Cocobolo - Definition, Characteristics and Uses of Cocobolo

Among all exotic hardwoods that are currently being sold in the world, Cocobolo has managed to become known as one of the most beautiful and high valued types of lumber. Its native qualities have managed to captivate the attention of not only woodworkers but also artisans who have infused this magnificent looking rosewood into countless types of forms. This true rosewood lumber is known all around the world for its exquisite look, natural oils that give it distinct floral odor and great workability that make it suitable for many types of applications. Immediately after cutting, Cocobolo showcases rich color scheme with incredibly appealing swirling and dancing patterns of dark multicolored lines, and entire surface eventually darkens over time into a rich dark color that is very pleasing to the eye.

Cocobolo

Originally found growing in Central America (especially countries between Mexico and Panama), the heavy demand for the tree Dalbergia retusa has ensured that this species of genus Dalbergia has spread all around the world, making it the species that are contributing most of the wood in the trade of high-quality lumber.The high demand for this wood has reached such a high point during early 20th century, that a hastened creation of Panama Canal can be partly contributed to the need to quickly transfer Cocobolo lumber from Central America to the rest of the world.

Even with such expansion of its presence around the world, high demand for it has still pushed the IUCN organization to mark its conservation status to the “vulnerable” stage, meaning that more effort is needed to spread its growth. To ensure the uninterrupted survival of this highly valued tree species, the trade of Cocobolo is now tightly regulated by several governments around the world.

What is Cocobolo

Cocobolo is the commonly used name of the famous Central American treeDalbergia retusa and is also known under namesMexican Rosewood and Central American Rosewood. With average-sized trunk and size, this tree managed to quickly distinguish itself as one of the best lumbers for construction and creation of a wide variety of wooden objects of medium to the high value.

What makes it interesting is that its internal wood structure can come in wide array of colors, ranging from black, brown and purple, to the brighter hues such as red, orange, and even yellow. It’s sapwood that contains many useful oils that give Cocobolo a unique smell and aroma is usually pale yellow. As with many other types of wood, Cocobolo also darkens with age.

One of the interesting characteristics of Cocobolo is its tendency to grow in a crooked way, with a lot of imperfections in its trunk. But in an interesting twist, lumber with a lot of imperfections is actually praised more than those with highly regular color patterns of veins. In its most popular variety, the heartwood of Cocobolo has anattractive black and brown color with secondary spots of oranges, reds, purples, and yellows. The type of sawing and even distance of the lumber from the core of the trunk can impact the look of the Cocobolo wood, and on top of that, the angle at which light bounces from the wood gives a final variation on its presentation. Its texture is fine, straight, with grains that are occasionally interlocked.

Cocobolo is also famous for its odor. Since it is very dense and oily, it can produce a very distinctive odor for several years, especially if it is used for indoor flooring, paneling, and furniture. As many other types of popular lumber, Cocobolo is also capable of aging with grace, with high resistance to scratching, general wear, rot and insect attack.

Since it is heavy, dense and easy on tools, Cocobolo became one of the most popular wood types for the creation of high-end objects, such as furniture, chess pieces, tool handles, canes and pool cues, sculptures and many forms of fine furniture such as handles, jewelry boxes, and others. Makers of musical instruments have quickly come to the conclusion that Cocobolo has excellent properties for bouncing and absorbing sound. Today, many instruments (especially stringed ones, such as guitars) are made from Cocobolo.

One of the rare disadvantages of Cocobolo wood structure is that it can be fairly brittle, which demands from woodworkers to drill holes and before securing them with nails or other tools. Since the wood is also very hard, tools that are used to cut them can also become dull very quickly. After initial troubles of woodworking production, Cocobolo becomes adaptive when it reaches final polishing and painting phase. It accepts lacquer quite well and can be polished to a high luster without any issues.

Origin

Cocobolo was originally found growing in Central America, most notably across the territory of Latin countries such as Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama. To achieve age suitable for harvesting, a single Cocobolo tree has to grow for several years.

This tree is also known under following names - Caviuna, Cocobolo Prieto, Funeram, Granadillo, Jacarandáholz, Nambar, ñamba, Nicaraguan Rosewood, Palisander, Palissandro, Palo Negro, Pau Preto, Rosewood, and Urauna.

Since natural forests of Cocobolo have already been harvested, it is today grown on plantation across Latin America. Its harvesting usually requires a special government license.

Characteristics

  • Tree Size - 45-60 ft (14-18 m) tall
  • Trunk diameter - 1.5-2 ft (50-60 cm)
  • Janka Hardness - 2,960 lbf (14,140 N)
  • Average Dried Weight - 69 lbs/ft3 (1,095 kg/m3)
  • Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC) - .89, 1.10
  • Crushing Strength - 11,790 lbf/in2 (81.3 MPa)
  • Modulus of Rupture - 22,910 lbf/in2 (158.0 MPa)
  • Elastic Modulus - 2,712,000 lbf/in2 (18.70 GPa)
  • Shrinkage: Radial - 2.7%, Tangential: 4.3%, Volumetric: 7.0%, T/R Ratio: 1.6
Cocobolo Wood
  • Odor - Spice-like scent during woodworking phase
  • Workability - Hard, but not as much as some other famous types of lumber.
  • Texture - Very appealing and even texture.
  • Grain - Straight to interlocked grain.
  • Sustainability - Ranked on IUCN as “Vulnerable” due to high demand for commercial exploitation.
  • Required growth density - No specific requirements.
  • Drying - Easy, but long.
  • Maintenance - Low.
  • Cost - Relatively expensive, but not as high as some other exotic lumber types.
  • Rot and insect resistance rating - Very high

Related Species

Cocobolo lumber is most commonly harvested from three related species of Dalbergia retusa.

Mexican Cocobolo - It produces swirling and dancing patterns of heavy lines of dark purple and black against a background of orange and red, or in some cases even a reverse order!

Guatemalan Cocobolo - Similar as Mexican variant, but with a bit lighter color tonnes, which is regarded to be less appealing than rich dark Cocobolo.

Nicaraguan Cocobolo - Famous for its mix of red and black orange colors. Plantation-grown trees often exhibit less swirl in their rings, making them less appealing.

Uses

Cocobolo is a very famous type of lumber that has managed over last several centuries to become an integral part in the manufacture of many types of wooden objects and structures. As one of the most prized lumbers that is available on the worldwide market, the amazing figure and color of Cocobolo have made it highly attractive to both general woodworkers, artisans, and musical instrument makers.

Here are only some of the applications of the famous Cocobolo wood:

  • General and fine furniture
  • Hardwood flooring
  • Hardwood paneling
  • Musical instruments (including high end and luxury types)
  • Turnings
  • Small specialty objects (chess pieces, high-end pencils, brush backs, knife handles and others)
  • Hand and drawer handles
  • Jewel boxes
  • Bowling Balls
  • Carvings
  • Sculptures
  • And more

Benefits

Cocobolo is not known for any special medicinal benefit, but since it is very resistant to rot, insect attacks and age effects, some medical facilities preferred to use it for their hardwood flooring and paneling.

Problems

As many other types of hardwood from Central America, sawdust of Cocobolo lumber can cause irritation and allergic reactions. Most common medical issues revolve around skin, eye and respiratory irritation, but pink-eye, asthma-like symptoms, and nausea can also affect those who spend a lot of time surrounded by its fine dust.

In addition to health issues, raw Cocobolo wood is notoriously difficult during the gluing phase. Woodworkers have developed several different tactics for handling this wood during the production phase, but no one approach has been deemed as best.

Dalbergia Retusa