by Eric Meier
There’s just something within human nature that loves to see things ordered and ranked: we want a champion. One might watch a basketball game, where the two teams battle back and forth in lock-step into double overtime, only to have the winning team go ahead by a single basket at the buzzer. Did this necessarily determine who the better team truly was? Maybe, maybe not; but we need finality, we need separation, we need a champion.
With this intrinsic urge in mind, I’ve compiled a top ten list of the heaviest woods in the world. Keep in mind that wood density can vary by an average of plus or minus 10% between samples (called the coefficient of variation), so it’s entirely possible that a sample of the tenth-ranked wood on this list could easily weigh more than a sample of the first ranked wood on this list. Some of these species weigh, on average, only a few tenths of a pound more per cubic foot than their nearest rivals: certainly no conclusive ranking should be inferred from the list. But nonetheless, we want someone to take home the gold medal—we need a champion crowned—so here are the top ten heaviest woods in the world:
74.4 lbs/ft3 (1,192 kg/m3)
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.
74.9 lbs/ft3 (1,200 kg/m3)
Kingwood supposedly got its name from several French kings (Louis XIV and Louis XV) that preferred the wood in the use of fine furniture.
75.4 lbs/ft3 (1,208 kg/m3)
This wood is a hobbyist favorite. Too small to be a viable timber tree, this wood’s colorful grain and high density are restricted to small specialty projects.
75.7 lbs/ft3 (1,212 kg/m3)
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!
75.8 lbs/ft3 (1,215 kg/m3)
Another exceptionally hard African wood, the name says it all. Leadwood is seldom seen for sale, and is reported to be protected in South Africa–a very elusive timber.
77.1 lbs/ft3 (1,235 kg/m3)
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.
78.5 lbs/ft3 (1,257 kg/m3)
79.3 lbs/ft3 (1,270 kg/m3)
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.”
79.6 lbs/ft3 (1,275 kg/m3)
This small South American tree could be considered a super-mesquite. Related to mesquite, it’s very dark, very dense, and very hard; a good substitute for ebony.
84.5 lbs/ft3 (1,355 kg/m3)
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.
- Water weighs 62.3 pounds per cubic foot at room temperature (70 degrees F), so all the woods listed above will readily sink in water.
- Density listings are for woods at a dried weight of 12% moisture content.
- There are probably all sorts of obscure shrubs and small trees that yield wood which can be quite heavy, but they’re just not seen in use by the majority of woodworkers, nor are they reliably documented in woodworking publications.
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!