Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa)

Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa)

Common Name(s): Cocobolo, Cocobola, Cocabola

Scientific Name: Dalbergia retusa
Distribution: Central America

Tree Size: 45-60 ft (14-18 m) tall,
                 1.5-2 ft (50-60 cm) trunk diameter

Average Dried Weight: 69 lbs/ft3 (1,095 kg/m3)

Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .89, 1.10

Janka Hardness: 2,960 lbf (14,140 N)

Modulus of Rupture: 22,910 lbf/in2 (158.0 MPa)*

Elastic Modulus: 2,712,000 lbf/in2 (18.70 GPa)*

Crushing Strength: 11,790 lbf/in2 (81.3 MPa)*

*values from tentative strength group assessment per South American Timbers

Shrinkage: Radial: 2.7%, Tangential: 4.3%,

                  Volumetric: 7.0%, T/R Ratio: 1.6

Color/Appearance: Cocobolo can be seen in a kaleidoscope of different colors, ranging from yellow, orange, red, and shades of brown with streaks of black or purple. Sapwood is typically a very pale yellow. Colors are lighter when freshly sanded/cut, and darken with age; for more information, see the article on preventing color changes in exotic woods.

Grain/Texture: Grain is straight to interlocked, with a fine even texture. Good natural luster.

Rot Resistance: Rated as very durable, and also resistant to insect attack. Its natural oils are reported to give it good resistance to degrade from wet/dry cycles.

Workability: Due to the high oil content found in this wood, it can occasionally cause problems with gluing. Also, the wood’s color can bleed into surrounding wood when applying a finish, so care must be taken on the initial seal coats not to smear the wood’s color/oils into surrounding areas. Tearout can occur during planing if interlocked grain is present; the wood also has a moderate blunting effect on cutting edges/tools due to its high density. Cocobolo has excellent turning properties.

Odor: Cocobolo has a distinct spice-like scent when being worked, which some find unpleasant: though it has been used in at least one women's perfume.

Allergies/Toxicity: Notoriously allergenic. Reported as a sensitizer; can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, as well as nausea, pink-eye, and asthma-like symptoms. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.

Pricing/Availability: Cocobolo is in limited supply, and is also in relatively high demand, (for ornamental purposes), and is likely to be quite expensive. Prices should compare similarly to other rosewoods in the Dalbergia genus.

Sustainability: Cocobolo is listed on CITES appendix II under the genus-wide restriction on all Dalbergia species—which also includes finished products made of the wood. 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: Fine furniture, musical instruments, turnings, and other small specialty objects.

Comments: One of today’s most prized lumbers for its outstanding color and figure; yet also one of the most infamous for its difficulty in gluing, and its tendency to cause allergic reactions in woodworkers.

Also, there are a few misleading reports of Cocobolo's Janka hardness being only about 1,100 lbf, and it's modulus of elasticity at only about 1,100,000 lbf/in2: which is almost certainly either a typo or a different wood than what is commonly called Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa). Reports indicate that Cocobolo is stronger and denser than Brazilian Rosewood, and that is the basis for the strength values (bending strength and modulus of elasticity) that are quoted at the top of this page.

Specific gravity is used to predict the hardness of wood with a fair degree of accuracy, and given its incredibly high density, (it sinks in water: see video below), Cocobolo's hardness (and other strength properties) is most likely several times higher than the 1,100 lbf which is sometimes reported.

Images: Drag the slider up/down to toggle between raw and finished wood. A special thanks to Steve Earis for providing the turned photo of this wood species.

[caption id="attachment_21380" align="alignnone" width="225"]Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa) Cocobolo (Dalbergia retusa)[/caption]
 

Watch video of wood finish being applied.

Cocobolo (turned)

Cocobolo (kaleidoscopic colors)

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

Cocobolo (endgrain 10x)

Cocobolo (endgrain 10x)

Cocobolo (endgrain)

Cocobolo (endgrain 1x)

Porosity: diffuse porous

Arrangement: solitary and radial multiples

Vessels: medium to very large, few to very few; various mineral deposits occasionally present

Parenchyma: diffuse-in-aggregates, vasicentric, and banded (marginal)

Rays: narrow, fairly close spacing

Lookalikes/Substitutes: No data available.

Notes: None.

