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:


Argentine Lignum Vitae (sealed)

Verawood

(Bulnesia arborea)

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.


Kingwood (Dalbergia cearensis)

Kingwood

(Dalbergia cearensis)

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.


Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota)

Desert Ironwood

(Olneya tesota)

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.


Snakewood (bookmatched)

Snakewood

(Brosimum guianense)

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!


Leadwood (Combretum imberbe)

Leadwood

(Combretum imberbe)

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.


Quebracho (Schinopsis balansae)

Quebracho

(Schinopsis spp.)

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.


04Lignum Vitae (Guaiacum officinale)

Lignum Vitae

(Guaiacum officinale)

78.5 lbs/ft3 (1,257 kg/m3)

Widely accepted as the heaviest 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.


African Blackwood (sealed)

African Blackwood

(Dalbergia melanoxylon)

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.”


Itin (Prosopis kuntzei)

Itin

(Prosopis kuntzei)

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.


Black Ironwood (Krugiodendron ferreum)

Black Ironwood

(Krugiodendron ferreum)

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.


Honorable mentions: Camelthorn (74.0 lbs/ft3),  Zapote (73.0 lbs/ft3), Brown Ebony (72.3 lbs/ft3), Macassar Ebony (71.8 lbs/ft3), Katalox (71.6 lbs/ft3), Ipe (68.7 lbs/ft3).

Other notes:

  • 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.

See also:


 

  • Dennis Curl

    Hey Eric,
    I like the countdown to the heaviest wood. Good format.
    You might consider indicating specific gravity of those woods in your “heaviest woods” category because whether they float or not is an interesting topic of converstion. I’ve seen charts of relative specific gravities of wood- begging the question of whether they’d float. Some woods don’t float. Sorry Natalie that was a joke in very poor taste. Honestly it wasn’t a joke- hence redwood sinkers.
    Redwood of course has a low dry specific gravity. That’s what happens when a tree drinks too much, it may not float but be waiting for buoyancy in the river bed.
    Your site is intriguing. The attached image is definitively native BC birch. Thanks for your efforts and hopefully a sense of humor. We need a sense of humor with so many obstinate woods! Dennis

  • Warren

    Your list is commendable, however, inaccurate. Zebrawood, Delbergia melanoxylon, is 1280 kg/m3 and not on your list.

    • ejmeier

      It’s currently listed as no. 2. In the US, it’s referred to as “African Blackwood.”

  • Heinrich D. Bag

    Thank you. This list and site is exactly what I needed. I’m no master woodworker and this gave me a lot of valuable info for my projects. Thanks a million!

  • Dennis Curl

    Hey Eric,
    I like the countdown to the heaviest wood. Good format.
    You
    might consider indicating specific gravity of those woods in your
    “heaviest woods” category because whether they float or not is an
    interesting topic of converstion. I’ve seen charts of relative specific
    gravities of wood- begging the question of whether they’d float. Some
    woods don’t float. Sorry Natalie that was a joke in very poor taste.
    Honestly it wasn’t a joke- hence redwood sinkers.
    Redwood of course
    has a low dry specific gravity. That’s what happens when a tree drinks
    too much, it may not float but be waiting for buoyancy in the river bed.
    Your
    site is intriguing. The attached image is definitively native BC
    birch. Thanks for your efforts and hopefully a sense of humor. We need a
    sense of humor with so many obstinate woods! Dennis

    • DrRV

      Dennis, specific gravity is simply the ratio of the density of a substance to that of a control. Therefor merely divide the density of the wood by the density of fresh water. This is easiest done using the metric system, because fresh water has a density of 1,000kg/m3

      SG of Black Ironwood = 1,300/1,000 = SG of 1.3

  • Eugene Dimitriadis

    I believe a number of Australian desert woods would challenge many, if not most, dense woods described here, in density (many over 1200 kg/ m3)

    • ejmeier

      Send me some samples and I’ll gladly add them to the site.

