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.
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
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,
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.
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.
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:
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
Required growth density - No specific requirements.
Drying - Easy, but long.
Maintenance - Low.
Cost - Relatively expensive, but not as high as some other exotic lumber
Rot and insect resistance rating - Very high
Cocobolo lumber is most commonly harvested from three related species of
- 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
- Similar as Mexican variant, but with a bit lighter color tonnes, which is
regarded to be less appealing than rich dark 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.
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
Musical instruments (including high end and luxury types)
Small specialty objects (chess pieces, high-end pencils, brush backs, knife
handles and others)
Hand and drawer handles
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.
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.