Top Ten Hardest Woods

by Eric Meier

The most common test for testing wood hardness is known as the Janka hardness test. The actual number listed in the wood profile is the amount of pounds-force (lbf) or newtons (N) required to imbed a .444″ (11.28 mm) diameter steel ball into the wood to half the ball’s diameter.

Janka hardness testing
Janka hardness testing

In practical terms, a helpful question to ask would be: hard is hard enough? A lot of times, especially on floors, the finish will get scratched, when the wood underneath is perfectly fine. (This obviously excludes dents.) In all practicality, a great number of hardwoods are “hard enough” for nearly all residential applications. But, if you’ve simply got to have the hardest lumber around, then this list is for you!


Cebil (Anadenanthera colubrina)

Cebil

(Anadenanthera colubrina)

3,630 lbf (16,150 N)

Also known as Curupay or by the exaggerated name Patagonian Rosewood, Cebil is not a true rosewood. It has a highly variable streaked appearance not too unlike Goncalo Alves.


 Katalox (Swartzia cubensis)

Katalox / Wamara

(Swartzia spp.)

3,655 lbf (16,260 N)

Some pieces can be just about a dark as true ebony, while others are a more reddish brown with black streaks. So much depth in the Swartzia genus, there’s something for everyone!


Black Ironwood (Krugiodendron ferreum)

Black Ironwood

(Krugiodendron ferreum)

3,660 lbf (16,280 N)

Pieces are very seldom seen for sale, as this tree is too small to produce commercially viable lumber. Like the unrelated Desert Ironwood, Black Ironwood is an excellent choice for small turning projects.


African Blackwood (sealed)

African Blackwood

(Dalbergia melanoxylon)

3,670 lbf (16,320 N)

In some parts of the world, this wood has achieved an almost legendary status. Historical evidence points to this wood (rather than Diospyros spp.) being the original “ebony.”


Camelthorn (Vachellia erioloba)

Camelthorn

(Vachellia erioloba)

3,680 lbf (16,370 N)

Formerly classified as a member of the Acacia genus, this south African hardwood is a tough customer. The wood is stubbornly hard, and the tree is protected by giant sharp thorns.


Argentine Lignum Vitae (sealed)

Verawood

(Bulnesia arborea)

3,710 lbf (16,520 N)

Sometimes called Argentine Lignum Vitae, this wood is a gem: inexpensive, great olive-green color, beautiful feathery grain pattern, and it takes a great natural polish on the lathe.


04 Snakewood (bookmatched)

Snakewood

(Brosimum guianensis)

3,800 lbf (16,900 N)

It’s easy to see what makes Snakewood so unique–its patterns and markings resemble the skin of a snake. Limited supply and high demand make this one of the most expensive woods on earth!


Gidgee (Acacia cambagei)

Gidgee

(Acacia cambagei)

4,270 lbf (18,990 N)

This Australian endemic is both very heavy and very strong. Some pieces are dark enough to be used as an ebony substitute: one that’s even harder than the original article.


Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum officinale)

Lignum Vitae

(Guaiacum officinale)

4,390 lbf (19,510 N)

Widely accepted as the hardest wood in the world–this wood has been listed as an endangered species and is listed in CITES. Consider Verawood as a very close substitute.


Quebracho (Schinopsis balansae)

Quebracho

(Schinopsis spp.)

4,570 lbf (20,340 N)

From the Spanish “quebrar hacha,” which literally means “axe breaker.” Aptly named, wood in the Schinopsis genus is among the heaviest and hardest in the world.


Honorable mentions: Leadwood (3,570 lbf), Brown Ebony (3,590 lbf), Ipe (3,510 lbf), Mopane (3,390 lbf), Burmese Blackwood (3,350 lbf), Kingwood (3,340 lbf).

Other notes:

  • Hardness listings are for woods at a dried weight of 12% moisture content.
  • There are a handful of obscure shrubs and small trees that yield wood which can be extremely hard. However, these species are typically only available regionally, and are never seen by the vast majority of woodworkers, nor are they reliably documented in woodworking publications.

See also:


Are you an aspiring wood nerd?

