Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)
Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)

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Common Name(s): Boxwood, Common Box, European Box

Scientific Name: Buxus sempervirens

Distribution: Europe, northwest Africa, and southwest Asia

Tree Size: 10-25 ft (3-8 m) tall, 4-6 in (12-20 cm) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 61 lbs/ft3 (975 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .68, .98

Janka Hardness: 2,840 lbf (12,610 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 20,960 lbf/in2 (144.5 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 2,494,000 lbf/in2 (17.20 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 9,950 lbf/in2 (68.6 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 6.2%, Tangential: 9.8%, Volumetric: 15.8%, T/R Ratio: 1.6

Color/Appearance: Color tends to be a light cream to yellow, which tends to darken slightly with prolonged exposure to light. Sapwood not distinct from heartwood.

Grain/Texture: Boxwood has a fine, even texture with a natural luster. The grain tends to be straight or slightly irregular.

Endgrain: Diffuse-porous; small pores, very numerous, exclusively solitary; growth rings distinct due to decrease in latewood pore frequency and color change; parenchyma not visible; narrow rays, normal spacing.

Rot Resistance: Heartwood is rated as durable, though it can become stained with dark streaks due to fungal attack. Occasionally susceptible to insect attack.

Workability: Boxwood tends to be somewhat difficult to work in flat dimensions, though it is superbly suited for turning. Tearout can occur on pieces with irregular grain during planing and other machining operations. Boxwood has a slight blunting effect on cutters.

Odor: No characteristic odor.

Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Boxwood has been reported as a sensitizer. Usually most common reactions simply include eye, skin, and respiratory irritation. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Usually only available in small quantities and sizes, Boxwood tends to be very expensive.

Sustainability: This wood species is not listed in the CITES Appendices or on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Common Uses: Boxwood is well-suited for carving and turning, and the tree’s diminutive size restricts it to smaller projects. Some common uses for Boxwood include: carvings, chess pieces, musical instruments (flutes, recorders, woodwinds, etc.), rulers, handles, turned objects, and other small specialty items.

Comments: It’s a shame that the term “Boxwood” has become so convoluted and confused in modern times, as there seems to be one particular wood species that has historically been associated with the name Boxwood: Buxus sempervirens. It is this species that can be considered the original, genuine boxwood.

Boxwood’s ability to hold crisp details in carvings and lathe work, in combination with its color and silky-fine texture truly make it a classic.

Other species in different genera tend to have similar appearances and working characteristics, (i.e., fine texture, hard, and heavy), and perhaps get marketed under the  boxwood name, much like many woods are called by the mahogany name.

Related Species:

None available.

Scans/Pictures: A special thanks to Steve Earis for providing the wood sample and turned photo of this wood species.

Boxwood (sanded)
Boxwood (sanded)

Boxwood (sealed)
Boxwood (sealed)

Boxwood (endgrain)
Boxwood (endgrain)

Boxwood (endgrain 10x)
Boxwood (endgrain 10x)

Boxwood (turned)
Boxwood (turned)

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Danijel ŠiprakDaniJustin PickfordHasanMichael J. Amphlett Recent comment authors
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Dani
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Dani

Hi! I love wood and I’ve been visiting this site for years now. In my opinion it is the best place to learn about wood in general on internet!!! Respect to Eric!!!
In my homeland Croatia’s Mediteranian parts (Dalmatia) boxwood is a very common species, and although most of it is shrubs and small sized trees, yesterday I saw a beautiful wild boxwood tree with trunk diameter of over 50cm!
Now I’m sorry that I didn’t take a picture of it to post it here but will do that in a separate comment on next occasion…

Danijel Šiprak
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Danijel Šiprak

I was wrong, this is not Buxus. After more thorough research I realised this is Phillyrea latifolia from Oleaceae family, closely related to olive tree. Looks very much like boxwood. Sorry, my mistake!

Hasan
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Hasan

You mentioned, “Other species in different genera tend to have similar appearances and working characteristics”. Can you name a few substitutes for boxwood?

Michael McGrath
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Michael McGrath

Here, in France, the box trees have been decimated by the box moth and there are many good-sized, dead trees along the verges.
Is the wood damaged by the moth and how long can the dead tree stand before the timber ceases to have any value as a resource.
I’ve been reluctant to cut any down to test, as I’ve been told they can survive a couple of attacks. Most of the box in our region have been bare for two or three summers now.

Michael J. Amphlett
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The larvae of Cydalima perspectalis (box tree moth) mostly attack the foliage of Buxus species, but apparently can also damage the bark, which is more likely to permanently damage or kill the tree. More info here, and a project on which I work: https://www.cabi.org/ISC/datasheet/118433

Justin Pickford
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Justin Pickford

Yeah but are there ANY areas where conservative logging would be ok? Boxwood siemerveins is Huey dense in Eastern Europe like Slovakia to Germany to Gorgia to Switzerland to Hungary and EVERYWHERE inbetween

Spencer Nitchie
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Spencer Nitchie

I have made small boxwood massage tools and was wondering what would be the best finish to use? What do they use for a violin chin rest for example? Something that oesn’t irritate skin?

Jim Fellows
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Jim Fellows

I recently purchased buxus malowonii and found it identical — or near enough to be indistinguishable– from b. sempervirens. Something called Turkish boxwood was brought to my attention and I bought three samples. Two were either b.sempervirens or b.malwonii, and the third was something quite different from any buxus I have seen before. The photo goes with the comment on scoring planes with biowood, showing the surface on the rosewood burl from the previous comment.

Jim Fellows
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Jim Fellows

Although tearout can be etreme when planing boards, due to dense, evershifting grain direction due to the compact, spindly growth of these tiny trunks over centuries, I find ascoring plane solves the problem. I am not sure of the correct Englush name for this plane which today is used mostly for prepping surfaces for gluing. In Spain, it is called cepillo de dientes, or plane of teeth literally. It’s the blade which has the teeth, being engraved with v profile lines down the back that result in triangular teeth on the cutting edge of the bevel. This approach removes the… Read more »

Ryan Pakledinaz
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Ryan Pakledinaz

The English term is similar to the Spanish one. We call it a toothing plane, used primarily for surface prep for veneer work (as it adds ‘tooth’ for the glue to adhere to).

That’s an excellent idea, using it on difficult grain. How do you smooth the surface after? Scrape or sand?

Jim Fellows
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Jim Fellows

Planing boxwood: “tearout” is an understatement, but if you plane across the grain even the most challengng areas can be smoothed successfully with a well sharpened and well adjusted plane.

spanner48
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spanner48

I was in north India some time back, and heard of whole forests of box [Buxus Sempervirens], with trees growing to considerable size – apparently, much better and more vigorously than in Europe or Turkey. May be worthwhile investigating.

Also, I was in East Africa, designing and manufacturing ox-drawn ploughs for local farmers. We used boxwood for the bearings of the plough’s nosewheel, because the wood is inherently slightly ‘greasy’, and the steel axle turned in it very easily, even when completely saturated with mud and dust.

Tomas Lainas
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Tomas Lainas

indian boxwood is an other species, and not related to Buxus – https://www.flowersofindia.net/catalog/slides/Indian%20Boxwood.html

spanner48
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spanner48

No. I was referring to a sub-species: Buxus Wallichiana spp., which grows at altitude [1200 to 3,000 metres] in the Himalaya. They form trees up to 15m tall and 2.2m girth.