Brazilwood (Paubrasilia echinata)

Common Name(s): Brazilwood, pernambuco

Scientific Name: Paubrasilia echinata

Distribution: Brazil

Tree Size: 30-50 ft (9-15 m) tall,

                     2-3 ft (.6-1 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 61.8 lbs/ft3 (990 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): 0.76, 0.99

Janka Hardness: 2,820 lbf (12,540 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 26,010 lbf/in2 (179.4 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 2,544,000 lbf/in2 (17.55 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 10,730 lbf/in2 (74.0 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 5.1%, Tangential: 8.1%,

                          Volumetric: 13.3%, T/R Ratio: 1.6

Color/Appearance: Heartwood is yellowish orange, sometimes darker reddish brown. Whitish yellow sapwood is clearly demarcated from heartwood. Reported to hold its orange color better than African padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii).

Grain/Texture: Grain is straight or occasionally interlocked; fine, even texture with good natural luster.

Rot Resistance: Brazilwood is rated as very durable regarding decay resistance. Poor insect/borer resistance.

Workability: Despite its high density, brazilwood has good workability, though interlocked grain can result in tearout during surfacing operations. Turns, glues, and finishes well.

Odor: No characteristic odor.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, brazilwood has been reported to cause skin irritation, as well as a number of other effects, such as headache, nausea, swelling skin, and blisters. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Unfortunately, brazilwood has been exploited in centuries past, and is now listed as an endangered species, with international trade being tightly restricted. Prices are likely to be very high, and from dubious sources. 

Sustainability: This wood species is in CITES Appendix II, and is on the IUCN Red List. It is listed as endangered due to a population reduction of over 50% in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range, and exploitation.

Common Uses: Stringed instrument bows (violin, viola, cello, etc.), veneers, inlay, carvings, and turned  objects.

Comments: Perhaps the only wood that was so famous, it was responsible for the naming of an entire nation.[1]John Hemming, Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1500–1760  (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 8. When Portuguese ships discovered the trees on the coast of South America in the sixteenth century, they found that the wood yielded a water-soluble red dye which made for a very valuable and lucrative trading commodity. They named the tree pau brasil (the term pau meaning wood, and brasil meaning red or ember-like). Such a vigorous trade resulted from this wood that early sailors and merchants referred to the land itself as Terra do Brasil, or ‘Land of Brazil,’ and the name stuck.

Brazilwood is also known as pernambuco to bow-makers. With trees already at historically depleted levels from the exploitation for its dye wood, today’s global demand for violin bows have continued to push the species to dangerously low levels. Efforts to preserve the trees were organized even before its official listing as an endangered species in 2007.[2]Rymer, R. (2004). Saving the music tree. Smithsonian, 35(1), 52-63. In a study of six other promising South American hardwoods,[3]Longui, E. L., Lima, I. L. D., Lombardi, D. R., Garcia, J. N., & Alves, E. S. (2014). Woods with physical, mechanical and acoustic properties similar to those of Caesalpinia echinata have high … Continue reading it was found that only ipe (Handroanthus sp.) produced bows of acceptable quality as a substitute.

Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood. The first sample shows a vivid orange coloration, while the second is a flatsawn piece with slightly darker reddish brown heartwood.

Brazilwood and white oak (turned)

Identification: See the article on Hardwood Anatomy for definitions of endgrain features.

Brazilwood (endgrain 10x)
Brazilwood (endgrain 1x)

Porosity: diffuse porous

Arrangement: solitary and radial multiples

Vessels: medium to large, few to moderately numerous

Parenchyma: vasicentric, lozenge, confluent, and banded (marginal)

Rays: narrow width, normal spacing; sometimes storied

Lookalikes/Substitutes: Brazilwood looks very similar to chakte viga (Coulteria platyloba), and the two species were both formerly classified in the Caesalpinia genus. However, the two can be separated on the basis of water extract fluorescence. The water extract from brazilwood will fluoresce a bright yellow, while chakte viga’s water extract fluorescence will be very faint.[4]Richter, H.G., Gembruch, K., and Koch, G. 2014 onwards. CITESwoodID: descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval. In English, French, German, and Spanish. Version: 20th … Continue reading

Notes: heartwood sometimes fluoresces a faint yellow-orange under blacklight; reddish orange heartwood extractives readily leachable in water; rays sometimes storied, producing ripple marks on tangential facegrain surfaces

> Hardwoods > Fabaceae > Paubrasilia > Related Species

Paubrasilia contains only one species, P. echinata. Based on DNA studies published in 2016,[5]Gagnon, E., Bruneau, A., Hughes, C. E., de Queiroz, L. P., & Lewis, G. P. (2016). A new generic system for the pantropical Caesalpinia group (Leguminosae). PhytoKeys, (71), 1 many trees that were formerly placed in the Caesalpinia genus (including P. echinata) have been reassigned to different genera.