The poster, Worldwide Woods, Ranked by Hardness, should be required reading for anyone enrolled in the school of wood nerdery. I have amassed over 500 wood species on a single poster, arranged into eight major geographic regions, with each wood sorted and ranked according to its Janka hardness. Each wood has been meticulously documented and photographed, listed with its Janka hardness value (in lbf) and geographic and global hardness rankings. Consider this: the venerable Red Oak (Quercus rubra) sits at only #33 in North America and #278 worldwide for hardness! Aspiring wood nerds be advised: your syllabus may be calling for Worldwide Woods as part of your next assignment!

66
Share your experience

avatar
Photo and Image Files
 
 
 
30 Comment threads
36 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
46 Comment authors
Claudio from BrazilJuanmichaelNoelleTravis Shane Smith Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
Notify of
Claudio from Brazil
Claudio from Brazil

There are four types of ipe lapacho in Brazil
Yellow ipe, pink ipe. purple IPE . dwarf ipe . the colors of the flowers and the trees are totally different
see the picture of the dwarf ipe
this quality ipê titanium drills to drill
it burns the titanium and carbide drills
I work with the four species of ipe
the dwarf ipe is much harder than Lignum Vitae
my chainsaw 120 hp does not like to cut this ipê

michael
michael

what about locust trees

Matheus Henrique Bee
Matheus Henrique Bee

Hello my good Sir.

Am from Brazil and I feel obligation to let you know that the Cebil (Anadenanthera Colubrina) is the softest of all the Anadenanthera genre, being the hardest I know and have withnessed, what we call “Angico-Preto” (Anadenanthera Macrocarpa) which is a different species and is far harder than the Cebil (Anadenanthera Colubrina).
The reason am saying this is because I can’t find anything related to the Macrocarp species, seems like everyone in the world sees it as being the same as the Colubrina species which is not true.

anonymous
anonymous

kamagong is the hardest

Dylab
Dylab

Hi guys.. what about Mulga , Acacia aneura. Australian desert timber. Whats the janka hardness of this?

Brian Dixon
Brian Dixon

Do you have any information on the hardness of the New Zealand native Black Puriri tree, Vitex lucens, rated harder than any of the Australian hardwood species I understand?
https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/princely-puriri/

Reynan
Reynan

How about Mankono (Xanthostemon verdugonianus)? what rank it is?

Bill
Bill

any rating on Cuchi? used to make pig pens in Bolivian lowlands. ivory and red mahogany stripes. carving hardness about like ivory.

KLH
KLH

What’s the rating for mesquite? In the southwest hat stuff is infamous for killing saw blades.

Jabwwai
Jabwwai

mesquite is 2,340 lbs or 10KN

Robert Bennett
Robert Bennett

I believe one of the reasons mesquite is so tough on saws is due to the knots in it, just like Osage Orange (aka Boks D’arc or Horse Apple).

JerzyT
JerzyT

This is interesting, but it would be really nice if the measurements for some common woods were also included on the list. Not necessarily as a comprehensive ranking from balsa to lignum vitae, but maybe oak, beech, birch, pine would really help mere mortals to get a sense of the scale.

STROTHER
STROTHER

I saw a ree, name started with a “P” it has large leaves and some kind of nuts in a cluster, they are green then turn brown. Never saw the inside of the nut. I WAS TOLD THAT THE WOOD WAS HARD AND GREW VERY FAST. This was in Swannoana,NC CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT THIS TREE.

Gary D Fleeman
Gary D Fleeman

Probably a Paulownia tree. Orig from Japan but grows wild in WNC. I live in Sylva NC and see a lot of them.

Travis Shane Smith
Travis Shane Smith

I think you’ve probably hit it on the head, but this wood doesn’t appear to actually be very hard in the sense of on the scale. It only clocks in at 300 lbf.

Stephen Edward
Stephen Edward

I just had rough sown live edge Ambrosia Maple slabs cut. Dimensions are 2″ thick and anywhere from 11′-14′ long, various widths of course. Many of these pieces have very soft spots in a few areas of the board. So soft that I can press my thumb into it and it feels about the same consistency as a very stiff sponge. Air drying at the moment, stickered and stacked properly.
Will these soft areas dry, rot, continue to rot? Should I cut away these areas? I would look alot of BFt if so. Please help! Thanks everyone!!