> Hardwoods > Fabaceae > Dalbergia > Related species

Camatillo
(Dalbergia congestiflora)

Guatemalan rosewood
(Dalbergia cubilquitzensis)

Laotian rosewood
(Dalbergia lanceolaria)

Huanghuali
(Dalbergia odorifera)

Palo escrito
(Dalbergia paloescrito)

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49 Comments

  1. Ken September 15, 2018 at 10:26 am - Reply

    I’m currently in the process of having a pool cue made with Cocobolo. One of my other custom cues was made with ebony going into purple heart. It hits great. So, like getting tattoos, I had to get another. I’m having cocobolo going into purple heart. I don’t want to readjust my game by changing the purple heart. And since cocobolo is very similar in structure to ebony, I figure it should work. After paying for it in full upfront, I can’t wait to see it completed….let alone to use it. If anyone has images of their own cocobolo custom cue, please post a link.

  2. Murat Kekec August 17, 2017 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    is this referred as Genuine Rosewood? My friend has these Rosewood from Brazil they were cut maybe 20 years ago and brought to Canada.

    • ejmeier August 19, 2017 at 2:43 pm - Reply

      If you have rosewood from Brazil that they are calling “genuine rosewood” then I would assume they are referring to Brazilian Rosewood (Dalberia nigra).

  3. Carol Fairbrother August 26, 2016 at 8:28 am - Reply

    I have a wall clock made out of cocobolo wood. Two layers of shellac was applied but what kind of finish can be used now to complete the project and give it a more glossy look? Would appreciate any advice.

    • ejmeier August 26, 2016 at 9:40 pm - Reply

      Once you’ve sealed the wood with shellac, you can use any number of finishes. If it isn’t going to get too much wear and handling, you could try to just top coat with shellac too — it is naturally quite glossy. Otherwise polyurethane or lacquer are both glossy as well.

  4. Jerry October 29, 2015 at 12:34 am - Reply

    I was given a piece of wood that I cannot quite identify. From all the woods I know, it resembles Cocobolo the closest. It is very heavy and dense. The grain resembles cocobolo, but has some very tight grain in places. Only thing is it has a very purple color to it, not brown as pictured above. Also, when it is cut, it is very aromatic. A nice perfume smell with a hint of cinnamon. Can anyone help me identify it as cocobolo or something else? Thanks.

    • ejmeier November 1, 2015 at 1:05 am - Reply

      Do you have any pics? Especially of the endgrain…

    • ?214 June 7, 2016 at 12:23 pm - Reply

      In Dalbergia, East Indian Rosewood and Kingwood are the most purple. I can’t remember the smell of Kingwood.

      https://www.wood-database.com/kingwood/

  5. BC May 3, 2014 at 4:42 am - Reply

    That green is also reported to sometimes GLOW softly.

    • ?214 July 26, 2015 at 12:34 am - Reply

      I work as laser cutter operator (and other jobs) at Martin Guitar. While fairly uncommon, a very small handful of East Indian Rosewood guitar backs come through on an irregular basis with a green in the lighter portions of the heart wood. An oldtimer there told me that it almost shimmers and is often turns to a somewhat lustrous silver when finished to full gloss with lacquer. Similar case with EIR that has a red color in it, often in a thin streak.

      On another note, freshly sanded, cut, or steam bent cocobolo does have a very strong smell. Most often, I find it to be close to that of cinnamon. Brazilian (what little we have) has the MOST pleasant, sweet/floral smell I’ve ever smelled. Madagascar has a similar, but less strong smell compared to brazilian, and guatemalan has a similar smell. East Indian sometimes has a buttery smell when fresh from the thickness sanders, but often doesn’t have a particularly strong or notable smell. Bhilwaran doesn’t seem to have a notable smell.

      • Arcanek July 29, 2015 at 2:03 pm - Reply

        I think the East Indian Rosewood that I have seen with yellows, oranges and green is plantation grown in Indonesia, called Sonokelling. The purples and reds seem to come from India.

  6. BC May 3, 2014 at 4:42 am - Reply

    It could be oxygenation or a UV reactivion. Obviously, things can respond to oxygenation so that may be the culprit. Maybe freshly cut the wood and seal it as quickly as possible? Also, there could be a UV reaction going on. UV rays can fade colors or even sometimes brighten them. Brazilian Rosewood, especially when submerged under water or exposed to minerals in the soil, can develop bands of green and red that are reactive in sunlight. Check out this image:

