by Eric Meier

Mopane (sealed)


(Colophospermum mopane)

Why you’ll love it: This wood has superb acoustic qualities (lots of potential here), it’s extremely dense, turns wonderfully, and it can have interesting color and grain patterns.

Why you’ve never heard of it: It’s hard to find, usually only available in small chunks and turning blanks. Also, it’s quite expensive, and not too many people are prepared to spend a lot of money on a wood that they’ve never heard of, much less pronounce. Too bad, since it’s a stellar hardwood!

Paulownia (sealed)


(Paulownia tomentosa)

Why you’ll love it: Among the absolute lightest woods available, but not as styrofoam-soft as Balsa. It is also one of the most stable woods with regard to humidity and has very low movement in service. It grows like a weed, and trees are frequently plantation grown.

Why you’ve never heard of it: The Japanese seem to use it all up before anyone else can get their hands on it. It’s only fair, as the wood should simply go to the highest bidder, and Paulownia is prized in Japan and used for all sorts of things.

Greenheart (sealed)


(Chlorocardium rodiei)

Why you’ll love it: Greenheart is a wood of extremes. Overall, it’s probably the strongest wood in the entire world (seriously), with off-the-charts MOE and MOR and crushing strength. It also has exceptional rot resistance and weathering characteristics, especially in marine environments.

Why you’ve never heard of it: This stuff is just a pain to work with. It’s hard to glue, hard to saw, and it’s also hard to find.

Chakte Viga (sealed)

Chakte Viga

(Caesalpinia platyloba)

Why you’ll love it: So much to love… Chakte Viga has great acoustic/tonal qualities, it turns like a dream, it has a subtle iridescence that adds sophistication to any piece. But best of all, pieces with orangish or reddish coloration can be found—and the color actually lasts, which is more than can be said about some other *cough, Padauk, cough* woods.

Why you’ve never heard of it: It also goes by the name Paela. It can be on the pricey side for a wood that’s unknown to many.

Burmese Blackwood (sealed)

Burmese Blackwood

(Dalbergia cultrata)

Why you’ll love it: Is it shallow to love a pretty face? This wood is gorgeous… that’s about it. The grain pattern is totally unique and quite difficult to imitate or replace with another wood—I suppose the closest competition would be Pheasantwood.

Why you’ve never heard of it: It’s seldom available, and when it is, it’s usually expensive. People probably figure it’s an ebony knockoff of some sort, but it’s an entirely different animal!

Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota)

Desert Ironwood

(Olneya tesota)

Why you’ll love it: If you’re a knife-maker, you’ve probably heard of this wood before. The rest of the world doesn’t have a clue. This stuff is so dimensionally stable it’s almost scary. It just doesn’t move. It also has amazing colors, graining, and is superb for turning.

Why you’ve never heard of it: The tree itself grows very small and crooked, so pieces are very limited, expensive, and small. This stuff is best used for those super-special small projects you’ve had in the back of your mind.

Pistachio (sealed)


(Pistacia vera)

Why you’ll love it: Just look at it! It has everything going for it: interesting color with lots of variation, and stripes that would almost put a zebra to shame.

Why you’ve never heard of it: People tend to like their Pistachio trees for, well, their pistachios. They don’t want to cut them down because you want some wood! This is going to cost you…

Black Locust (sealed)

Black Locust

(Robinia pseudoacacia)

Why you’ll love it: Forget Ipe. Why do we need to go to a different continent to get a tough, durable wood when we’ve got one right in our own backyard? This stuff lasts and lasts, and unlike other domestics like Osage Orange, it’s actually available in usable lumber sizes for an economical price.

Why you’ve never heard of it: I’m baffled as to why more people don’t know about and use Black Locust. Parts of Europe have caught on, and have already began plantations of Black Locust to supplant tropical hardwoods.

Katalox (sealed)


(Swartzia spp.)

Why you’ll love it: Like Ebony, but not it’s prices? Then you’ll love Katalox. Some pieces can be just about a dark as true ebony, with just a hint of purple. Other pieces can be a more reddish brown with black streaks. So much depth in the Swartzia genus, there’s something for everyone here!

Why you’ve never heard of it: It’s not too frequently imported, and many boards have a ridiculous amount of sapwood in them, so you have to hunt for the best pieces. Perhaps people think it’s too good to be true to find a dark ebony-like wood costing magnitudes less than the real deal. Believe it.

Macacauba (sealed)


(Platymiscium spp.)

Why you’ll love it: This wood is uber-colorful, with many pieces having rich reds and oranges mixed in with darker brown and black veins of exquisiteness. Some woods are loved for their color, others are loved for their streaks and stripes. Macacauba has both. (And it’s inexpensive to boot.)

