Rosewood vs. Cocobolo: Which One to Use?

Rosewood vs. Cocobolo: Which One to Use?

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Finding the perfect timber can be difficult. But if you put in the effort to research different species, it can really pay off. Using the right wood can be the difference between a successful and a failed project. Not only do you need to make sure that the wood is strong enough for what you need, but you also want your work to look as good as possible.

In this article, we’ll discuss rosewood and cocobolo, so you can understand if they are right for your next woodworking project.

What Is Rosewood?

As with quite a lot of tropical woods, there is more than one type of rosewood tree. The first rosewood tree that became popular was the Brazilian rosewood, which is what we’ll refer to in this article. Alongside Brazilian, there is also east Indian and Honduran rosewood.

Each of the different rosewood trees belongs to the same family genus, which is Dalbergia. For example, the scientific name for Brazilian rosewood is Dalbergia nigra. The tree comes from Brazil, where on average, it can grow to 130’ tall, with trunk diameters measuring up to 4’.

Rosewood became extremely sought after by woodworkers once it was discovered and brought to European and North American markets. The strength, appearance, stability, and acoustic properties are excellent in rosewood. Unfortunately, because the material became so popular, the natural stock was exploited and illegally logged. Now, Brazilian rosewood is heavily restricted, including products that are already made from it.

What Is Cocobolo?

Cocobolo is a wood that is always in huge demand because of its exquisite colorings and patterns. However, it is known to cause a lot of difficulties for woodworkers. Firstly, because the wood can be difficult to glue. Secondly, cocobolo is known to cause allergic reactions in a lot of woodworkers.

Scientifically, this wood is known as Dalbergia retusa. It originates from Central and South American countries such as Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Panama. Cocobolo is a small to medium-sized tree, which grows up to 60’ tall and up to 2’ in trunk diameter.

Rosewood vs. Cocobolo: What Are the Differences?

Rosewood and cocobolo share a lot of similarities, particularly because they are from the same genus, Dalbergia. However, there are some key differences, which we’ll cover in this section.


When deciding on wood to use for your project, make sure to check the stock in person, and don’t rely on numbers alone. Each piece of wood is different, and defects and pests can greatly change the strength of a board.

When measured on the Janka hardness scale, rosewood scores 2,790 lbf. Comparatively, cocobolo scores 2,960 lbf. If we look at crushing strength, Brazilian rosewood comes in at 9,740 lbf/in2, while cocobolo scores 11,790 lbf/in2.

Overall, cocobolo scores higher than rosewood on strength tests. However, both are very strong hardwoods.


No two pieces of wood look the same, but there are common trends within species. In this section, we’ll outline the general appearance of cocobolo and rosewood.

Rosewood is known to have multiple color variations. The main tone of the wood is brown, however purple, red, chocolate, and black are also common. The heartwood differs in color from the sapwood, which is light and yellow.

Cocobolo is also a very colorful timber. A mixture of yellows, oranges, reds, black, purples, and browns can all be seen within cocobolo. Like rosewood, the sapwood contrasts and is a light yellow.

Grain and Texture

Rosewood, in general, has a straight, uniform grain. However, in some trees, the grain is interlocked and sometimes wavy. People refer to the ‘landscape’ or ‘spider-webbing’ on rosewood, which refers to the patterns that the black streaks make in the wood.

Cocobolo typically has a fine, straight, grain. However, on some occasions, the grain will be interlocked on boards.


In general, rosewood is a great material to work with. Both hand and power tools will cut the grain cleanly if they are sharp. It also turns well and takes a finish exceptionally. However, because the timber is so hard, the edges will blunt quickly. Additionally, some people report difficulties during glue-up because of the high oil content in the wood.

Comparatively, cocobolo isn’t as pleasant to work with as rosewood, and this is for a number of reasons. Firstly, the wood has a reputation for causing allergic reactions in woodworkers. For example, skin, eye, and lung irritation can occur. Alongside this, cocobolo has a very strong aroma that some people don’t enjoy.

Similar to rosewood, the hardness of the timber will impact the sharpness of a blade. Also, the oil content of cocobolo will cause trouble for glue-ups, if not planned for. However, this wood is good for turning.


Brazilian rosewood is under strict regulations, as it is listed on the CITES Appendix I and the IUCN red list. This list means that freshly milled timber is under legislation, as well as products that are already made from it. Because of this, alternatives to Brazilian rosewood should be sought after and preferably used. Cocobolo is listed on the CITES appendix II and the IUCN red list. This means that it is also a tree in severe danger.

Both species have lost huge amounts of their natural growing ranges, as well as been exploited illegally. If you do ever come across a supply of rosewood or cocobolo, be extremely vigilant about the source and make sure it complies with all regulations if you plan to purchase and work with it.

When to Use Rosewood?

Rosewood lends itself to a lot of different projects such as fine furniture, cabinetry, veneering, floors, and turning. Rosewood has also been used extensively for instruments because it possesses great tonal qualities.

When to Use Cocobolo?

Cocobolo has similar uses to rosewood, such as furniture, instruments, turned objects, as well as fine boxes and ornaments.

Alternatives to Rosewood and Cocobolo Wood

Both cocobolo and Brazilian rosewood should only be used if ethically and sustainably sourced. If you can find alternative woods, then sometimes that is the best option for your project.

East Indian Rosewood

Once Brazilian rosewood supplies started to falter, east Indian rosewood became the most used alternative. Since the 1960s, this wood has been used extensively by luthiers when making guitars.

Honduran Rosewood

Honduran rosewood also possesses excellent acoustic qualities. However, the material is also good to use for furniture, cabinets, and veneers.


If you are looking to use some of the finest timber, then rosewood and cocobolo are certainly at the top of the list. However, because they are extremely exploited, as a woodworker you have a responsibility to use sustainable and ethical materials. If you cannot find rosewood or cocobolo, you should consider some of the other amazing woods available on the market.