    https://i3.photobucket.com/albums/y73/ericcsong/kostal/IMG_3017.jpg

  7. Dearbhla McArdle-Egan December 6, 2013 at 4:31 am - Reply

    Hi, my late father who was a true craftsman when it came to working with wood was given a gift of some Cocobolo by a friend several years ago. He used it to add decoration to Grandfather Clock cases that he made but he also made a large ‘coffee table’ with a gloss sealant over the top and turned legs. It is a really beautiful and unique piece. As we live in Ireland it was quite unusual that he had this beautiful wood to work with. Unfortunately my home is not big enough to store all the work that my father left to me and for economic reasons I am now having to sell a substantial segment of my Dad’s work. I have no idea what this table is worth or what I should expect someone to pay for it as there are no guidelines since the wood is so unusual here. Would anyone have an idea about what I should reasonably charge for a piece like this? The wood is very dark with a beautiful, distinctive grain. The table is at least 15 years old and I don’t expect it to darken any more, in fact, it looks the same to me now in terms of colour as it was when he made it. Perhaps the wood he used was very seasoned.

    • List The Lies January 4, 2014 at 3:51 pm - Reply

      While I can’t comment on the quality of your father’s work, Cocobolo is a very expensive wood. Around $30 USD a board foot is typical (To give you some perspective, I can buy American Beech at my local hardwood supplier for 2.95 a bf). So if you have an entire coffee table made out of Cocobolo, then the table is probably worth a few hundred dollars in wood alone. Obviously that value can be lost if the craftsmanship/design is poor. As far as the finish quality/condition, I can’t really tell you how that would effect the value of a piece by an unknown maker. I also don’t know how expensive Cocobolo is in the UK and Ireland. If it is rarer, then the price of the wood could be much higher (45-50 per bf).

  8. Tanner August 22, 2013 at 10:08 pm - Reply

    Wow!! That is very interesting Hoover!!! Please do share how testing and actual practices goes!

    Thanks,

    Tanner

  9. hoover castano August 21, 2013 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    I am working on a project to make cocobolo wood into fine powder for the pharmaceutical industry.
    there is a compound (toxic to fish and human skin) in cocobolo called OBTUSAQUINONE seems like is an alternative natural medice for poor people with cancer

    • ?214 December 8, 2017 at 1:54 am - Reply

      Has anything new come to light since the 2013 mouse study?

  10. michael April 27, 2013 at 11:23 am - Reply

    i have recently been turning several items in cocobolo and have had a massive reaction to this wood it has total stripped the skin from my face and numbed most of my facial nerves it also penetrated my arms etc be very careful with this wood even though I was using face masks etc. it was not sufficient protection, this condition has lasted for two/three months and has taken a hell of a lot of clearing up, so once again please be very careful. All the best.

    • ?214 July 26, 2015 at 12:38 am - Reply

      This applies to all true rosewoods (Dalbergia genus). Wear a mask and safety glasses when working. Shower after working with it for a few hours, as you generally should avoid sleeves in the woodshop, especially when turning. Disposable sleeves do exist and are used by some of my coworkers when working with rosewoods.

  11. Herschell Doss April 23, 2013 at 11:05 am - Reply

    I recently purchased a beautiful bowl of Cocobolo. The grain and color is the most beautiful I have ever seen.
    However: I have been warned that it will blacken over time and this really bothers me. A friend showed me a bowl he turned 15 years ago and it is so black you can hardly see the grain pattern.
    Is there a finish that I can apply that will preserve the color and luster?

    • Arcanek July 29, 2015 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      Not that I’maware of. The best thing I’ve found is to polish it out with micromesh, up to 12000. It’s some work, but the end result is astonishing. It looks like stone almost, but feels something like thesurface of an ipad. It will also make the wood look a bit lighter. you may not have a true cocobolo, but perhaps another very similar rosewood, which may notturn black brwn.

  12. Trevor April 4, 2013 at 9:47 pm - Reply

    Dear Eric I have made a stain! This could be a really big seller! How much would you pay for natural wood-oil stain? Did I mention its water resistant? The color is bright orange-yellow and it smells great!

  13. Tanner April 4, 2013 at 8:35 pm - Reply

    It takes just around 80 years for a Cocobolo tree to mature to harvest-able size.

  14. Eric April 4, 2013 at 6:45 pm - Reply

    I’m not sure how long it takes for a rosewood tree to mature to harvestable size, but I’d guess at least a few decades, if not longer; they’re very slow growers. I know some rosewood trees in Madagascar that were illegally harvested were said to be several centuries old.

    As for Cocobolo oils and staining: not really practical to do that, as I’m sure there are easier and cheaper ways to obtain dye colorants.

