Do you know your rosewood from redwood? Understanding the qualities of different timbers is vital to choosing the best wood for your next project. Some types of wood are stronger than others, cheaper, and look better too.
Naturally, each job has different requirements, so knowing what type of wood will meet these needs is essential to success. In this article, we’ll compare rosewood and redwood so you can decide if either of them is right for your next project.
What Is Rosewood?
There can sometimes be a bit of confusion around rosewood, mainly because there are multiple types of trees from the same genus with the name. Brazilian rosewood, East Indian rosewood, and Honduran rosewood are all different types of this material. When this article mentions rosewood, it is talking about the Brazilian variety. This was the first that became widely used by European and North American woodworkers.
All of the rosewood trees come from the Dalbergia family, with Dalbergia nigra being the scientific name for Brazilian rosewood. The tree originates from South and Central America, specifically around Brazil. On average, these trees can grow up to 130’ high and reach a trunk thickness of 4’.
Commercially, rosewood is considered a fantastic, high-end timber because it is stable and strong, and the grain is quite attractive. Alongside this, the wood has a lovely tone, which makes it popular with instrument makers.
Unfortunately, rosewood became so popular that it was exploited heavily by illegal logging companies. As a result of the exploitation, the population of the tree severely fell and now strict restrictions are in place on the lumber to try to protect it.
What Is Redwood?
The redwood is a beautiful, mystical tree. It’s the largest tree in the world and can grow up to 400’ tall with trunk diameters of 12’.
The growing area of redwood is very precise and centers on the northwestern United States, along the Pacific coast. This area gets a lot of heavy rainfall and the cool, moist sea air creates an ideal growing climate for the tree. Images of the towering giant surrounded by mist and ferns are the subject of a lot of folklore.
As timber, redwood is light and soft. The tree is very stable, meaning that it doesn’t shrink drastically, or warp with seasonal variations. Alongside this, the strength-to-weight ratio is considered good. Some other names for redwood are sequoia, coastal redwood, and California redwood.
Rosewood vs. Redwood: What Are the Differences?
Redwood and rosewood are two extremely useful trees, which lend themselves to a range of different projects. However, there are some key differences between rosewood and redwood, which we’ll discuss in this section.
The strength of a tree depends on a lot of variables. One of the main strength factors is the species, but defects and pests can greatly reduce the strength of wood. The Janka hardness of rosewood is 2,790 lbf, while redwood sits at just 450 lbf. Alongside this, rosewood has a crushing strength of 9740 lbf/in2, while redwood comes in at 5,690 lbf/in2.
The color of redwood’s heartwood varies from a rich and deep red-brown to a pale pink-brown. The sapwood on the other hand can be very pale and white.
The heartwood of rosewood can appear different depending on the board and tree it has come from. There are a lot of different colors that can come out in the grain including brown, purple, red chocolate, and black. Additionally, ‘landscaping’ or ‘spider-webbing’ can be created by the black in the grain. The sapwood is very light and yellow.
Grain and Texture
Redwood grain is usually coarse and straight. However irregular, wavy, and quilted grains are also possible. Similarly, rosewood typically has a straight and uniform grain but interlocking or waves are not uncommon.
Redwood works very differently from rosewood, mainly because of the difference in hardness. Because it is so soft, redwood works easily and cuts cleanly with both machinery and hand tools. However, care should be taken on boards with irregular grain directions, as tear-out can take place when planing.
Rosewood, despite its hardness, is lovely to work with. Tools must be sharp to cut the fibers well, but the feedback from the blade can be very pleasant. When cutting this material, tools will get blunted quickly. The wood contains a lot of natural oil, which should be factored into glue-ups to avoid joint failure.
Redwood is on the IUCN Red List because its population has decreased by roughly 40% in the last three generations. However, this tree is not on any of the CITES Appendices.
Rosewood is a much more heavily restricted timber. These restrictions extend beyond just the raw material and apply to products as well. Rosewood is on the CITES Appendix I and the IUCN Red List. The population has reduced by over 20% in the last three generations.
When to Use Rosewood Wood?
Due to the restrictions on rosewood, it should only be used in very specific situations that comply with the law. The timber has been used for a range of projects in the past including cabinets, ornaments, instruments, furniture, and veneers. Despite how strong, stable, and hard rosewood is, woodworkers should be wary of using it for projects where it could be at risk of damage.
When to Use Redwood Wood?
Redwood is a very versatile timber and it is used in both fine and rough projects. You can use this material in large-scale construction, such as beams posts, and joists. Alongside this, veneers, decks trim, and furniture are also built out of redwood.
Alternatives to Rosewood and Redwood
Rosewood and redwood are not always the best choice for your project. Sometimes we can’t source enough of the material, the stock is not good enough quality, or it’s too expensive. Alongside this, because of the reduction in the population of the two species, more sustainable options should be looked at. In these situations, consider using some of the alternative types of wood that are listed below.
Whitewood is lighter, stronger, and more durable than redwood. Its coloring is white or light yellow. This material is used in a lot of structural work as well as both internal and external joinery. The wood can be glued and painted easily, however, it doesn’t take a stain, varnish, or lacquer well.
Douglas fir, or ‘Dougie,’ as it is affectionately termed is a softwood with an exceptional strength-to-weight ratio. The wood is light in tone, with a large contrast between spring and summer growth. This wood is used a lot in timber framing and construction work.
Cherry is a hardwood that is good-looking and lends itself to fine work. The wood has a rich, deep red tone to it which can look exquisite, especially when finished to a high sheen. The tree is not endangered and it is also grown closer to European and North American markets, meaning it doesn’t travel as far as more exotic lumber.
Rosewood and redwood differ in two main areas. The first is hardness, as rosewood is significantly stronger and harder than redwood. The second is in appearance, with rosewood containing a range of different colors within the grain, compared to the majoritively red tones of redwood. Both, however, are lovely trees that should be respected and sourced sustainably.