Rosewood vs. Pau Ferro: Which One to Use?

Rosewood vs. Pau Ferro: Which One to Use?

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If you are looking to use either rosewood or pau ferro for your next woodworking project, it might be difficult to decide which one to use. These are two trees from completely different scientific genera.

However, they are extremely similar in a lot of ways. This article will go into detail about the two different timbers, so you can understand which one will work best for your next project.

What Is Rosewood?

Rosewood is actually the general name of several different related trees, all from the same family. For example, ‘rosewood’ could refer to Brazilian rosewood, East Indian rosewood, or Honduran rosewood. When this article refers to ‘rosewood’ we are specifically talking about the qualities of the Brazilian variety. Brazilian rosewood was the first that became popular with makers from Europe and North America.

Scientifically, Brazilian rosewood is called Dalbergia nigra. All of the rosewood trees are from the same botanical group called Dalbergia. This wood originates from South and Central America and, as its name suggests, specifically around Brazil. The diameter of the trunk can reach up to 4’ and the tree can grow to 130’ tall.

Commercially, rosewood is considered a fantastic timber. Rosewood possesses a lot of characteristics that are desirable in lumber; it is strong and beautiful, and it doesn’t change excessively in temperature and moisture variations. Alongside this, the tone from rosewood is great for instruments.

Rosewood is a hugely sought-after timber, which can be sold for a lot of money. The downside of rosewood’s popularity is that illegal logging and exploitation have put the population at risk. To counteract illegal practices, it is now a heavily restricted lumber.

What Is Pau Ferro?

Pau ferro is a very interesting timber that can be called multiple different names. Occasionally this wood is called Morado. Sometimes the timber is unofficially called Bolivian or Santos rosewood because of how similar it looks to the genuine stuff. Pau ferro’s close resemblance to rosewood has led to companies using it as a substitute in a lot of applications.

Botanically, pau ferro is from the Machaerium genus, which shares many similarities with the Dalbergia group of trees. The trunk can reach up to 5’ and the tree can grow to 100’ tall.

Rosewood vs. Pau Ferro: What Are the Differences?

As discussed earlier in this article, rosewood and pau ferro are very similar timbers, with pau ferro growing in popularity as a great alternative. In this section, we’ll discuss the two timbers in detail and outline how similar they are and where differences occur.


Rosewood is a particularly strong timber, with a Janka hardness of 2,790 lbf. It also has a high score for crushing strength, with 9,740 lbf/in2. Pau ferro has a Janka hardness of 1,960 lbf and a crushing strength of 8,830 lbf/in2. Side by side, rosewood is the stronger of the two. However, pau ferro is also a strong timber, just not as strong as rosewood.


The appearance of rosewood can change significantly from tree to tree, even between boards from the same tree. Many different colors can appear in a board of rosewood, such as browns, purples, reds, chocolate, and black. ‘Landscaping’ or ‘spider-webbing’ can create black patterns in the grain as well. The sapwood contrasts with the heartwood, as it is lighter and yellow in color.

Pau ferro looks very similar to rosewood, though it is lighter. Alongside this, the colors are slightly different, with brown, red, orange, and violet all potentially present in a board. Dark black patterns are also visible in pau ferro. The sapwood is narrow and light yellow.

Grain and Texture

On the whole, rosewood’s grain is uniform and straight. However, some natural variation means that an interlocking and wavy grain can also appear. Pau ferro is also usually straight-grained, with some occurrences of interlocking.


Rosewood works very nicely and is held in high regard by many woodworkers. Sharp hand and power tools will create clean cuts and keep the wood fibers from crumbling away.

However, because the timber is so hard, tools will get blunted relatively quickly. On a lathe, rosewood can create some beautiful shapes. It must be noted that the natural oil content of the wood can create difficulties when gluing up, if not planned for.

Similarly, pau ferro is a good, workable timber. Caution must be taken when working on boards with irregular grain, as tear-out can occur and tools must be kept sharp. Like rosewood, pau ferro turns very nicely but can be difficult to glue because of its natural oil content.


As mentioned previously, there are heavy restrictions in place for rosewood. The timber and products made from the wood are listed on the CITES Appendix I and also on the IUCN Red List. The rosewood population has declined by more than 20% in the last three generations, which has led to the restrictions being put in place.

On the other hand, pau ferro is considered a more sustainable alternative. The tree is not on any endangered lists or the CITES Appendices.

When to Use Rosewood Wood?

Rosewood should only be used if it complies with all laws and policies, and if it’s ethically sourced. Some of the most common uses for rosewood are musical instruments, cabinets, veneers, furniture, and ornaments.

When to Use Pau Ferro Wood?

Pau ferro can be used in a lot of the same applications as rosewood. As an example, Fender guitars have now completely changed from making their fretboards from rosewood to pau ferro. Alongside this, it is also good to use in veneering, flooring, turning, and trim work.

Alternatives to Rosewood and Pau Ferro

Sometimes it’s not possible to source our first choice timber or even our second choice. In these situations, it’s important to find alternatives. These can sometimes be cheaper, better quality, and more sustainable.


Bubinga is a very popular African hardwood that is both strong and beautiful. Alongside this, the strength-to-weight ratio of this wood is one of the best in the world.


Macacauba has a lot of different names and is frequently used for turning and musical instruments. Alongside this, the timber is good for furniture, cabinetry, and veneering.


Rosewood and pau ferro are both great timbers.

Deciding on which one to use will largely depend on the stock of material you have access to. Rosewood is difficult to find and source sustainably, so usually, people will turn to pau ferro instead. Additionally, you might consider something completely else – in that case, check our article about the best types of wood for woodworking.