Common Name(s): Brazilwood, Pernambuco
Scientific Name: Caesalpinia echinata (syn. Guilandina echinata)
Tree Size: 30-50 ft (9-15 m) tall, 2-3 ft (.6-1 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 61 lbs/ft3 (980 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .76, .98
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: No data available
Shrinkage: Radial: 5.1%, Tangential: 8.1%, Volumetric: 13.3%, T/R Ratio: 1.6
Color/Appearance: Heartwood is a yellowish orange, sometimes a darker reddish brown. Whitish yellow sapwood is clearly demarcated.
Grain/Texture: Grain is usually straight, though sometimes interlocked. Has a fine, even texture with a good natural luster.
Endgrain: Diffuse-porous; solitary and radial multiples; medium pores in no specific arrangement, moderately numerous; heartwood mineral/gum deposits occasionally present; parenchyma vasicentric, aliform (lozenge), confluent, and marginal; narrow rays, spacing normal.
Rot Resistance: Brazilwood is rated as very durable regarding decay resistance.
Workability: Despite its high density, Brazilwood is reported to have good workability, responding well to machining and shaping operations.
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. No plantations or sustainable sources for this wood are known to exist at the time of this writing (2012).
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. When Portuguese ships discovered the trees on the coast of South America, they found that the wood yielded a 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/ember-like. Such a vigourous trade resulted from this wood that early sailors and merchants referred to the land itself as Terra do Brasil, or simply, the “Land of Brazil”—and the name stuck.
Brazilwood is also known as “Pernambuco” to bow-makers. With Brazilwood already at a historically depleted level from the exploitation for its dye wood, today’s global demand for violin bows have pushed the tree species to dangerously low levels in its natural range. There’s no other known wood that matches Brazilwood’s quality and acoustic properties in bow-making, creating a dilemma for bow-makers.