  15. Trevor April 4, 2013 at 5:40 pm - Reply

    I have read that Cocobolo contains color/oils that when applying a finish will bleed into other woods can this color/oil be used effectively to stain wood? Just wondering.
    ~Trevor

  16. Trevor April 3, 2013 at 2:25 am - Reply

    Eric how long can it take to grow one rosewood tree?

  17. Trevor April 3, 2013 at 2:23 am - Reply

    Can Burmese rosewood look similar to cocobolo?

    • ?214 July 26, 2015 at 12:40 am - Reply

      Guatemalan Rosewood often does look like a more plain piece of cocobolo, although usually with more brown in the reds and a less tight ring structure.

  18. Tanner March 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm - Reply

    Each and every board varies greatly in color and grain. You most likely got a piece of heart-wood, which from my experience is a hue of beautiful oranges, browns, greys, blacks, and even sometimes a hint of purple blue or green. very rarely any green. Sapwood boards are your darkers boards considering it’s still growing and very oily.

    Hope my contributions on this page are helping,

    ~Tanner~

    • Arcanek July 29, 2015 at 2:09 pm - Reply

      Sapwood is a light straw color.

  19. Trevor March 26, 2013 at 10:19 am - Reply

    A few days ago I bought another blank made of Cocobolo but instead of a dark piece I got a light one, can this color change? What color could this shift to?

    • ?214 July 26, 2015 at 12:27 am - Reply

      The color generally shifts darker with UV and O? exposure.

    • Arcanek July 29, 2015 at 1:59 pm - Reply

      It is usually a bright yellow when cut. Turns to apeach, then ornge, then red, then maroon, then brown, often almost black. It depends on the extracyives in the wood. highly polished, it will usually be a dark brown with black streaks, sometimes it stays a bit of a maroon.

  20. Trevor March 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    Where does the name, Cocobolo come from and what does it mean?~Trevor

    • Arcanek July 29, 2015 at 2:14 pm - Reply

      From what I’ve heard, it is coco, like coconut, meaning in the sense of exotic, tropical, and bolo, meaning stick. So, kind of exotic wood, as close as i could decipher. I heard this from a Mexican who seemed rather knowledgeable inetymology.

  21. Tanner March 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    When any fine particles of Cocobolo hit a mucus gland, it turns into a fine acid, due to the fact of the type of oil in the wood. So when it hits your nose the fine or semi-fine particles turn into a mild acid. In the most severe cases, very fine particles from sanding that make it into your lungs produce nitric acid in your lungs, which is very lethal. I was once routing mortises into a leg made of Cocobolo and had a bunch of rough dust fly up my nose and experienced the same thing you experienced. Of course, the acid production ratio is different for every person because of % body fat, metabolism, etc. etc. Hope this sheds some light on the topic of this most beautiful of woods!

    ~Tanner~

  22. Trevor March 18, 2013 at 10:02 am - Reply

    I am not allergic to cocobolo but one day when was making a pen from it i began to experience an awful burning sensation in both nostrils and my eyes began to water. Am i allergic to this wood? P.S. I have worked with cocobolo twice, in a well ventilated shop.

  23. Tanner October 4, 2012 at 11:37 pm - Reply

    well sometimes compromise must be made. And also, Cocobolo is getting very hard to find now-a-days, so not being able to work with it might not be as bad! I encourage to try to find a new way to turn it once again without getting the painful side effects. best of luck!

    ~Tanner~

    • Janna November 21, 2013 at 1:29 pm - Reply

      I’m not sure I buy the “hard to find” thing. You can go to Penn State Industries, Packard Woodworks, Craft Supply USA or any of a number of other sites and get it already cut into pen blanks and the cost isn’t any more than the other “exotic” (as compared to domestic) woods. I have turned many pens out of it and never had any issues with blisters or other nerve problems and I often wear short sleeves and never wear gloves when turning or sanding. I do wear a face shield to keep the dust and such out of my eyes and respiratory system though. I will agree that it is a pretty oily wood.

      • ejmeier November 21, 2013 at 10:57 pm - Reply

        I think it’ll only be a matter of time before Cocobolo will indeed become much harder to find, and more expensive. It’s now an endangered species, and sources seem to be drying up. Consider what Cook Woods said just last week about their stock of Mexican Cocobolo:

        “This is the final shipment of Mexican Cocobolo that we will be getting. There is too much political and internal conflict in Mexico to continue buying so this is the last chance to get some!”