Why you’ve never heard of it: This beautiful wood has languished under some of the absolute worst names on the planet. (I don’t have a clue how to pronounce Macacauba.) Other hideous names this wood has suffered with include: Macawood, Hormigo, and Coyote. Recently a marketing name has surfaced calling it “Orange Agate.” I hope something works for it: Cinderella needs to get some well-deserved attention.

Honorable mentions: 

  • Muninga (Padauk-relative with rock-solid stability)
  • Boxwood (legendary for turning and carving)
  • Laburnum (think of it as European Rosewood)
  • Wamara (close relative to #2 ranked Katalox)
  • Sycamore (break out of bland with some quartersawn stock)
  • Texas Ebony (Ebony!? from Texas!? …kinda)
  • Imbuia (looks like a burl, but it’s naturally that awesome)
  • Sumac (olive green and striped, similar to Pistachio)
  • Buckthorn (underneath the bark lies some fine-grained, pinkish/orange wood)

See also:

  • fbermaguitars

    lignum vitae and cumin

  • Sternberg

    Black Locust is the thorn trees that farmers in the midwest planted for hedgerows and windbreaks. We used them for fence posts. I know of fences that were old when I was a kid in the 50s that are still just like they were 50 years ago.

    • mdhome

      Yep, good for 100 yrs

    • Joel Rybacki

      You are thinking of Osage Orange (hedge apple). Black locus grows tall with high branches and has a very rough and wrinkled bark. The issue with it is it will rot (carpenter ants love the stuff) and becomes a danger to any homes under it’s branches. FIL had a few trees removed recently. I have a few logs from them. Center of tree was mush. Could not find anyone interested in downing it to resaw. Arborer was not interested in doing anything with it but burning it. Great BTU’s btw.

  • Max

    Apparently the reason people in the USA don’t really use Black Locust is because an infestation of locust borers basically destroyed all the older, usable trees. Most US grown lumber has beetle holes in it, making it basically worthless.

    • Nolan

      Not in Kansas. I mill black locust and honey locust all the time. Great wood!

  • Alexis

    Both Imbuia and Kiaat (Muninga) are well known here in South Africa, Kiaat is especially popular for furniture at present with many stores marketing it as an alternative to Teak. As for Mopane, well that is better known as a worm (a delicacy… according to some!) than a wood.

  • Andrew Miller

    I have about 25 Green Heart timber sleepers that I was gifted by my work place in Peterhead, Scotland. They Had been lying about the Base on the Scottish coast through the wind, rain and snow for about 15 years and looked ugly on the outside. I have plained one of them up and sanded it for a fire place mantle and it looks absolutely beautiful!! Hard on my tools but we’ll worth it. Im only 24 but I’m sure it will outlive me. First time iv ever seen or heard of this wood but seems to be quite similar to oak in appearance as matches the customers oak finishings well

  • Andrew Miller

    Here is an example of the Greenheart dressed up

  • leaflor

    I love black locust for its strong yellow fluorescence under UV-light (black light).

  • leaflor

    I love black locust for its strong yellow fluorescence under UV-light (black light).

  • Júlio Aragão

    Macacaúba (pronounced Mah-cah-cah-OOH-bah) is indeed an ugly name! :)

    Here in Brazil it has several different names, like Jacarandá-of-the-marsh, Jacarandá Piranga, Jandiá and variations of Macacaúba, like Red Macacaúba and Black Macacaúba. It also has some different names abroad, like Bastado (Nicarágua), Caoba (Equador), Koenatepie (Suriname), Nambar (Costa Rica), Trebol azul (Paraguai), Vencola (Venezuela).

    These names are mostly originated within the indian tribes that discovered the trees.

    Here we have an institute that provides info about these hardwoods of the south america. (the website is in portuguese, but it has very good information about these woods and their characteristics):

  • Annabeth Chase

    Desert ironwood was my favorite, so beautiful!

  • Rodney

    I got a few small turning blanks of Black Locust setting in my shop right now that my father in law gave to me. Still not sure what I’m gonna do with it.

  • Jonn Mero

    Didn’t (don’t) they make fishing rods from greenheart? Never seen it, but think I vaguely recollect it from Izaac Walton’s ‘The Complete Angler’.

  • Michael C Stephenson

    Amen to Mopane. I stumbled across some that had been used as an aquarium decoration, and found that it finishing like a dream. Work it with micromesh and it glows like polished stone, no oil or lacquer etc needed. THE most beautiful dark wood I have ever worked with, with no close second.