This Wood Species series of entries comes to us from guest writer Rob Wilkey, an Atlanta-based woodworker and industrial designer whose expertise is in small home goods, furniture, and large installations.
Over the next few articles, we'll be analyzing a number of common imported wood species. This week's featured species:
Rosewood lumber is harvested from a handful of trees in the Dalbergia genus, all of which emit a sweet, rose-like scent when cut or sanded. The wood of these trees is prized throughout the world for its remarkable coloration and density. Certain species of rosewood have been in such demand that they are now threatened with extinction, and are heavily protected by international laws. In fact, CITES trade regulations restrict Brazilian Rosewood and the Madagascan 'Bois de Rose' from crossing international borders in any form.
Despite these heavy trade restrictions, illegal logging of Brazilian Rosewood and Bois de Rose still occurs, and sources providing it in large quantities are frequently under scrutiny. Many other species of rosewood are less restricted in their trade, and are arguably just as beautiful as the protected woods. The different rosewood species range in color from lighter brown to deep reds, browns and purples. Most rosewoods also exhibit very dark streaks along their growth rings, creating striking patterns in flatsawn boards. The softer sapwood is a light, pale yellow, and is sometimes included on a piece for contrast.
The heartwood of the various rosewood species ranges from 2000lbf to 3000lbf on the Janka hardness scale, making it remarkably dense compared to more common lumbers. The wood is also extremely resistant to rot and water damage. Rosewood's fortitude has its downside, however, as the wood can dull blades and damage power tools if not handled carefully. The lumber is straight-grained and diffuse-porous with medium-sized pores. Rosewood can be sanded or planed to a very smooth surface, but the pores of the wood will show as pits in the surface unless filled with finish or grain filler. The tight growth rings of certain rosewood species can sometimes exhibit a unique grain pattern referred to as 'spider webbing.' This strange effect appears as if the tree's growth rings are overlapping each other and changing direction, as seen in the Brazilian Rosewood veneer below.
Rosewood has a high oil content throughout the wood, which can sometimes cause issues in gluing the wood. Most finishes work beautifully on the rosewood, and can really intensify the contrast and colors of the wood. Rosewood is also a tonewood, producing a bright and clear tone. East Indian Rosewood is possibly the most common species used for guitar fretboards due to its smooth surface and durability. High-end acoustic guitars are also commonly constructed with rosewood backs and sides.
Rosewood is also used in the construction of luxury furniture, paneling, veneer and various small objects. The slow growth and small size of Dalbergia genus trees results in the available lumber being rather small and often prohibitively expensive. For this reason, rosewood should be reserved for use on objects that are intended to be treasured for generations.
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In next week's article, we'll look at ebony, and learn why the darkest genus of wood is also one of the most expensive.