      • Eugene Dimitriadis

        As a IWCS wood (reference specimen) supplier I send many wood reference specimens around the world, to collectors and universities, for study. Some of the densest Australian woods have been the heartwoods of Alectryon oleifolius and Acacia peuce. There are others. A Qld Forestry Publication lists many Australian species with air dry densities over 1200 kg /m3. I wood recommend that to you if its still available. Dont have the name of it just now. Maybe later. Here is an interesting publication by the same author
        http://www.agforests.com.au/uploads/Utilisation%20of%20Western%20Queensland%20Hardwoods%20as%20Speciality%20Timbers.pdf

        • cicchis0

          Here is a working link to the document that Eugene describes: https://rirdc.infoservices.com.au/downloads/04-132.pdf

          Section 3 covers the mechanical properties, and describes the methodology of the sampling and testing. Table 3.1 on Page 23 (Page 43/242 in the pdf) shows average air dry (which it defines as 12% moisture content, tested in accordance with AS/NZS 1080.1 (1997)) densities, and lists that of Gidgee (Acacia cambagei) as 1,283 kg/m^3.

  • Eugene Dimitriadis

    I have seen Acacia peuce (waddywood) from central Australia listed as between 1.35 and 1.4 in density from various credible sources over recent years and from my own past measurements. It has a very dark purple heartwood. It ‘s not a commercial wood but occassionally available.

  • Racist_Koala

    What about IPE?

    • ejmeier

      Ipe doesn’t crack the top ten list, but (for now) you can see it at the tail end of the honorable mentions at the end of the article.

  • Callum Cordeaux

    Australia is home to many dense hardwoods. The Queensland Department of Forestry compiled a list of commercial timbers in a technical bulletin in 1989. I will list a few with densities greater than 1200kg/m3.
    Lysiphyllum hookerii (Red bauhinia) 1225
    Lysiphyllum carronii (White bauhinia) 1390
    Eucalyptus orgadophylla (Mountain coolibah) 1230
    Diospyros humilis (Queensland ebony) 1250
    Acacia cambagei (Gidyea) 1345
    Eucalyptus whitei (White’s ironbark) 1235
    Eucalyptus shirleyi (Shirley’s ironbark) 1235
    Erythropleum chlorostachys (Cooktown ironwood) 1220
    Archidendropsis basaltica (Dead finish) 1200
    Acacia aneura (Mulga) 1200
    Acacia peuce (Waddywood) 1425
    Acacia rhodoxylon (Rosewood) 1280
    Acacia omalophylla (Yarran) 1235

    Bear in mind that these are all Queensland timbers and Australia is a very large country. If you want specific gravities divide all the above numbers by 1000.

  • mansoor

    How to grow a forest of your own by getting hold of theses seeds of wood exotics, any body can guide, through some collectors not commercial links of sites…please

    • Soren Cicchini

      So you want seeds but don’t want to pay for them? The cost of the seeds would be quite low compared to the freight charges, particularly if you get them from several different suppliers. My recommendation is to contact a commercial seed merchant. Most will sell small quantities, and you can expect the seeds to be viable. As for your forest, you will need a suitable climate and soil, and then a LOT of time. These dense, hard woods are usually very slow growing, and harvested trees are often hundreds of years old.

      • Soren Cicchini

        I don’t know about other regions, but many Australian trees also have seeds that require special treatment to induce germination, having evolved so that the seeds only germinate after a bushfire has eliminated competing plants such as grasses. They don’t all use the same indicators of fire, so knowledge of each species is required. Some require heat, some require a chemical that can be applied via “smoke water”, and some require the seed to be scarified. A seed merchant could advise what preparation is required to maximise the likelihood of successful cultivation of each species they sell.

