by Eric Meier

Brief disclaimer: In writing this article, I am in no way stating that any particular wood is “bad” or of low quality. In this age of phenolic fakes, MDF, OSB, LVL, and other abbreviated products, real, solid wood is to be appreciated. However, my purpose in composing this list is to simply highlight ways in which woodworkers have perhaps overly valued certain wood species.


Bois de Rose (Dalbergia maritima)

Bois de Rose

(Dalbergia maritima)

Why people love it: This true rosewood is a rich, eggplant purple.

Why it’s overrated: Like a flower, Bois de Rose’s beauty fades, and the wood turns very dark purple, to nearly black. And the fact that it’s also an endangered species, and the flashpoint for illegal logging in Madagascar is only icing on the cake. 

Try this instead: Purple colors in wood simply don’t last. Use dyes instead, and you’ll never be sorry.


Koa (Acacia koa)

Koa

(Acacia koa)

Why people love it: Figured Koa is probably among the most stunning hardwoods on the planet.

Why it’s overrated: The price-tag is also among the most stunning on the planet.

Try this instead: It’s hard to dispute Koa’s beauty, but many woods come very close for much, much less. Australian Blackwood is, for all intents and purposes, identical on all points but price. Some very nice figured Monkeypod or Claro Walnut also have good “wow” factor.


Padauk (Pterocarpus soyauxii)

African Padauk

(Pterocarpus soyauxii)

Why people love it: Rich reddish orange color and good workability.

Why it’s overrated: Much like other colorful woods, Padauk’s color doesn’t last, and turns a dark brown over time.

Try this instead: Find a nicely colored piece of the more color-stable Chakte Viga, or just use dyes.


Kauri (Agathis australis)

Ancient Kauri

(Agathis australis)

Why people love it: Pulled up from bogs in New Zealand, Kauri is thousands of years old, making it the oldest wood on the market.

Why it’s overrated: When you get past the novelty, it’s basically just an old-growth softwood. True, there are some nice figured pieces, but on the whole, not worth the exorbitant costs over, say, Douglas Fir.

Try this instead: For huge tabletop slabs, waterfall Bubinga or curly Claro Walnut have a lot more visual interest. 


Bloodwood (Brosimum rubescens)

Bloodwood

(Brosimum rubescens)

Why people love it: The startling red color makes the wood true to its name.

Why it’s overrated: Much like other colorful woods, Bloodwood’s color doesn’t last, and turns a dark brown over time. It’s also horrific in workability, being extremely dense, blunting sharp cutters, and splintering easily.

Try this instead: If you want a wood that will truly stay vibrant red, use maple. And red dye.


Red Oak (Quercus rubra)

Oak

(Quercus spp.)

Why people love it: Abundant, economical, easy to work, visually interesting grain lines, and solid strength characteristics.

Why it’s overrated: This wood is everywhere. I’m typing this at a desk made of oak. The cabinets in the office are oak. The door and trim in the room are oak. The wood has become so commonplace, people simply don’t even see it anymore. It simply becomes generic “wood.” 

Try this instead: Something… anything. Break out of the ordinary. Quartersawn Sycamore is a visually interesting domestic hardwood that’s under-utilized.


Ambrosia Maple

Ambrosia Maple

(Acer spp.)

Why people love it: The dark streaks contrast well against the lighter colored maple sapwood.

Why it’s overrated: This color is not natural, it’s from beetles that infest and bore into the tree, leaving a series of holes in the wood itself, bringing in fungus that discolors the wood. For those creepy types that keep pet tarantulas, this should warm your heart; for the rest of us, it’s disgusting.

Try this instead: Goncalo Alves, or have a look at other striped woods.


Gaboon Ebony (Diospyros crassiflora)

Ebony

(Diospyros spp.)

Why people love it: It’s pitch-black.

Why it’s overrated: The highest grades of ebony are totally black, with no discernible grain patterns, ironically resembling black plastic. (And most laypeople/customers unfamiliar with ebony have no appreciation for this expensive and endangered wood.)

Try this instead: Katalox. Or, for something that might actually be taken for real wood and not plastic, Black Palm, Pheasantwood, or Wenge.


Bamboo: vertical (sanded)

Bamboo

(Bambusa spp.)

Why people love it: Currently riding a wave of popularity, bamboo is fast-growing and eco-friendly. It says, “I love old barns, owls, and other all-natural, outdoorsy stuff.”

Why it’s overrated: This isn’t real wood, and bamboo is technically not a “tree,” but is in the Poaceae (grass) family. Hundreds of small strips of bamboo material are machined and glued together, making quasi-boards. Sustainable? Yes. Natural? Hardly.

Try this instead: Real wood. It has character, uniqueness (two different boards actually look… different), and isn’t a series of tiny processed shards held together with glue.


Purpleheart (Peltogyne spp.)

Purpleheart

(Peltogyne spp.)

Why people love it: Am I seeing things, or is this wood… purple!? Purpleheart is revered by woodworkers across the globe.

Why it’s overrated: Interested to see how your project will look in a decade? Have a look at this wood instead: Brownheart. Or read up on color changes in exotic woods.

Try this instead: Purple colors in wood simply don’t last. Use dyes instead, and you’ll never be sorry.


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