Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra)

Brazilian rosewood (Dalbergia nigra)

Common Name(s): Brazilian rosewood

Scientific Name: Dalbergia nigra

Distribution: Brazil

Tree Size: 100-130 ft (30-40 m) tall,

                 3-4 ft (1-1.2 m) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 52 lbs/ft3 (835 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .68, .84

Janka Hardness: 2,790 lbf (12,410 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 19,570 lbf/in2 (135.0 MPa)

Elastic Modulus: 2,020,000 lbf/in2 (13.93 GPa)

Crushing Strength: 9,740 lbf/in2 (67.2 MPa)

Shrinkage: Radial: 2.9%, Tangential: 4.6%,

                  Volumetric: 8.5%, T/R Ratio: 1.6

Color/Appearance: Brazilian rosewood can vary in color from a darker chocolate brown to a lighter purplish or reddish brown, with darker contrasting streaks. The black streaks can sometimes form a unique grain pattern that is sometimes referred to as “spider-webbing” or “landscape,” very similar to ziricote. Lighter yellowish sapwood is clearly demarcated from the heartwood.

Grain/Texture: Brazilian rosewood has a uniform, medium to coarse texture with medium-sized open pores. The grain tends to be straight, but can occasionally be interlocked, spiraled, or wavy.

Rot Resistance: Heartwood is rated as very durable to decay resistance, and is also resistant to insect attack.

Workability: Easy to work with both hand and machine tools, though it may have a slight blunting effect on cutting edges. Brazilian rosewood turns, and finishes well, though it can sometimes be difficult to glue due to its high natural oil content.

Odor: Has a distinct, rose-like scent when being worked.

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

Pricing/Availability: Likely to be very expensive, and from questionable sources. Trade of Brazilian rosewood is highly regulated, and sales are generally limited to reclaimed or pre-existing pieces of lumber.

Sustainability: Brazilian rosewood is listed in CITES Appendix I, which is the most restrictive appendix, and also includes finished products made of the wood. It is the only species whose listing supersedes the already restrictive genus-wide restriction on all Dalbergia species listed in appendix II. It is also listed on the IUCN Red List as vulnerable due to a population reduction of over 20% in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range, and exploitation.

Common Uses: Veneer, fine furniture, cabinetry, flooring, musical instruments (acoustic guitars, piano cases, etc.), turned objects, and other small wooden specialty items.

Comments: Brazilian rosewood, like other exploited hardwoods such as Cuban mahogany or teak, has earned worldwide fame. Historically, it has perhaps been the species most frequently associated with the term “rosewood,” and with its strength, hardness, stability, beauty, and acoustic properties, it’s easy to see why Dalbergia nigra has been used for everything from flooring to xylophone keys.

Due to the high demand and limited supply of Brazilian rosewood, and its continued exploitation in recent decades, it has been listed in the most restrictive category of endangered species: CITES Appendix I. Not only is the lumber restricted from being imported or exported from country to country, but even finished products made of Brazilian rosewood may not cross international boundaries.

Because of these heavy (yet justifiable) restrictions, several substitutes from the Dalbergia genus have been used in recent years, such as East Indian rosewood, Honduran rosewood, and cocobolo; though perhaps the closest rosewood in terms of color and appearance may be Amazon rosewood (Dalbergia spruceana)—another hard-to-find and pricey rosewood.

Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood. (You will note that the color over time tends to become very dark, almost black. This is partially due to the old age of most pieces, often collected before the 1992 CITES restriction.)

Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia nigra) 

Watch video of wood finish being applied.

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

Brazilian Rosewood (endgrain 10x)

Brazilian rosewood (endgrain 10x)

Brazilian Rosewood (endgrain)

Brazilian rosewood (endgrain 1x)

Porosity: diffuse porous

Arrangement: solitary and radial multiples

Vessels: medium to very large, very few; dark brown deposits occasionally present

Parenchyma: diffuse-in-aggregates, vasicentric, sometimes weakly aliform and/or unilateral, and banded (marginal)

Rays: narrow, normal spacing

Lookalikes/Substitutes: Most commonly confused with East Indian rosewood, the two can usually be separated on the basis of pore density: Brazilian rosewood has roughly half as many pores per square surface area (see related article for more info).

Notes: Unlike most Dalbergia species, D. nigra‘s heartwood extractives are not water-soluble, and a water extractives fluorescence test will produce no fluorescent response.

> Hardwoods > Fabaceae > Dalbergia > Related species

(Dalbergia congestiflora)

Guatemalan rosewood
(Dalbergia cubilquitzensis)

Laotian rosewood
(Dalbergia lanceolaria)

(Dalbergia odorifera)

Palo escrito
(Dalbergia paloescrito)

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