GENUINE SPECIES
(note that the stated price ranges are averages as of 2011)

AFRICAN BLACKWOOD (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is dark purple to black in color and has grain lines that range from slightly visible to barely visible at all. It is an incredible pleasure to turn and is widely used by luthiers in wind instruments. It is particularly expensive and rare and only comes in small sizes, which when prorated out to BF quantities can run to hundreds of dollars per BF. When available in large turning or small lumber sizes, it runs from $40/BF to $100/BF. Like ebony, it is an excellent contrast wood for segmented turning. I have never seen it in veneer form. In the composite pic below, the left-most pic shows an artificially lightened color so that the grain will show up decently.

 

BRAZILIAN ROSEWOOD (Dalbergia nigra) is the "gold standard" for luthiers (most particularly for guitar sides and back) because of its tonal qualities and beauty but is very limited in availability now due to overharvesting and subsequent embargoes from exporting it out of its native Brazil. The color ranges from dark brown or even tan to purples and reds, all with dark veining. It is somewhat unusual, for a rosewood, in a couple of ways. First, the tree grows much larger than most rosewoods. Second, it is rather coarse for a rosewood and third, it is relatively light as well, at typically 45-55 lbs/ft3. Despite the relative coarseness, it reportedly takes a good natural polish. Availability is very low and prices are very high. It has been illegal to export this wood from its native area since 1967 and what little you do see on the market (supposedly "pre-Cites") is of dubious provenance, so I would not hazard a guess as to what the price range is or should be. Not being a luthier, I cannot comment on the tonal qualities, and assume that its reputation in that regard is well deserved, but I personally think that this is one rosewood that is oversold in terms of beauty. For me, it is one of the less attractive rosewoods, and while occasional pieces ARE really beautiful, on average it is downright pedestrian when compared to cocobolo.

 

COCOBOLO (Dalbergia retusa) is my personal favorite of the rosewoods (and I know from woodworking forums that I'm nowhere near alone in that). The variability of color and grain is VERY large and can range from moderately bland and straight-grained to stunningly wild and colorful. I have seen a highly figured small piece of cocobolo sold for an amount that pro-rated out to $1000/BF (this is VERY unusual, but gives you an idea of how extremely beautiful it can get). Colors are all over the map, with the bland pieces being mostly dark purple and fairly straight-grained to wildly colored reds / oranges / violets, and all with a dark veining that ranges from mild to spectacular. This is a VERY oily wood and does not take oil-based finishes well and is generally quite dense/heavy, at 65-75 lbs/ft3. You should read about its toxicity if you are new to working with it. Available only in modest sizes and costing relatively little, I think, compared to the beauty. At $20-$25/BF, I think this is the best "bang for the buck" of all the rosewoods in terms of a combination of fairly reasonable price and extreme beauty. The color does darken, sometimes severely, with time and exposure to UV and oxygen.

 

EAST INDIAN ROSEWOOD (Dalbergia latifolia) is one of the most variable of the rosewoods in terms of color; it's usually purplish or purple-brown with dark veining but can have heavy streaking of violet, red, yellow and blue that can make it beautifully colorful. The grain is less wild than some of the rosewoods, and ranges from moderately bland to very attractive. It can sometimes be confused with kingwood when mostly purple and relatively bland. Often used by luthiers as a substitute for the more expensive and less available Brazilian rosewood, especially for guitar sides/backs. A relatively light rosewood, generally in the range of 45-55 lbs/ft3 and costing in the $25/BF range.

 

HONDURAN ROSEWOOD (Dalbergia stevensonii) generally has a very attractive purple/brown color, sometimes lighter reddish-brown and with dark veining; this is still one of the less variegated (in figure) rosewoods and sometimes remarkably similar to bubinga. It is very strong and has good tonal qualities, making it popular with luthiers. It is fairly fine-grained and works well. Weights in the 55-65 lbs/ft3 range and costs about $20-$25/BF.

 

KINGWOOD (Dalbergia cearensis) Native to Brazil, this wood is generally purple to purplish-brown with dark veining and is VERY attractive. It is called "KINGwood" because it was, for a long time, the favorite wood of European monarchs for their furniture. It is very hard, strong and dense (in the 70lbs/ft3 range), really wonderful to work (despite the density) and being fine-grained, will take a high natural polish. It CAN be a bit brittle, so you have to be careful about chipout. Currently available only in small sizes (I'm not sure how it was 200 years ago) and fairly rare and expensive, costing in the $40/BF range.

 

TULIPWOOD (Dalbergia frutescens) This is the lightest of the rosewoods in color and generally is a beautiful salmon red with lighter stripes. Although somewhat more bland in grain variability than many of the rosewoods, this is a strikingly beautiful wood. Even more than most rosewoods, tulipwood suffers from the fact that the trees are small and typically misshapen, thus making the wood available only in small to modest sizes. A 10" wide plank of tulipwood is a real treasure; 3" wide planks are more the norm. Like some of the other rosewoods, it sometimes develops incredibly thin cracks that often can't even be seen until the wood is worked and a finishing agent is applied. Density is in the 65 lbs/ft3 range. Cost ranges from $50/BF to $80/BF based on quality (watch out for cracks) and availability is very low.

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Thursday the 21st. Thanks for visiting Woodturners Unlimited.