardness rating slightly over 20% less than Gabon (2430 lbf vs. 3080). It is a very popular wood with turners, as it turns and finishes beautifully, and has good working properties. Indian Ebony is also regularly employed as an acoustic guitar fretboard, although supplies to the US luthier industry is sometimes sporadic.
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African Blackwood is native to the seasonally dry regions of Africa, from Senegal eastwards to Eritrea and southwards to the northern parts of South Africa. Without question, the densest and most un-rosewood-like of the Dalbergia’s (for our money, at least!), African Blackwood is a consistent favorite with acoustic guitar luthiers, wood turners, carvers and fine furniture craftsmen, alike. It remains one of the world’s most coveted musical woods. African Blackwood often appears almost completely black, with its grains hardly discernible. (… thus the name. After sanding, a deep, very dark chocolate color emerges.)
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Also known as “Satine,” Bloodwood is an exotic South American import that continues to grow in popularity here in the states. It’s dark, savory red tones, untypically do not fade, mute or darken much over time. It is known for its “satiny,” highly-chatoyant finish. While the heartwood typically is comprised of red hues, it is known to have variances ranging from oranges to pale yellows, interspersed. It’s impressive density makes it ideal for an electric guitar fretboard or an acoustic guitar back and sides; wood turners love it, as well, for its fabulous, unique aesthetics and very reasonable price.
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Closely related to the more well-known (in the US) Lemonwood, with both being members of the “Calycophyllum” genus, this unique South American wood is generally in short supply through US channels. Although it is not a true boxwood (of the “Buxus” genus), Castello Boxwood has a very similar pale yellow to light brown color palette and has proven popular in the domestic craft wood market, as it turns, glues and finishes well.
It has fair working properties; its grains are generally straight (although sometimes slightly interlocked). It has a fine, smooth texture, and is regarded as moderately durable.
Castello Boxwood is not an easy species to source in the US. It is slow-drying wood, and often sells in a green or partially-green state. It is a tough wood; its small, tightly-grouped pores can make boards somewhat resistant to being cut, despite its generally cooperative working characteristics. Trees do not grow to be large at all, so supplies are limited, and prices are generally reflective of this.
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As most of you already know, this is an extremely popular African import. Found across equatorial Africa, there are multiple species of the Guibourtia genus that are known as Bubinga, so colors and aesthetics can vary dramatically. A variety of different, quite stunning figures often decorate its grains (pommelle, waterfall, mottled and wildly flamed). The base color of Bubinga can range from a lighter pinkish red to light- to medium-brown. Trees can grow to towering proportions, so the larger specimens are often cut into large, live-edge slabs.
Bubinga is well known for its use as a Rosewood substitute. Ironically, the more strikingly figured examples of Bubinga with pommelle or waterfall figuring can fetch prices greatly eclipsing typical rosewood price thresholds. This wood has become hugely popular and is constantly in demand with veneer mills & furniture craftsmen who love building desks and conference tables with the often stunning, huge slabs and progressive guitar luthiers.
Its nickname, “African Rosewood,” can be very misleading, as the wood is not of the Dalbergia species, and not all wood sold as “African Rosewood” is Bubinga (or is even of the Guibourtia species).
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