Rosewood vs. Acacia: Which One to Use?

Rosewood vs. Acacia: Which One to Use?

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Are you about to start a new woodworking project, but don’t know what timber to use? In this article we’ll talk all about rosewood and acacia, so you know if one of these materials is right for your next woodworking project.

Rosewood and acacia are very different and from completely separate parts of the world. The qualities of each wood mean that they each suit their own tasks very well, but might compromise a project if used in the wrong situation.

What Is Rosewood?

Rosewood is an extremely interesting tree. In fact, there are several trees referred to as rosewood. These trees are Brazilian, east Indian, and Honduran rosewood. In this article, we will be referring to the Brazilian variety.

Each rosewood tree is part of a genus of trees called Dalbergia. For example, Brazilian rosewood is scientifically called Dalbergia nigra. This tree is native to Brazil, where it can reach a trunk diameter of 4’ and grow up to 130’ tall on average.

Rosewood is a highly sought-after timber for a couple of reasons. Firstly it looks great, it’s strong, stable, and possesses impressive acoustic properties. Secondly, it is very hard to source because it is heavily restricted due to the illegal exploitation of the natural resource.

What Is Acacia?

Acacia is a hardwood that originates from Australia, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Over the last decade, acacia has become more and more popular with European and American woodworkers. This growth in popularity has been fueled by the need to find more sustainable wood sources.

Acacia doesn’t need much input to grow very quickly in difficult environments. As such, it is considered a more sustainable material to use because of how quickly stocks resupply.

Acacia trees scientifically belong to a large genus of trees and plants called Fabaceae. There are over 1000 trees and shrubs in the Fabaceae family, but the Hawaiian koa and the Australian blackwood are the most common types of acacia used for woodwork in North America.

Rosewood vs. Acacia: What Are the Differences?

There are many differences between rosewood and acacia. In this section, we’ll compare the two types of wood.


For a piece of timber to be strong, it must not have defects, so it’s important to check stock carefully and not just rely on numbers. The Janka hardness score of rosewood is 2,790 lbf and it has a crushing strength of 9,740 lbf/in2. Comparatively, the Hawaiian koa has a Janka hardness of 1,170 lbf and a crushing strength of 7,060 lbf/in2. Side by side, this makes rosewood the stronger of the two kinds of wood.


The main color of rosewood is brown, but within a board, multiple colors can be mixed in to give a lovely aesthetic. Reds, purples, blacks, and chocolate tones are all found in rosewood.  Alongside this, heartwood and sapwood contrast dramatically, as the sapwood is very pale and yellow.

The Hawaiian koa is usually a combination of red or brown, but can also have golden hues. The growth rings frequently have alternating bands of color, with streaks running through them.

Grain and Texture

The grain of Hawaiian koa is mainly straight but has mild interlocking. Boards can sometimes have a wavy grain as well.

Rosewood often has a uniform, straight grain. However, sometimes there is an interlocking and wavy grain in boards as well. Brazilian rosewood also has a unique characteristic called ‘landscape’ or ‘spider-webbing’, which refers to black streaks that create patterns in the grain.


Rosewood works well and cuts nicely with both hand and power tools. However, blades will blunt fairly quickly due to the wood’s hardness. Rosewood also creates lovely turned products and will take a finish without trouble. However, glue-ups can be difficult because of the high oil content in the wood.

Hawaiian koa works very easily. Although caution must be taken when the grain is interlocked. Changes in grain direction can cause tear-out when planing and machining.


Acacia koa is not listed in any databases as an endangered species.

On the other hand, Brazilian rosewood is under heavy restrictions. The tree is listed in CITES Appendix I, as well as the IUCN red list. Restrictions on movement are also on products already made from rosewood, not just the lumber. In three generations, the stock of rosewood has lowered by more than 20%, because of exploitation.

When to Use Rosewood?

Rosewood is used by luthiers for musical instruments, such as guitars. Alongside this, turned objects, furniture, cabinets, and veneers are frequent uses.

When to Use Acacia?

Acacia has been used all around the world for a number of different projects. Ancient Egyptian coffins were made from red acacia. Supposedly, Noah’s Ark and the Ark of the Covenant were made from red acacia as well.

In more recent times, people use acacia for projects such as veneers, furniture, carvings, ornaments, instruments, cabinets, gunstocks, and turned objects. Alongside this, acacia is frequently used as flooring.

Alternatives to Rosewood and Acacia Wood

Sometimes we need to consider if there are other alternatives to our first and second choices of wood. For example, there might not be enough stock, it’s not of high enough quality, it’s too expensive, or there are more sustainable options to use.


Bamboo grows very quickly. Because of this, it is thought of as a sustainable wood product, if harvesting and growing are conducted ethically. Bamboo is actually a type of grass, so it has no growth rings, sapwood, or heartwood.


Mahogany is a high-end material. Like rosewood, it can cost a lot to purchase and is difficult to find. Alongside this, you must be very careful and make sure mahogany has come from a sustainable source. In the past, mahogany has been unethically harvested, causing damage to its natural environment. When an ethically sourced stock of mahogany is available, it provides high strength, dark color, and a beautiful polish.


Sapele is a good timber for outdoor use because it is stable and doesn’t rot easily when exposed to water. Furniture, windows, doors, and door frames are all common uses for sapele.


Rosewood and acacia are very different in a lot of ways. Rosewood used to be extremely popular but is now heavily restricted, while acacia is increasing in popularity because of how quickly it grows. Brazilian rosewood is much stronger than acacia, however, acacia grows much more sustainably. Most likely, deciding on using either rosewood or acacia will come down to the availability of stock, and how much you are willing to pay for it.