Tree of the Week - Brazilian rosewood - Dalbergia nigra (Leguminosae)

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Also called: Rio rosewood, Bahia rosewood, jacaranda, jacaranda da Bahia, jacaranda do Brasil, jacaranda cavluna, palisander

What it is

The heartwood of Brazilian rosewood ranges in colour from chocolate to violet-brown, and often has irregular black and golden-brown streaks. It is typically straight-grained, but can be wavy, and has a medium to coarse texture with a medium lustre. The wood has a gritty feel and is oily to the touch. Brazilian rosewood is a particularly beautiful wood, and much prized.

Its properties

The wood is rated high in all strength categories except stiffness, which is low. Consequently, it has a very good steam-bending rating. Due to its hardness it is a difficult wood to work, and has a severe blunting effect on cutters. Depending on the stock being used, planing, boring, moulding and mortising, turning and sanding can range from being easy to difficult. Gluing can be tricky due to the density and oil content of the wood.

Pre-boring is advised for nailing and screwing, and with care the wood can be brought to a high polish.


Brazilian rosewood dries slowly and is sometimes prone to checking and splitting, but exhibits little degrade on kilning. It is very stable in use.


The heartwood is very resistant to fungus and insect attack. Preservative treatment is not normally required because of the uses to which the wood is put.

Typical uses

As one of the world's most prized woods, Brazilian rosewood is used for fine furniture and cabinetmaking, turnery, carving, sculpture, shop and bank fittings; musical instruments, including piano keys, classical guitar bodies and violin bows; shuttles and handles. It is also sliced for decorative figured veneers used in cabinetwork, marquetry and panelling.

The wood of this species has been much sought after since it was first introduced to Europe and subsequently the world market hundreds of years ago. It was put to both utilitarian and decorative uses in its native Brazil including structural beams, flooring, wall lining and furniture.

According to Wikipedia, old growth Brazilian rosewood harvested before 1992 continues to be highly prized by makers of both classical and steel string guitars. It has been regarded as the premier wood for backs and sides of guitars and its use can be traced back to late Renaissance and Baroque times when it was used for making lute backs (ribs) and various other parts of other stringed musical instruments and also woodwind instruments such as flutes and recorders. Brazilian rosewood is now controlled by the CITES treaty.



Typical height: 125ft (38m)

Possible health risks

The dust can cause dermatitis, irritation to the eyes and respiratory problems.

Images, from top to bottom:

1. The grain of rosewood timber

2. Chess pieces made from Brazilian rosewood (IMAGE COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA)

3. An acoustic guitar also made from Brazilian rosewood (IMAGE COURTESY OF WIKIPEDIA)

4. Pivot-top table in Brazilian rosewood crossbanded with satinwood (Zanthoxylum flavum)