      • mansoor

        I have been searching over net since 5 months for: Bobinga, Peltogyne, Bocote, Zircote, Ebony, Dalbergia Nigra, Retusa and even the big seed companies like chiternseeds or b n t do not have them, so I thought some collector may help out, iam not looking for them for free and if any of them are in Zone 9-11 its fine for me. If it takes 50 plus years: may be something which you may be remembered after…! need solution though.

        • Soren Cicchini

          It’s probably best to search using the scientific names. If the professionals can’t get them, you are going to have problems finding them. I would contact the ones that list the trees but show that they are out of stock, and ask them if they expect more stock in the future. That’s when you’ll find out where the seeds come from and how. It may simply be a seasonal product.

          The species that you mentioned are wild harvested trees of tropical Africa and South America, which aren’t cultivated commercially and are rare in nature. If you NEED a solution, you could take a trip to the swampy forests of remote central Africa and pick through bird and monkey manure looking for Bubinga (Guibourtia demeusei and Guibourtia tessmannii) seeds, but as well as a guide and interpreter, I would advise hiring some men with big guns to protect you, as illegal logging is common, the livelihoods of very poor people are at stake, and life is cheap in remote Africa.

        • Tectconia Grandis

          Hello mansoor do you know the wood called “tectconia grandis” is one of the hard and beat wood for funiture ,I have as much as you want in timbers in africa if you are intrested contact me thanks

  • mostadam

    what about olive wood? is it out outside of the rank by chance? here in the middle east we know it’s a wood that doesn’t float and don’t soak water. I’m curious to know where it will rank. thanks

  • Henk Bakker

    In my > 5500 species wood collection I have a wood sample of Acacia peuce with a volume weight of 1,43. It is originallly supplied to me by the late Arthur Green of Louisiana.

  • Josh

    Anybody know what the least expensive most readily available heaviest wood for the US would be?

    • ejmeier

      You’d probably want to look at flooring species for the combination of cheap and heavy. I’m thinking something like Jatoba or Cumaru might fit the bill, depending on your requirements. Otherwise, when it comes to domestic lumbers, it’s hard to beat the cost/hardness ratio of Beech. Oak is another contender.

      • Josh

        Thanks for the reply! Helpful!

    • Soren Cicchini

      Probably depends on the application, the size and shape of the piece you want, and possibly other aspects. Good quality axe handles in USA are usually hickory, which is native to USA. As well as its hardness/density, its other mechanical properties (flexibility and vibration damping) are particularly compatible with use for percussion (striking) tool handles. It is not as heavy as the South American timber mentioned, but should be less expensive and very readily available.

  • ejmeier

    The only explanation that I can think of would be that the wood is not dry yet. I’ve never heard of any softwood, when fully dry to 12% moisture content, that would sink in water.

    Do you have any pictures of the wood, especially of the endgrain?

    • David L.

      Number three, wrong one.

  • Mike714

    You claim that a cubic foot of water weighs 62 pounds. It’s more like 7 or 8. Try it, pick up a gallon jug of water and say to yourself, “this gallon jug looks like it’s approximately a cubic foot and weighs about 7 or 8 pounds”. Now if we had 9 of these jugs and made a cubic yard out of them, then sure, 62 pounds would be about right.

    • Soren Cicchini

      I don’t know much about your antiquated jugs and gallons but I do know that a foot is approximately 0.3 metres, and a kilogram is approximately 2.2 pounds. A cubic foot is a cube with side lengths of one foot, i.e. approximately 0.3 m, which gives a metric volume of approximately 0.027 cubic metres (0.3 x 0.3 x 0.3). The density of water is in the order of 1,000 kg/m^3, so a cubic foot of water weighs approximately 27 kg or 59.4 lbs using these rough approximations and conversions. Therefore, 62 lb sounds entirely plausible as the weight of a cubic foot of water, depending on the temperature.

      I decided to investigate, and a US Gallon is 3.785 L – i.e. there are more than 7 of them in a cubic foot. If you get out the tape measure, I think you’ll find that your gallon jug is well short of a foot long in at least one dimension.