Cesar Neri
Cesar Neri

I wonder what number would Xanthostemon verdugonianus naves would be?

Kyza Sosa
Kyza Sosa

What about the “bois d’arc” …..commonly called the bodark tree? The Indians in Oklahoma used it to make their arrows because they did not shatter. These trees are very hard to cut down with a regular axe…and some say impossible. Anyone know about this tree?

Kate Johnson
Kate Johnson

I see Ipe is in the honorable mention but how many of these other woods are inexpensive enough to use as decking? I see here https://ipewoods.com/ipe-vs-other-hardwoods/ the hardest decking wood. Just wondering.

Robert Bennett
Robert Bennett

It’s also known as a Horse Apple tree. I’ve never seen arrows made out of it but I’ve used it to make a bow and have shot several made out of it and it is as hard as the hickory we have around here (TX, LA) but hard to work with because of all the knots.

Pablo Li
Pablo Li

So Australian Buloke is not the hardest wood? I’ve been working with quebracho, after planing 10 minutes the sole of my plane is destroyed as well as the blade haha

Dave G
Dave G

There is an archived listing of the top 125 hardest and softest woods, along with a good description of hardness testing by Brinell {steel ball}, Chalais-Meudon {Monnin} {steel cylinder}, Janka {steel ball}.

https://archive.is/20120904022306/www.morlanwoodgifts.com/MM011.ASP?pageno=207

JerBear
JerBear

Have you ever seen anything for Keawe — Prosopis pallida ?
or
Mountain mahogany — Cercocarpus montanus ?

Both are very hard and won’t float in water. Neither is a commercial wood.

Faiz Amar Balaydin
Faiz Amar Balaydin

Does anyone know a company which sells beand new frame which cut trees with 1 m or 1.2 meter diameter. And does anyone know a company with the best bandsaws sawmill.

Jon Denyer
Jon Denyer

Still an amateur woodworker, so excuse what my be a silly question, which of these top 10 woods would withstand the use of being a riser for a take down bow? The limbs are made of ash, have tried oak and other common hardwoods to the UK but none can stand the strain. Many thanks Jon

Wade Patton
Wade Patton

Yes, but none of those grow around here. Osage orange does, and I use it for show or for durability when weight is of no concern.

Malakye Lord
Malakye Lord

Not sure how hard it is but nightcap wattle which is really quite rare and only found in one national park. I was lucky enough to have some from a property that bordered the park and I couldn’t route more than a few inches before the bit was buggered. I used about 20 bits on a round table no more than a metre across.

Erik Larsen
Erik Larsen

I fully support Eric Meier’s

position. If one does not perpetuate the criteria applicable to list the hardest woods,
anyone can present a Janka test and demand it to be
included on a list. Controlled
and multiple test must be done.

Swaggy_Swordsman
Swaggy_Swordsman

does anyone know where i can buy black ironwood?

Mike Finnegan
Mike Finnegan

Carlton McLendons rare woods and veneers in Atlanta Georgia has Black Ironwood harvested in southern Florida. I purchased a half log May 2018 very heavy very hard with a distinctive odor similar to Bakelite or urine but he does have more

Eugene Dimitriadis
Eugene Dimitriadis

I agree Marcus

Sandro
Sandro

Can’t believe this! I shamefully cut some quebra hacha at home in Puerto Rico when I was in my teens. We used the wood for burning and fencing . I still remember the axe hitting the tree and rebounding like nothing I ever experienced before. I long forgot this until now when I read this list of top ten hardest woods. I thought that our name for the wood was merely a colloquial, common name. I knew that the wood was very dense and hard but never thought it made the list. Can I use it to make an electric… Read more »

sjambok
sjambok

Thanks this is fascinating. Can you insert where they are from?

CaptainGintoki

This wood is giving me wood. Makes me wish I had a cabin made of ebony.

Dru
Dru

What wood is suitable high temp (car exhaust) heat insulation?

tomfordc
tomfordc

Bubinga and Purple Heart are up there as well

Mark_Kelly
Mark_Kelly

Allocasuarina Leuhmannii (Buloke)