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Considered to be the most abundant hardwood in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, Red Alder has long been used in the region for furniture and cabinetry production — as well as being a popular choice for electric guitar bodies dating back to when the instrument first went into mass production, in the 1950’s. Ranging in color from a light tan to reddish brown, Alder has a soft, lightweight stature — which makes the wood very easy to work, and it finishes and glues well.
Red Alder is usually sold in two different grades: knotty, and clear. Clear grades are most desired by cabinet and furniture crafters. Many such tradesmen compare the wood’s cooperative disposition to that of Black Cherry.
Although technically a hardwood, care must be taken with Alder until finished as its surface can be rather soft (thus, denting easily). The wood is decidedly non-durable, so confining its use to indoor applications and treating the wood with some type of hardening finish (such as lacquer) is recommended.
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Morado is known by many names. Pau Ferro, Bolivian Rosewood and Morado are the most common. The wood earned its “… Rosewood” nicknames (by which it is commonly known) because its colors and density are similar. It has a 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.
Morado 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 tap-tone than that of Brazilian. Its 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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Swamp Ash draws its name not from a particular Fraxinus-genus species, per se, but is a reference to any species of Ash (Fraxinus) whose roots system lies submerged, or partially submerged, in water. It is the softest of all ashes, which makes it the most desirable for electric guitar builders; lightweight and resonant, yet still stable enough for instrument building. Swamp Ash is shock resistant, very easily workable by hand or machine, responds well to steam bending and is easy to sand, glue and stain.
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Like all other members of the true maple genus (Acer), European Sycamore is a hardwood whose sapwood is greatly preferred and sought after, versus its heartwood. It sap can vary from an almost pure white to a light cream color with tinting ranging from a golden yellow to a muted red; heartwood is generally medium to dark reddish-brown colored. Grains are generally straight, but can be wavy. Combined with its fine texture, it is easy to work (although, like all maples, it can burn easily) — turning, gluing and finishing well, with a good natural luster. Not unlike its Acer-genus counterparts, pieces can sometimes be dramatically figured.
Boards are typical found quartersawn, as European Sycamore is the lumber renowned for its preferential, and historical, use as a body wood for stringed orchestral instruments (violins, violas, etc.), possessing superb resonance qualities and full-spectrum frequency response at a very moderate weight.
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While not a true (Tectona genus) teak, Zambezi Teak shares a similar stability, durability and rot resistance. The heartwood is a reddish-brown color, with prominent, irregular black lines and flecks. The sapwood is a pale muted pink and is clearly demarcated. In contrast to its “Genuine” counterpart, Zambezi Teak is an extremely dense hardwood. Despite its generally straight or slightly interlocked, finely-textured grains, this density makes the wood very difficult to work.
The wood has a high silica content, as well — so resawing the wood can quickly dull and gum up blades.
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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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Ziricote is one of the most popular, visually striking exotic woods in the world. Renowned for its “landscape” or “spiderweb” grain patterns, its colors range from medium to dark shades of brown (occasionally with either a green or purplish tint), and are accentuated by intermingled bands of unpredictable, irregular black growth rings. Sapwood is easily distinguishable by its dull off-white to pale yellow hue.
Although it is a fairly dense wood, its typical straight (though sometimes slightly interlocked) grains and fine to medium-fine texture give it cooperative working properties, as it cuts, turns, glues and finishes smoothly.
Ziricote is a close relative (and neighbor) of Bocote, with both being Central American woods of the Cordia genus. Its radical, often-dramatic grain patterns have given the wood somewhat of an ‘elite’ status among international exotic woods enthusiasts.¬† While it has never been an inexpensive wood, recent revelations of epidemic poaching across Mexico have resulted in a greatly reduced supply and sharp price increases on wholesale and retails levels.
Unless action is taken to stem the tide (of poaching), Ziricote and other Central American woods could very well be the subject of actions from CITES in the very near future.¬† Interestingly, the bark of the Cordia dodecandra tree and the wood have medicinal properties: the tea which is derived from their infusion is used in traditional medicine in Mexico, to treat coughs, diarrhea and dysentery.
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Engelmann Spruce is typically a high-altitude mountain evergreen tree, indigenous to the mountainous regions of western North America, with scattered, isolated distribution in surrounding lower-level areas. The wood is prized among many acoustic guitar luthiers, for its superior resonance and tonal response qualities when used as a soundboard (acoustic guitar top). Its color can range from a light off-white to cream.
It is straight grained and has a fine, consistent texture, which makes it generally easy to work — although common-grade pieces may contain numerous small knots, and the wood can be difficult to stain. Its excellent stiffness-to-weight ratio has made it historically useful in a variety of construction and utility applications, benefited, also, by a virtually limitless domestic supply.
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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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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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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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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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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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Not a true cedar (of the Cedra genus), Spanish Cedar is actually more closely related to true mahoganies, as all are in the Meliaceae family. Weight, Density and mechanical properties can vary, depending on climate and conditions. Most of what is made available to the US market is plantation-grown, which produces wood that is lower in density, and paler in color than that cut from trees grown in forests. Its grains are straight and its texture is fine; combined with its modest hardness and density, the wood is very easy to work, and glues and finishes well.
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With an unceasing worldwide demand, Gabon Ebony remains one of the world’s most expensive exotic woods. Trees are small and slow growing, contributing to its high price tag. Given this, finding long, undefective boards is quite rare; such pieces always command premium prices. Its signature jet black heartwood (which can sometimes contain streaks of browns, golden browns and even greys), combined with its great strength, durability and density, gives it universal appeal with instrument craftsmen.
Its dark neutral color and ability to hold detail makes it very popular with wood turners and carvers, also. The wood’s very high oil content yields a magnificent natural luster when sanded, although, as would be expected, this characteristic can pose challenges when gluing.
Basswood’s color ranges from a pale off-white to pale yellow, to a very light muted brown. The species is known for its excellent strength-to-weight ratio, although its lack of density can make it susceptible to damage if placed under excessive weight. While species from the Tilia genus are referred to as either “Lime” or “Linden” in Europe, in North America it is commonly called “Basswood.”
Straight grains and fine texture combined with its soft character — make Basswood exceptionally easy to work. It glues and finishes well, but does not bend well. Its consistency, light color, light density and hardness (bordering on that of a softwood) has made it a popular fine carving wood for centuries.
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Like American Beech, this wood features pale cream coloration, also often augmented by a pink or muted light reddish-brown hue. It’s large supply across the continent and typically modest price range makes it one of the most popular and commercially important hardwoods in Europe. Its straight grains and medium texture give comparable working and steam-bending properties to its American first cousin and it machines, turns, glues and finishes with ease.
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While the term “boxwood” has become quite convoluted over time, this species, Buxus macowanii, is considered a close cousin to ‘the original boxwood.’ (Buxus sempervirens). It’s pale, creamy yellowish hues make it popular with wood turners and especially carvers, as Boxwood is renowned for its capacity to hold crisp, fine details and it has a smooth, very fine texture.
Trees rarely make it much passed 20 feet in height and trunk diameters max out at only 6 inches in diameter. Not surprisingly, this limits its supply to primarily small, craft-sized pieces. The very small logs (if you can even call them that) it produces are often cracked, due to its tough, dense nature. Beware of other species, similar in color and density, being sold as boxwood.
The Boxwood that we carry has been carefully air dried over many years and originates from South Africa.
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