  24. Tom Davenport October 4, 2012 at 11:06 pm - Reply

    Well, the precaution I have taken is to simply no longer work with Cocobolo. When I was working with it I didn’t experience respiratory problems, but the skin reactions were so severe (redness that felt like sunburn, itching that might last for a week, even blistering)that it simply wasn’t worth it. Add to that my wife’s “Are you CRAZY!” whenever I dream up some new scheme that might let me turn it again! The odds are simply stacked against Cocobolo (but I still haven’t managed to part with the wood I have on hand).

  25. Tanner October 4, 2012 at 10:10 pm - Reply

    Dear Tom,

    Actually, Cocobolo saw dust is extremely dangerous in certain cases. Irritation at the sites where dust contacted has been reported in some cases, but when sanding, take every precautionary you can, especially wearing a dust mask. I had a first hand experience with router dust and finish sander dust. When fine-sanding, the moment the dust particles enter your lungs, the fluid in your lungs causes a chemical reaction that turns the fine dust into a very potent acid and can be very lethal. i personally breathed some in when working on a table made of Cocobolo, wasn’t aware of the dangers, breathed in some of the dust and missed three entire weeks of school because of it. the dust only got into my tracheae and caused pretty bad burns, but I was extremely fortunate and lucky. I must agree with your comment that the Dalbergia family of woods is some of the most beautiful and extravagant wood out there. Best of luck with turning!

    ~Tanner~

  26. Tom Davenport October 3, 2012 at 10:14 pm - Reply

    I do simple turning, just reel seats and pens, but I do a lot of it, and early on I wasn’t as careful about dust as I should have been. Cocobolo was my favorite wood, and I turned a lot of it. Sadly, I am now allergic to it. As far as my body is concerned, it might as well be radioactive dust! And I am not a person prone to allergies, as far as I know my allergy to Cocobolo is it, although that sensitivity has made me be very careful around any wood in the Dalbergia family. This is a shame since that family contains some of the most beautiful woods in the world. I read somewhere on the web that “there are two types of wood turners, those who are allergic to Cocobolo, and those who will be! So be warned, take every precaution you can when working with this beautiful wood to avoid contact with its dust! It might not bother you now, but it will if you aren’t careful.

  27. Tanner September 23, 2012 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    I made an entire side table out of Cocobolo. The only part of the table that is not Cocobolo is the drawer box, which is naturally-stained soft maple which gives the Cocobolo a very nice contrast.

  28. Eric September 10, 2012 at 11:21 am - Reply

    Regarding all the comments on specific gravity listed above:

    If you click on the link for Basic Specific Gravity at the top of the page, you’ll realize that BASIC SG is not the same as Specific gravity. (One of these days I’m going to write an article explaining how misused and useless specific gravity numbers are without a moisture content!) Anyhow, if you follow the link, you’ll get the following explanation:

    Typically it is based upon a wood’s oven-dry weight, (meaning a moisture content of 0%, which is the lightest the wood can ever get), and its green volume, that is, when it is freshly cut: having the largest possible volume. This may seem like a double-standard—to calculate this density from the wood’s dry weight, and its green volume—but this standardization, commonly called the “basic specific gravity,” prevents any irregularities or inconsistencies from occurring, mainly because it uses predictable extremes (i.e., lightest weight and largest volume) to calculate the SG value.

    Using a wood’s basic specific gravity, along with its volumetric shrinkage data, the average dried weight can be calculated at a number of moisture contents, ranging from 0% up to 30%.

  29. Santos September 8, 2012 at 9:13 pm - Reply

    Hi,do you think that BASIC Specific Gravity = Specific Gravity?,and
    that Specific Gravity = Weight?or if the green lumber = dried lumber?please let me know what happen?.Some literature say Cocobolo Specific Gravity is 1.1 for that sinks in water.

  30. Jeff May 17, 2012 at 10:52 am - Reply

    @ Jim: Specific gravity is definitely wrong.

    If you look at the average dried weight: 1,070 kg/m3, converting to units of g per cubic cm gives you a specific gravity of 1.07, which would sink in water.

  31. Jim January 10, 2012 at 7:34 pm - Reply

    Specific gravity wrong. Must be greater than 1 to sink in water.

  32. Bruce Hodgman March 26, 2011 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    I made some handles for kitchen knives from cocobolo back about 1970. No finish of any kind was placed on them. They are fine today in spite of almost daily use and daily washing. One of them shows a slight crack, however.

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