Closely related species found in the Caesalpinieae tribe include the following:

Related Content:

References

References
1 John Hemming, Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1500–1760  (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 8.
2 Rymer, R. (2004). Saving the music tree. Smithsonian, 35(1), 52-63.
3 Longui, E. L., Lima, I. L. D., Lombardi, D. R., Garcia, J. N., & Alves, E. S. (2014). Woods with physical, mechanical and acoustic properties similar to those of Caesalpinia echinata have high potential as alternative woods for bow makers. Cerne20, 369-376.
4 Richter, H.G., Gembruch, K., and Koch, G. 2014 onwards. CITESwoodID: descriptions, illustrations, identification, and information retrieval. In English, French, German, and Spanish. Version: 20th August 2019. delta-intkey.com
5 Gagnon, E., Bruneau, A., Hughes, C. E., de Queiroz, L. P., & Lewis, G. P. (2016). A new generic system for the pantropical Caesalpinia group (Leguminosae). PhytoKeys, (71), 1
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joe

I’m friends with a maker of fine violin bows. his wood is much more dense than the numbers listed above, averaging around 1.15 at 12% moisture.

Watty

I have a highly figured board about 3′ by 1’6″ by 1″ that i got with a load container full of exotics of a now deceased cabinet maker ,I was not sure at first but my mother identified it for me when i sent her some shavings of various woods for her to try with her natural wool dyes ( mothers eh ! where would we be without them )

MATTHEW HARRY

Here it is under the black light.

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MATTHEW HARRY

I have a piece I bought from an estate sale, I think it may be pernambuco. There’s no aroma when working it. I put it under the blacklight and it has a faint green yellow glow. The color when freshly worked is a lighter orange red and the aged sides are a deep brown red. Did I get lucky

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MATTHEW HARRY

I have a piece I bought from an estate sale, I think it may be pernambuco. There’s no aroma when working it. I put it under the blacklight and it has a faint green yellow glow. The color when freshly worked is a lighter orange red and the aged sides are a deep brown red. Did I get lucky?

IMG_20200313_202914.jpg
Andy

Yep, that’s pernambuco.

Ed Davidson

This Brazilwood (Pernambuco) piece was turned from a shipment imported to the USA long before endangered species restrictions were put in place. Great wood for ornamental embellishments and fancy detailing.

Tim

Pernambuco is also known to clog band saw blades and drum sanders due to the wood’s oils. As I mentioned before it is easily scraped unlike sanding.

Steven Batkin

More work should be done to expose the people who financed the destruction of Brazilwood trees!

john watt

Unfortunately they are probably long since dead , it is a very hard tree to cultivate and by the time the damage was done it was already too late , the Brazilian government do work very hard to protect these trees and all the trees of the amazon under their control , but sadly illegal logging is still a huge problem

Tim Le

Just some information about the work ability of Pernambuco my friend Dan Maloney, a guitar builder discovered:

Pernambuco is very is very easy to shape using scrapers and shaves off pieces very well. When sanding it however, he found it easily clog sandpapers. He also said it is somewhat of a brittle wood, so care must be taken when routing Pernambuco.

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Jeffrey

A beautiful guitar.

Aaron Combs

Two questions: which of the woods used in the neck are Pernambuco? Did Dan use Padauk also? I have an old slab of wood supposedly for violin bows, but it is so bright red/orange that I’m thinking it must have been dyed or it’s possibly padauk. Thanks.

Aaron Combs

Actually I just looked at a piece of padauk and that’s not what I got.

nyönyö

Hello! Any ideas of a substitute for making instrument bows? I guess it’s a matter of weight, hardness and elasticity?

Tim Le

Ipe, which is much cheaper, but not as pretty. It is sold as flooring and can be had for as little as $4.00 per bf.

nyönyö

Thanks, I’ll try!
It seems to be much less responsive to steam bending though, from what I read.
Pernambuco also has the unique ability to bend by heating.

Wallace

Hello, I’m Brazilian and I’m a forestry engineer. The reason why Brazil wood is used for the violin bow is its unique elasticity, which allows some musical notes to be hit with the brazilwood bow

watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9W-aoE8_Lck

Eric Ross

I’d love for you to recommend an alternative wood for bow making. I won’t use pernambuco if I can find something else, I’d love to ease the demand for pernambuco in your country.

Geo

I suggest Caesalpinia paraguariensis (so-called “brown ebony’). It’s a close relative of Caesalpinia echinata (known as “pau brasil”, “pernambucowood”, or “brazilwood”), and has comparable mechanical properties. [caution: in the violin business the name “brazilwood” is mostly used for an unrelated tree Manilkara bidentata, from which great numbers of inexpensive bows are made]).

Ame

oh dear,I’ve just bought a bow made of this wood.Am I adding to this species’s demise,I wouldnt have done so had I cheked the database first

Nathan Foster

I just picked up a piece from a local shop, I didn’t even know what it was.